Last year, we launched an education and employment program in the Mekong region of Northern Thailand. Never has it been more clear that a one-size-fits-all approach to this issue would not work. I believe the reason we have been able to succeed in the most difficult, low-resource environments is because of our approach of listening and responding to the needs of survivors and high risk girls, rather than just giving them what we think they need. Is this approach more time-intensive and costly? Sometimes, yes. Does it work and transform lives? Definitely Yes.
Together with our partners, Mirror Foundation and Durga Tree International, we are employing and educating hundreds of Hill Tribe women and children in and around Chiang Rai,Thailand - marginalized people who are exceptionally vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.
According to recent New York Times article, trafficking in Thailand is 'a lucrative business that takes advantage of illiterate people in desperate circumstances; solicits girls with promises of a better life; and persuades parents to sell their children... Tribal people in the highlands lack citizenship and have no access to education, health services or jobs that pay fair wages; children are begging on the streets; girls are exploited in the sex trade, men are sold into slavery on fishing boats'. Last year, we launched an education and employment program in the Mekong region of Northern Thailand.
In order for girls not to have to go into dangerous and dehumanizing situations, we need to provide education and job opportunities that meet their unique needs, which are surprisingly different from the needs of our survivors in Nepal or India, because of culture, family and living situations, citizenship status, etc.
Through the Free Schools Project, we are sponsoring the education of hundreds of hill tribe children who do not have access to mainstream education. These are simple village schools in remote locations. Kids can go to school whether or not they have identity papers, or even shoes.
For older girls, the Her Future/Bloom Jewelry Program offers dignified work and entrepreneurship training to young women who have left school, or were not able to get a formal education. Without this alternative, some of these girls would likely have been trafficked or exploited. Instead they are using their creativity to contribute to their families. Since 2005 when we started, every step of this journey has called for flexibility, humility, and a totally open mind and heart, and this newest project in Thailand is no exception.
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By Sarah Annay, creator of Vision for Empowerment workshops.
We first started offering Vision for Empowerment workshops in 2015. What started as an employment exploration project has turned into something even more empowering—a workshop that gives young women and girls a voice in Kolkata, through photography and visual storytelling.