First, I write to thank you for your prayers and support over these past few months of political turmoil here in Thailand. Some of you have been keeping track of the daily developments, and others have only recently heard about the extreme violence that broke out on the streets of Bangkok (and, to a lesser extent, throughout the country) during the past few weeks. Regardless of what you've heard or not heard, the good news is that the protests have been dispersed, and it seems that the worst is over for now, at least.
Some of my IM colleagues have described these events and the root of the conflict in detail, and I would refer you to Kit Ripley's and/or Jeff and Annie Dieselberg's recent journals for well-written analysis and specifics. However, there are several things about the conflict I'd like to share as well.
First, please be aware that many people in Thailand (both Thais and foreigners alike) have been disappointed with the news coverage of this conflict. In particular, CNN, BBC, and even the latest TIME magazine article(s) about it do not present, in my opinion, a fair expression of what's really going on. While the bomb and grenade attacks, and commerce- crippling protests in several areas of Bangkok have ended, there continue to be deep rifts in Thai society across many levels. These rifts are in need of healing; please pray for this healing to come to Thailand.
Please also pray for current Prime Minister Abphisit. He has demonstrated extreme patience throughout this awful situation. Please pray that he stays safe and that he will continue to guide this country wisely until his term is up in mid- 2011. Please also pray for the whole country; that Thais could find true reconciliation together somehow. Things outwardly have started to return "...to normal" in most places, but the psychological toll on the nation's psyche is raw and palpable. Thank you, very much, for your prayers...!
In the midst of these political events and the real stress they've created, the New Life Center Foundation has continued pressing onwards and upwards with its services to ethnic minority women.
In February, we celebrated the graduation of 61 residents from the 6th, 9th, and 12th grades. No matter how many graduation ceremonies I attend, I never tire of hearing the girls share their testimonies at these events. One resident, who entered the NLCF at the age of 13 and began studying in the 1st grade, was the only girl from her village to complete the 6th grade. Four other girls from the same village - who had all entered the NLCF at the same time - dropped out along the way. This particular resident said that she did not know why she had been able to finish her studies, but she credited God for helping her, and prayed that she would always stay in His will for her life.
In terms of our work with emergency case residents, we have been assisting a girl over the past few months who I'll call "AhBee". Her story is quite poignant in that it epitomizes some of the current challenges regarding migrant labor and exploitation in Thailand. As you know, Thailand has very good labor laws; however, these laws are not applicable to certain types of work (such as agriculture and domestic labor). Because of this lack of regulation, the abundant supply of migrant workers, and the fact that social norms regarding employer behavior are highly malleable, young women such as AhBee are easily caught up in the vortex of it all. As AhBee’s case so vividly demonstrates, migrant workers are not only vulnerable to labor exploitation, but also extraordinarily vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. This is a part of her story...
AhBee is currently about 14 years old. She is from a Haw Chinese family originally from Kunming, China. She has one younger brother. AhBee’s mother died when she was about 6. At that time, her father decided to leave their village and travel south in order to find work. According to AhBee, the family traveled over a period of several years, stopping in villages so that her father could do temporary work. Eventually, they ended up in Cheng Tung, Burma. They lived in Cheng Tung for about one year.
When AhBee was about 10, her father decided that life might be better in Thailand. He left his son at a temple in Cheng Tung, and traveled with AhBee across the Burma/Thai border into the Mea Suay district. He left AhBee at the home of his friend (someone he knew from the Tachilek area of Burma). AhBee recalls that her father did this because he said she would get a better education in Thailand.
After a few days, AhBee’s father’s “friend” sent AhBee to live with a friend of his, Mr. Lung Dao. AhBee lived with Lung Dao for 3 days; after this, he sent her to live with a friend of his in Chiang Mai. This man’s name was Mr. "M". Mr. M was married with three children. He made and sold Chinese egg noodles. He and his wife allowed AhBee to move in with them and go to a local school.
Although AhBee was allowed to live in this household and go to school, the expectation was that she would work full time for the M. family without pay. Before school, AhBee cared for the children. After school, she helped make egg noodles, cleaned the house, and helped the children with various tasks. After about one year of living with this family, when AhBee was just about 11 years old, Mr. M. started raping her. He raped her continuously, several times a week over a 3 year period. At this point, just as AhBee was about 14 years old, she felt that she could not tolerate this situation anymore.
She decided to talk about it with a teacher at her school. The teacher listened to AhBee, and reported the case to the Chiang Mai Center for the Protection of Women and Children on 4 September, 2009. The Department of Social Welfare intervened immediately, removing AhBee from the M’s home, arresting Mr. M., and placing AhBee at the government shelter. After about 4 weeks at the government shelter, AhBee was transferred to the New Life Center Foundation for longer term therapeutic care. She entered the programs and activities of the NLCF and currently participates in art, counseling, computers, baking, and education. AhBee speaks Thai well and demonstrates that she is a very bright girl.
Mr. M., the perpetrator of this forced labor and sexual assault, was arrested on two counts; having sex with a minor, and also employing an “illegal immigrant”. He has not appeared in court because he jumped bail, and disappeared.
However, there's an additional, awful piece to this story. AhBee was also arrested on two counts. Even though she was just ten years old when she entered Thailand and had no control over the places to which she was brought by her father and her father's friends - even though she was subjected to forced labor and sexual assault over a 3 year period - she is still charged with “entering Thailand illegally and working illegally”.
The prosecutors in this case are particularly adamant, and they are advocating that AhBee is returned to Burma as soon as possible. We think that AhBee's case may be being used as an example to warn other migrants regarding any form of illegal work in Thailand. NLCF staff, along with lawyers from the International Justice Mission/Chiang Mai are providing legal counsel to Ahbee regarding this situation. She has had to go to court 1-2 times per week so far, and we're not certain what the outcome will be.
As for AhBee herself, she has become a follower of Jesus Christ. She gets up early on Sunday mornings in order to attend church and youth group meetings. She is a joyful member of our NLCF community, eagerly participating in activities, helping other residents, and remaining hopeful and optimistic regarding God's plans for her future.
Can you believe that? In the face of a complete lack of family, abandonment, 3 years of forced labor and sexual assault, and the possibility of being forcefully returned to the country of Myanmar where AhBee knows no-one, she remains faithful and joyful. (Am I like that...?)
I try to always remind myself to never confuse optimism with faith. AhBee is optimistic, but more so, she is faithful.
Please pray with us for AhBee during this time. Please pray that the judge will have compassion and mercy upon this child; that he’d throw out the charges against her, and that she would be able to remain in Thailand and have some true form of a new life.
Please pray that the staff and I, along with the IJM and others involved in AhBee's case, would know the right way to counsel and guide her during this time. Please pray that AhBee continues to be healed and released from the shame of what happened to her, and continues to step out into the liberation, light, and love that is our Healer and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Thank you for your prayers, and for reading this journal. Please don't hesitate to let me know how I can pray for you.