Guest blog by Deirdre Flynn

My friend and long term volunteer with The SOLD Project, Deirdre Flynn, wrote this recent blog entry about one of our recent outings in downtown Chiang Rai. I couldn’t have said it better myself, so chose to let her share her thoughts here as well.

Searching for hope…

There is a Red Light District in Chiang Rai. It’s a strange place, beyond the obvious reasons. It’s maybe half a New York City block and interspersed within are bars which are strictly for night life, not sex tourism.  The strange thing for someone like myself or with SOLD is that that area, and those bars, are some of the only places to go out in Chiang Rai for a change of pace. The women who work at the other locations are a visible and friendly presence who frequently break in to delighted smiles if you acknowledge them  and ask how they are in Thai.

One night we passed a bar with an elderly man flat out passed out on the table. Head down, snoring, with beer bottles scattered around the table. A young Thai woman with a white bow on her headband sat nearby. Gesturing towards him, Rachel said “Faraung puay chay ting tok mak” (essentially that man is ridiculous). The woman burst out in such loud laughter, she clapped a hand over her mouth. Still giggling, she nodded yes.

The clientele is the stereotypical old(er) man in his Hawaiian shirt, and in one case, his pants held up with suspenders. Japanese men drinking heavily and surrounding himself with many women who have to giggle at his embarrassingly drunk behavior. Sometimes you see the young 20 something backpackers in those bars.

One of the bars, far down at the end of a surprisingly quiet road,  is always bathed in pink light. Through the upstairs windows you can see that the pink light décor carries on inside. The upstairs, visible from the street, has curtains hanging from the ceiling, creating sectioned off sections should they be pulled closed.

We’ve noticed there are occasionally children down in that area selling flowers. In some places, particularly with Bangkok or Chiang Mai (or the South) these children are also available to be ‘bought’ for sex. Selling flowers is a front for those who pimp these children.

We don’t know for sure if the children selling flowers in Chiang Rai are being sexually exploited, but I do know they are in an unsafe environment both physically, emotionally and mentally. They’re up way past the time a small child should be awake, in need of more than what they have and far too close to the reality and world of prostitution.

As SOLD’s mission is prevention, we are researching how to begin an outreach program for these children. We’re talking about the best steps to take to establish relationships… and going from there.

Twice a year, in the village SOLD is currently working in (about 30 minutes outside of the city: where the red light is) we host a parent meeting to update scholarship families on recent news, distribute the scholarships, help the kids write letters to sponsors, and hear from guest speakers.

This year, we added something new: an anonymous survey for the parents.

When asked about trafficking in their village:

82% off all the parents said they believed their child was at risk of being sexually exploited.

85% shared that education, awareness, mentorship, and resources were the key to prevention.

15% believed prevention wasn’t possible at all

To visit Deirdre’s blog and read more about her time in Thailand, please click here.