It's Still Hot
by Christina Sambor (JD '08),
Where to begin!?!? It's been a while since I've mustered up the discipline and brain power to post. Most days here leave me pretty drained - and I have my trusty (...errr...actually probably not so trusty) bike to thank. I've been cruising around on an old one speed beach cruiser-esqe bike that I rented when I first got to Chaing Mai. It's got a sweet basket on the front that I usually fill with either my laptop or some tasty Thai fruits. Though it gives me almost an hour of exercise each day, it morphs me into a puddle of sweat that somewhat resembles an out of shape foreigner who wasn't built for this climate. So, I blame my bike for my lack of posting, as it usually leaves me with just enough energy at the end of the day to shower and jump into bed.
I'm just about at the end of my second week working at The Garden of Hope. So, a brief introduction to what I'm doing this summer...The Garden of Hope is an outreach ministry that focuses on reaching out to prostitutes in the bars of Chiang Mai, and also to children of local hill tribes who are found many a late night approaching tourists with necklaces, roses, and anything else that they might be able to get 10 baht for. The Garden works to develop micro-business ventures and vocational training to give the women viable skills and hopefully a job opportunity so that they can leave the sex trade. We're also working on opening a Culinary Arts Academy, to train women in professional cooking/baking so that they can work in the luxury hotel industry here in Northern Thailand; and in addition, opening a childcare drop center where kids can come to be tutored and cared for. There is an arm of the Garden of Hope working up on the Myanmar (Burma) / Thai border, working to provide safe housing and assistance to sex trafficking victims and prostitutes near the border region.
Myanmar is in serious trouble, under an extremely oppressive military junta regime, and thus the work that the Garden does within that country is much more dangerous for the women working there.
Last week was pretty amazing, the highlight being my trip to Myanmar (Burma) to meet these women. We spent two days up on the northern border, spending time in a border town inside Myanmar. The culture up there was something that literally has to be experienced, cause verbose descriptions just will not do it justice. The five women that we met were some of the most beautiful, God-filled people I've ever met, who doted on us the entire time we were there. In Myanmar and in Thailand, affection shown between people is basically the opposite of how we do things in the states. You often see women walking hand-in-hand, with their fingers interlaced, or with their arms around each other. Men do some of the same. But it is entirely socially inappropriate for an unmarried woman and man to show the type of affection to each other that many Westerners do. So - we were met with unexpected affection by the women, having someone walk up to hold your hand anytime you walked any measurable distance. They are wonderfully humble and generous, never thinking to touch food before we had all served ourselves, and eaten our fill (which was ridiculously embarrassing, because they do so much with so little, and will sit and watch chubby Americans eat and never complain). They live, five of them, in a one bedroom run down apartment, and at times have had as many as ten people living there. We were invited into their home, to listen to them worship God through song, and it was moving - beyond words... Through the difficulties they face, God has provided for them in amazing ways, and much of our meeting with them served to encourage them in their work and continue to pray for God to provide safety, shelter, favor with the Authorities and ways to help the exploited women of their community. So if you would, please remember them in your prayers. (I'm not listing specific names/locations due to the sensitive nature of their work).
So...I could go on about Myanmar all day, but for those of you who are interested in learning more about the country, here are a few websites....
Outside of our Burma trip, I've mostly been going through orientation stuff at the Garden, and going on outreach to the bars in Chiang Mai. I must admit that outreach is harder than I thought it would be. I've never had to sit face to face with the ugliness of prostitution, and I think it's must easier to deal with the topic by convincing yourself that the women who sell themselves choose to do it and probably don't mind it. In reality, you sit down and talk with these women and find out that many of them are from small villages in Thailand or surrounding countries, and have a sick parent, or child to support and can't seem to find another way to pay the bills. Women here are expected by the culture to begin providing financially for their families from a very young age, so without other opportunities, they come to the city to make a lot of money...but at great cost. But it is shocking to speak with these women, and then see the men milling about the bars, knowing full well what it is their looking for, and that these wonderful women will give it to them, for a price.
Despite the darkness, God has really blessed the outreach so far. Every woman that I have met is beautifully warm, and easy to talk to. We usually chat about how my Thai sucks, ask them about themselves, their families - and we try to teach them bits and pieces of English. We made contact with a girl, only 20 yrs. old, who has had a good friendship with Garden volunteers in the past. Only a day after meeting her, she called my cell phone and spent Sunday afternoon with us, walking through the market and having dinner. She's a smart girl, and has already opened up somewhat to us, telling us that she knows that the work she does is not good, and that she wants to find another job..but is worried she can't make enough money. So another item to lift up in prayer, that our friendship with her would grow and we'd be able to find her a job.
The other exciting item to briefly report is that I can now ask people their names, talk about classroom items and discuss colors in Thai! I can also read about 30 characters - so it's nice that the language no longer looks like total gibberish. :) yay!
Ok - more updates later, this is long enough!