The past few months have been filled with some extra special activities that have just been exhilarating for me, the staff, and the residents of the New Life Center Foundation.
Early this spring, we were asked to participate in the MTV EXIT (“End Exploitation and Trafficking”) campaign here in Thailand. Here’s a description of MTV Exit directly from their website: “…MTV EXIT is a media campaign to raise awareness and increase prevention of human trafficking. Since its launch in 2004, MTV EXIT has reached millions on the ground, on air and online in an effort to spread the word about this important global issue and to inspire young people everywhere to join the fight to end exploitation and trafficking” (www.mtvexit.org)
In addition to hosting a massive, anti-trafficking concert in Chiang Mai featuring some of the biggest rock stars in Asia (more on this in a minute) the campaign also sponsored a week-long youth forum in which teenagers from all over the country learned how to communicate an anti-trafficking message specific to their local communities. Several NLCF staff who are directly involved in our anti-trafficking campaigns co-led segments of this youth forum, engaging at every level with other NGO youth & leaders and the MTV Exit staff. The opportunity to learn and work together with such a dynamic group of people was a real “shot in the arm” for all of us, and we came away with much renewed energy and new strategies for our work.
The weekend of the concert was a big one. The current US Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie Kenny, visited us on Saturday afternoon. Ambassador Kenney is a thoroughly dynamic and gifted person, and the residents, staff and I just loved our visit with her. One of our girls shared her testimony and the Ambassador had a chance to see our baking (therapy program) in action. We are grateful for our continued funding from the US Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons (GTIP) and welcome visitors from the US State Department at all times!
But the biggest joy for our residents was the opportunity to host the Korean rock star band “Super Junior M” the day after the concert.
Have you ever even heard of ‘Super Junior M’? I confess that I hadn’t. (Much to the chagrin of my nephews, I am quite outside of the American and Southeast Asian pop culture loop!) I learned quickly that Super Junior and its sub-group “Super Junior M” are the absolute rage here. Our NLCF residents (reminder: they are mainly teenagers) are crazy about them, and were thrilled to attend the concert and see them perform. Super Junior M was the featured artist of the evening and their visit to Chiang Mai invoked images of the Beatles on their first tour to the USA - or something on that level!
MTV Exit used the star power of the performers to draw people to the concert, and in-between the sets they broadcast clips about trafficking - videos, testimonies, 24 hour phone numbers to call, etc. etc. I thought it was quite effective.
In addition to performing at this concert, Super Junior M had asked to visit a shelter as a part of their own learning related to trafficking in this region; this is what led them to the New Life Center.
Their visit was about as crazy as anything I’ve ever experienced. The media machine at that level (personal assistants, managers, video crew, and body guards) is hard to handle, and we had many people going in many different directions. After our residents greeted the band and sang a welcome song for them, 4 members of "Su Ju" participated in a baking activity with our girls while two other members interviewed residents who are victims of trafficking. (Important note: MTV blurred and/or hid the faces of all our girls in every video as per our child protection policies and mutual contract.)
If you see a video of Super Junior M on youtube, the young men are wearing a lot of makeup and projecting a carefully crafted image. In person, however, the members of Super Junior M were totally down to earth and were so sweet. They were kind to our residents and demonstrated a real gentleness and concern for our girls. I hope that – despite the craziness of the visit - these young men came away having actually learned something about the human face of trafficking in persons, and that they will use their celebrity status to help spread more anti-trafficking messages throughout Asia.
What a joy it is to be a part of the broader, global anti-trafficking networks and get the chance to work on this issue at these levels!