>>JOHN GODFREY: Good evening and welcome.
I’m John Godfrey. On behalf of the Wallenberg Committee and the Rackham Graduate School
of the University of Michigan, it is our pleasure to welcome you to the 17th Annual Wallenberg
Lecture. This evening we honor Sompop Jantraka, who has travelled from the city of Chiang
Rai in northern Thailand to be with us. The Wallenberg Medal helps to preserve the
memory of Raoul Wallenberg, a graduate of this University. It honors extraordinary individuals
who, like Wallenberg, have the resilience, tenacity, and moral courage to understand
that in times of crisis, when justice and dignity face the greatest hazard, the human
spirit can persist and triumph. This medal honors those exceptional persons
who, through great moral energy and perseverance and with hearts that are alive to truth, find
their way over, through, or around the indifference and inaction of others.
We have with us this evening a truly gentle but bold man, who in his life and work embodies
the fierce humanitarian convictions of Raoul Wallenberg. Like our honored guest this evening,
Wallenberg was a master of the craft of the possible, the decent, the humane in the face
of very long odds. Wallenberg arrived in Budapest from neutral
Sweden in late 1944, to try to pull from the ashes of Europe one of the last populations
of Jews that had not yet been sent to the death camps. Charming, courageous, and relentlessly
determined Wallenberg was cunning in his service to humanity. A diplomat in the last circle
of Hell, he learned that when persuasion failed, bluster might work.
He mobilized the desperate and, working with the companions he recruited, pulled thousands
to safety under the shield of Swedish neutrality, holding on to lives while he played for time,
waiting for the war to end. Wallenberg improvised the possible in the face of the impossible.
Through his implacable spirit in the face of the unspeakable, Raoul Wallenberg helped
save as many as 100,000 persons from the death camps. Arrested by Soviet agents and fading
into the Gulag, he disappeared into the darkness from which he had saved so many.
But Wallenberg’s spirit is certainly with us this evening. For Sompop Jantraka’s life
and work, his commitment to the people of Thailand and the wider Mekong region is testimony
to how one person can make a difference. I would like to take a moment to recognize
a group of people, who I hope are with us, volunteers of the Peace Corps, who share in
the belief that one person can make a difference. It was at a late night speech here on this
campus on the steps of the Michigan Union, during the 1960 presidential campaign, that
John F. Kennedy first announced the idea of a national organization for service abroad.
In the decades that followed, graduates of the University of Michigan have joined many
others fanning out across the world as volunteers in the Peace Corps, putting into action the
vision of President Kennedy, one that echoed the commitment of Raoul Wallenberg. We are
honored to have with us this evening a number of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
Among them, I would like to mention, is Rebecca Pherin from Boston, who, as a volunteer in
Thailand a number of years ago, encountered Sompop Jantraka when he was a young teenager
adrift on the streets, recognized his gifts, and encouraged him to go to school. She, too,
is evidence that one person can make a difference. I also want to recognize four special University
of Michigan students, who last year were the first recipients of the Wallenberg Summer
Travel Fellowships. While he was a student here in the 1930s, Raoul Wallenberg spent
his summers travelling across North America to observe and learn from people of all kinds
on their own terms. This experience helped him understand the human condition and shaped
his lifelong concern for human dignity and humanitarian values.
The Wallenberg Committee, with generous support from Bob Bagramian and Linda Bennett has provided
these fellowships to enable students to take part in a community service project or civic
action, or explore humanitarian issues not well understood in the US. Students take these
fellowships and travel all over the world. In the summer of 2007 recipients included
Swapnaa Jayaraman, who is a doctoral student in Engineering, who spear headed the establishment
of the new center for children in impoverished neighborhoods in Chennai, India.
Grace Lu, a biochemistry major, worked with an organization to deliver clinical care and
health education to women and children in Punu, Peru.
Stephanie Curtis, an undergraduate student in nursing, volunteered in the community hospital
in a small city in Honduras and helped provide supplies and equipment to the clinic.
Ashley Soles, an undergraduate who is majoring in history, worked this past summer with Operations
Crossroads in West Africa. Now, I am pleased to introduce Teresa Sullivan,
the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs of the University of Michigan,
who will present the Wallenberg medal to Sompop Jantraka [APPLAUSE]>>TERESA SULLIVAN: Good Evening and thank
you John. I am pleased to welcome you all to the 2008 Wallenberg Award Ceremony and
Memorial Lecture. On behalf of the University of Michigan, it’s
my honor to welcome, His Excellency, Mr. Krit Garnjana Goonchorn, the Ambassador of Thailand
to the United Sates, his wife, Mrs. Ravewan Garnjan Goonchorn, and Mr. Narong Sasitorn,
Consul General for Thailand in Chicago. We’re glad that they can join us to this special
event. Let’s give them a Michigan welcome.
[APPLAUSE] I also want to thank the many individuals
who’ve made tonight’s program possible. Wallenberg Award and Lecture grew from the hearts and
minds of faculty and staff here at the University who knew of Raoul Wallenberg’s humanitarian
actions and his connection to Michigan. Through the work and financial contributions
of many people, the award and lecture program developed.
In 2006, the support for the Wallenberg endowment enabled to fund to begin offering fellowships
to students interested in international humanitarian work, as you just heard.
The University is grateful to the hundreds of individuals who make this ongoing memorial
to Raoul Wallenberg possible. The Wallenberg lecture this year is particularly
a appropriate time to reflect on how one person’s life can make a difference.
A little over a month ago, Congressman Tom Lantos, of California passed away. Representative
Lantos was the only holocaust survivor to serve in the United States Congress. Born
in 1928, he grew up in Budapest and part of the resistance movement against the Nazis
during the German occupation of Hungary. Twice he escaped from forced labor camps.
He lived for a time in a safe house that had been created by Raoul Wallenberg. Mr. Lantos
credited Wallenberg and the identity documents he provided with saving his life.
Becoming an American by choice in the Post World War II era, Lantos went on serve 14
terms in Congress and become one of its most prominent advocates for Human Rights, in developing
policy and in small individual acts. Representative Lantos undertook work that fought injustice
and offered hope to others. His life is a model for the many ways in which an individual
can make a difference. We’re gathered here tonight to honor Sompop
Jantraka the founder of the Development and Education Program for Daughters and Communities.
DEPDC, as it is known, is located in northern Thailand. Its work is to prevent the trafficking
of women and children into the sex industry and other exploitive situations.
Since 1989, Mr. Jantraka has worked to identify children in poverty stricken families, who
are at risk of being sold into the sex trade and intervene before that happens.
DEPDC provides a safe haven and education and job training for individuals. It also
works with communities in economic development programs that address poverty, the precursor
to human trafficking throughout the Mekong river region.
Beginning with a small group of 19 children DEPDC has now served more than 1,000 children.
Mr. Jantraka’s vision is remarkably clear and brilliantly simple. Intervene before children
are sold into the sex trade, educate them so that they have the tools to prevent exploitation
and provide them with job skills that will keep their families from poverty and the desperation
that accompanies it. There are studies and statistics that provide
overwhelming evidence that intervention before children are placed in exploitive situations
is the most effective way to address this problem. Early intervention reduces costs,
reduces criminal activity and reduces the loss of productive citizens.
While the data make a compelling case it is the words of the DEPDC students that best
capture the value of the program. Pensri Nubang was in the initial group of 19 children that
Mr. Jantraka worked with. She is now the business manager of DEPDC. She says, “He gave me a
dream of a better life and the chance to achieve it.”
The program that Mr. Jantraka began in Northeast Thailand is now well established. It has dormitories,
schools, radio and Internet training programs, gardening and agricultural programs, and financial
support for students who want to receive advanced training.
I learned earlier this evening that it even has a 50 meter swimming pool. Confident that
the organization could sustain itself, Sompop has handed day to day administration to others
and expanded his own work to help children from Laos, China and Myanmar, countries which
border Thailand. While the international reach of those who
are trafficking other human beings is disturbing, the effectiveness of the DEPDC programs gives
us hope for children throughout the region. Mr. Jantraka’s own life story is a wonderful
reminder of the power of individual actions. Growing up on the streets in Southern Thailand,
he hustled for spare change in the alleys and backstreets of Surat Thani. An American
Peace Corps volunteer offered him an education and a chance to change his life.
He has built upon that generosity to create an impressive and effective organization that
makes a real difference in the lives of the world’s most vulnerable individuals, poor
children. In thinking about Mr. Jantraka and the wonderful spiral of one act of kindness
leading to many others, I am reminded of Anne Frank.
She too faced a world in which vulnerable individuals and groups suffered enormously.
And she too believed in the power of individuals to make a difference. She wrote, “How wonderful
it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Mr. Jantraka, your work exemplifies the ideals of humanity, courage and hope that motivated
Raoul Wallenberg. The University of Michigan is honored to present you with the Wallenberg
Medal. Would you please come forward? [APPLAUSE]>>SOMPOP JANTRAKA: Good Evening Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, faculty and students
from the University of Michigan, ladies and gentlemen from Ann Arbor and surrounding community.
It is a great honor for me and my family to be with you this evening to accept the Raoul
Wallenberg Medal. I am humbled to be a recipient to this great
award. I would like to offer my sincere appreciation to Wallenberg Executive Community and Professor
John Godfrey, Chief of the Committee, Jim McDonald, and Wendy Ascione.
I especially thank my wonderful family for supporting me all this year, my former Peace
Corps volunteer teacher and her son, many others have made my presence here possible.
I would also like to thank all of the daughters, sons, and supporters of DEPDC around the world
for their continuing support and dedication to children.
All of these people have contributed to the work of child rights protection, to combat
human trafficking, and all other forms of child exploitation. I am deeply grateful to
them. I am grateful for this opportunity to share some of my life and my work with you.
Human trafficking involved movement of people from place to place in order to exploit them.
Anyone can be trafficked, but children and women are most vulnerable because they still
have the least power in our society. They are trafficked by the thousands into slavery
for the sex industry and other forms of exploitation, forced labor.
Most trafficking victims are from very poor communities and are forced to find work outside
their villages. Trafficking agents exploit these vulnerable people and make money from
their labor. A complex web of hidden trafficking and crime network move people from origin
to destination with several opportunities for people to make money on the way.
Trafficking happens all over the world, almost no community is unaffected, even if its member
don’t know about the problem. It is a social problem, not an individual problem.
It must be solved by society, by upholding universal human rights, and the value and
dignity of each person. Let me tell you some of my story.
I was born into a very poor family in the province of Surat Thani in the south of Thailand.
There was seven other sisters and brothers. My father had lots of different jobs, creating
fields, cutting wood, gardening, creating forests, carrying materials, anything he could
get. My mother and my sister worked in the mineral mine, and by the time I was 10 or
11, I worked with them. It was very hard time of my life that I remember.
Not every child in my family could go to school or finish their education. My brothers and
my sisters learned only how to read and write. I was lucky as the first son. I was sent to
school. I lived with my grandmother and later with her sister because the rest of my family
moved a lot to follow the job with mining company.
I also had to work to help support myself and the house. This mean that I spent most
of my time on the street picking up cans, plastic bottles to sell. It seemed like good
time for me because I was free and I usually had something to eat.
Occasionally, when I had enough money I could buy some ice cream. Was much better than being
with my family and having nothing to eat. Sometimes I went with other boys and put ice
cream in a cooling box. All day we walk and we went around to communities
and say, “Anyone want ice cream,” and we sell ice cream until we finish and we get back
again. We get some kind of two or three bucks for
a day. But at least we have some ice cream left at the bottom of the box for us to eat.
It doesn’t make any profit because it equal. While I was in second school I met a foreigner.
Her name was Rebecca, but we call her Becky. We like to say, “Hi, Becky. Hi, Becky.” She
was Peace Corp volunteer from Boston, and she taught English at my school. This was
very interesting to me because it was first time in my life that I had seen someone very
different. Becky was an adult who spoke very politely
to the children, and brought interesting things like song, cartoons, pictures and story to
classes. This stopped me from running away from the class, and missing lessons. Because
she made them so much fun. Students want to participate in everything she’s taught.
My teacher’s kindness to her students, all other children in the town and her pets, dogs,
many dogs, cats sometimes, puppies, later made an impression on me. Where I used to
be a lot of conflicts with the dogs. As a street kid and dog is not friendly. Street
kid and dog have conflict. You can imagine. But when I grew up I realized this kindness
is very important. I realized that kindness and care help children grow. My English got
better and that change my way of thinking. English allowed me to imagine my life and
the world differently. Thanks to story like Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music,
The Happy Prince and the Swallow. You might forget that already, but I still
remember that story. When I heard the music and saw those people trying to do something
good to improve their lives, I compare it to myself all the time.
Could I do something similar? What could I be? I dream that one day I would be able to
speak good English, and have opportunities to travel.
Vacation camps set by Peace Corp volunteers gave me the chance to practice English and
to travel. I was real excited to learn about being able to live for a while with so many
foreigners. I got scholarships for three years to this
summer camp. These opportunities kept me from going back to the streets, to working in the
mines, or to the graveyard. To me, it was like getting a new life. It
pushed me to learn English more and more. English took care of me. English took care
of me. It allowed me to continue my education. I
later took a provincial test and had the highest score. I also took an entrance test for an
excellent senior high school in the far south in Thailand.
My entrance score identified me as one of the best student. And it was admitted. Becky
has taken some of her students on a field trip there and I had dreamed.
If I study here maybe after few years I can go to the US but the school cost a lot. I
worked over the summer and found odd jobs during school year to support myself.
Here I met my future wife. We were in the same class. She understood my situation and
often helped. Now she works as hard as I do for children rights in the same area where
I am in Chiang Rai. After graduation I enrolled in Chiang Rai
University in the northern of Thailand. After trying several times, several majors, I ended
up with a BA in political science. It took me eight years to graduate because
I had to stop classes periodically to earn money for tuition, books, and survival. During
my time at university, I played music and start a folk band called, [INCOMPREHENSIBLE],
song for life. We sang for justice, for environment, for
peace, for children, women, and farmers. We also played for the political student movements,
at public demonstration, and strikes standing up for democracy.
I worked as a guide for trekking tours. I made use of my English by taking troops of
tourists into the hills and village of the jungle. I made connections and formed good
relationship with many foreigners. I also learned to communicate in local dialects
and to understand the hill tribes’ culture of Akha, Lao, Lisu, and Karen. Most of them
were in Chiang Rai and some of them were in Chiang Rai area.
The work was good, but I saw a lot of poor people with problems I could not solve. Many
of the hill tribe people were sick and uninformed about healthcare.
I took along clothes, food, vitamins, and medicine. I learned later that their children
were being trafficked for the sex trade. While I was studying political science I learned
to do research on the poverty and cooperate village projects.
My Japanese friend and my journalist, Michiho Inagaki, asked me to help collect information
about child abuse, sex exploitation and child prostitution.
We looked at the sex industry in central, northern and southeast, and certain parts
of Thailand. There were difference in the sex industry in each region. We start in the
[INCOMPREHENSIBLE] , massage parlor, and karaoke bars of Bangkok. Most of the costumers were
foreigners. The girls told us about their difficulties
in life, how little money they make from their work, and how they become sex workers. Many
of these young girls got only 30 to 40 percent of what they earned from the owner.
They were not allowed to say no to any kind of different guests. They had debts that they
could never pay off. Many girls had tried to run away from their contracts.
Sometimes they escaped but they were usually followed and taken back, and often severely
punished. So many of the story of the girls were very bad.
In northern Chiang Rai the condition was very different. Most of the costumers were from
the area around. There were many sex trade centers, but here the girls could pay off
their debts. Some girls were able to run away with their
boyfriends. The condition in the south were much stricter. We learn that most of the costumers
were from Malaysia. Together we interviewed many sex workers and
made many treks to meet with the families and communities the girls were from. After
collecting information, the root causes of trafficking and the sex trait appear to be
the same everywhere. The majority of them came from poor, broken,
and troubled families. Another cause was drug abuse, opium and heroin. They need lots of
money to support their addiction. And yet another root cause was parents who
desperately need money for long term HIV or cancer treatments. They had to borrow money
all the time. Girls in the Northern Province from hill tribes
and bordering countries had no residence status, no ID and therefore no rights. They could
not get any jobs to become part of the Thai society.
[INCOMPREHENSIBLE] teenage boys and girls. They marry at a very young age, fourteen,
fifteen. But break up after one or two years. But by the time they separate they already
have a child and the girl has no knowledge, no job, nowhere to go. So they find a job
as sex workers. In almost every village there are people with
connection to trafficking and sex business. They look for vulnerable girls who are easy
to coerce. There are lots of those people among the hill
tribe and especially along the borders. In the Golden Triangle where the borders of Burma,
Laos, and Thailand meet I went to many guest houses and met with many street kids.
I recognize the problem and the pattern. The Golden Triangle is especially dangerous for
abandoned children. Many gangs operate there because there they find children from Laos,
Burma, South China, and several hill tribes all in the same place.
But even in the Golden Triangle people say to me the sex trade here is small in comparison
to Masai. That’s place that stopped me. I found out that there was a link to the sex
trade between the middlemen of this border town and the rest of Thailand. These middlemen
will also connect to Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, China, and others. Everything’s revolved around
this town. So it is with good reason that I found the
daughter’s education program there. I start research with village leaders, teachers, governor,
immigration officers, and others. I met a man from Australia. It was very interesting.
I tried to learn from the foreigners, because they were the ones that got into the place
very often. For the last 15 years, he has spent most of his time, his life, in this
area just to sleep with young girls. “You know this place?” I asked.
Altogether there were 58 brothels in a small city. That was in 1989. He just went into
anywhere and said, “Hello.” He was a very good friend with the girls in almost every
brothel. This man doing like that every day. Almost very often. Many of them call him “dad”
or “papa.” And he would act funny, make noise, and speak
half Thai, half English like a play. But he used many of them, even the 10 year olds.
This man had no sense of guilty at all. “It is just the way things are around here,” he
said to me. “Some folk do what you do, and I do what I
do. But if you want to know what I do, you just follow me and see what it is like.” That’s
what he said to me. I said, “OK, but I told you that I am doing a study about children
working in the sex industry.” He said, “Why?” “Well, they should go to school,”
I answered. “No” he said. “They can’t go to school, because they don’t have any money
or nobody wants them.” “How do you know that?” I asked. “They told me,” he said. “They may
have told you that, but maybe,” I said, “that it could be changed.”
“Well, what do you want to do? There are dozens of children.” It is only a small percentage
of young people in this border town who actually belong there. Most of them are from elsewhere,
Myanmar, Laos, south China, or various hill tribes city.
Around 60 kilometers away, the girls all spend a short time in this city, where they go train
for the sex trade. In one to three months, the girls get documentation and placement
with pimps throughout Thailand, Malaysia, and elsewhere.
So this border town is like a transit station, a temporary brothel for the girls. Many of
them are still virgins when they arrived, having no idea what they are going to get
into. But here, they get sex training, basic language skills, and learn self protection.
In self protection, they are taught never to tell anyone they are under 18. That’s because
of the law. When we ask the girls, investigation or whatever, they would say, “I am 19,” “I
am 20.” And never to tell they have just come from Myanmar, because they would be arrested.
They also are taught to tell people that they have parents in Thailand or they are Thai.
Maybe they will not check any ID card. Sometimes parents ask a middleman to negotiate a price
for their daughters, and to sign papers. Even ID cards, border pass and travel documents
are falsified here. It involves many different kinds of gangs and people. The south is the
biggest destination for Chiang Rai children. About 3,000 kids are trafficked there from
Chiang Rai according to my research. It is part of the sex trade that children
are taken far away from their homes, from Chiang Rai to the south, from Laos to Thailand,
from the province of Songkhla to Narathiwat, border of Malaysia.
In this place there are about a hundred of brothels, each with about 50 girls. So I start
going into the village searching for the parents of those children I have spoken with. I met
with families, local people, village chiefs, and hill tribe leaders. They were influencing
children to go to the south. “Wait a minute,” I said. “What are you doing?”
“Children are going to work,” they said. “Don’t you have any children here that want to go
to school?” “No, no, no. Nobody here wants to study.”
They were laughing at me. “You must be joking,” they said. “Do you have a lot of money? Give
it to me and we will have some good business for you. Don’t ever spend it on sending these
children to school.” That’s what they said. So I spoke to the girls themselves. “Do you
want to go to school?” I asked. “Yes,” one of them said. “But my mother already accepted
some money, so I can’t.” “Where are you going?” “We are going to work in the restaurant.”
That was almost 20 years ago when I couldn’t do anything, even though these children were
right in front of me. Hundreds of kids whom I met during my survey of the area left the
villages, even while I was talking to their families and village leaders.
In many villages, you don’t see girls above the age of 13. What’s happened to them? I
turned to a few girls that were left behind. They asked their parents. “What about these
young girls?” “Oh, they will go next year,” they said. “She has been booked already. She
still is in fifth grade, but when she’s in sixth grade she can go.”
That girl was only 13 years old and she was at risk. This was the first time I realized
that there was a specific target group that was at risk. I shared this information with
UNICEF, with journalists of CNN, ABC, and BBC News and other media more and more.
These girls become recognized and the priority for my work of prevention. That’s when my
work really began, in 1989. In my first document for DEPDC, I wrote a
definition of children at risk. Children whose families are involved in the sex trade, whose
parents are drug addicted, who come from broken families, who migrate, and who have no ID,
no home, no rights, and no hope. All these children are easy prey for middlemen and the
scouts. Then there are children whose parents need
money for medical care, and those who have been sexually abused. The last group is especially
at risk, because everyone around these girls knows that they have lost their virginity.
They become embarrassed, and everywhere they go people point at them. Their parents no
longer want them and the responsibility. They send them to work in the sex trade.
At the start of my prevention work, I met with about 35 at risk girls. Some of them
had already been booked for the next trade. They were almost gone, so I tried to convince
the girls, their parents, the teachers, the village leaders to not sell these young girls.
I told them that I had some money, so that these girls could go to school in the town.
At that time, I had no plan to start an NGO at all. I just wanted to stop something that
was wrong and that was right in front of me. Maybe I could use my salary of 30,000 baht,
that’s around $1,000 US. And I did it. I did use my money that I got from my Japanese friend
for the survey and for the research. Two months later Michiho Inagaki paid that
money back to me. But when I went back to the village, from those 35 at risk girls,
only 19 of the girls were left. The others had gone to brothels, were missing or had
run away. In my interview, I had promised that I could
prevent them from having to go into the sex trade. “Do you want to go to school?” “Yes,
if we could,” they said. “Yes, you can. Yes, you can,” I repeat. “But how?” “I could take
you to school and put you in a school. I will provide you with documents. And we’ll buy
some clothes, some shoes, some socks, some bags, books, pens and pencils.” “Yes,” they
said. “Yes, if that’s free. Maybe we will talk with parents and we will
go to school.” I said, “OK, let’s go talk to your parents. You’ve got a scholarship
to go to school for free.” It brought a smile to my face. That’s the first time.
So I brought these 19 girls to go to school in Mae Sai. I bought them uniforms. I called
Japan’s NGO, the Education Fund. I had only a little money left and I asked them, the
funds, if they could send me some more money. I didn’t know how they support me, but they
did send some money to me. I put these girls in the school, for five
or six of these daughters could not go back home because of the sexual abuse by a relative,
drug addicted or gangs. 12 girls were far away from the area where we are. That present
me with a problem, because I had to go back home to my family that was already waiting.
Quan was waiting. My family was waiting, but these girls could not go back home. They were
still at risk, even though they got into the school.
So I say to the parents, “I need your permission for your daughters to stay with me for at
least three years. This is enough time for her to complete secondary school.” I made
a deal with them. “If you withdraw the contract, you have to pay back the full amount of the
scholarship that I gave to your daughter.” They agreed and they guaranteed that their
daughters would complete their education in three years. I signed the contracts and hoped
that the project would succeed. This was the start of the daughter education program, which
would grow into Development and Education Program for Daughters and Communities.
From the beginning I learned how difficult it is to negotiate with parents. Sometimes
I could persuade them. Other times I had to [INCOMPREHENSIBLE] with them, beg them or
borate them into allowing their child to attend school, even for free.
Often I would start with “How are you doing? How is your daughter?” It’s pity that they
had never seen their daughter’s potential, and thought they were lazy and good for nothing.
So I had to work very hard to convince them that education works. It’s difficult to change
people’s minds. There were a lot of people who misunderstood
what I am doing, what our group are doing. Some accused us of brainwashing the girls
to become servants of religion cult groups. Police came to investigate, and military men
said to me. “Sompop, you are destroying the image of our country.
In the rest of the world, by openly saying that children are being abused in the sex
trade, you criticize policemen, you talk about a lack of education, and you say that children
don’t get opportunities because they don’t get government support. You talk about child
labor and trafficking all the time.” Well, I had to answer them very politely.
They carry guns. I get angry, but I have to make it. “The reality of the sex trade is
making Thailand’s image worse and worse.” That’s what I said. “Maybe we are not dealing
with all of the problems of our country here, but you cannot sweep the problems under the
rug.” I always said that we have problems, not that
we have solutions. But given time, I think people will understand what we are doing.
Some seriously threatened to close down our work center.
I called one person, very important person, Dr. Saisuree Chutikul, the first woman who
fought with the law, the policy, the government and with the international standard over the
years. She has provided us with much help and guidance.
In 1994, Ashoka Innovators for the Public made me a Ashoka fellow. These stipends for
the next three years support me and my family, so that I could launch DEPDC without difficulties.
In 1998, the vision of DEPDC moved across the border with my second Ashoka fellowship.
There were so many skills that I had learned at school and at the university, but what
had they taught me those eight years for my BA? For a while, I had hate myself, for what
I could not remember and couldn’t do it. But soon I realized that I should not blame
myself, because when I was young, I couldn’t imagine anything else. Instead, I should think
for myself and think of training, and critical thinking, and so on. What I had to do is to
put my life into the life of those children, and really understand them.
This is how I discovered inside out education. Inside out education. Many times, education
is approached by bringing new knowledge in, from the outside in. But I have found that
the most effective form of education is to learn inside out. Learning from what we already
know. I asked the girls, “What makes you happy in
your life?” We were sitting there and we just start talking, and they start to talk about
what makes them happy. “What brings you unhappiness in your life?” “Oh, that’s difficult.”
They are very simple things to ask, but it allowed them to recognize things close to
them. Talk about your parents. Talk about yourself. “Why did your father beat you? How
do you feel about that?” It was hard to learn from this in the beginning, but by challenging
them in that way, they started to think for themselves about their lives and their world.
They began to understand not only were they part of the world, but that they were also
part of the problem. In itself, this was not a solution, but it did make a start with life
skill training. That became my first subject in training the daughters at DEPDC.
After that, I saw that I could reach them better and better. In their heads, they fear
and they’re jealous. Little by little their mentalities start to change. Peer groups were
developed to share. Learn and take care of each other, like brother and sister, like
a family. Those relationships offer them rehabilitation, like a family reunion at home.
A youth school study tour human rights organizations, day care centers, even prisons and environment
organization. I brought all of my DEPDC daughters to have a look. “Come, have a look, learn.”
See and come back to report on what they had experienced.
Learning by dialogue, direct education. So the second step was direct education. It helped
them to develop their life skills and social skills. They become like young social workers
after they have been in DEPDC for five or six years.
Since then, DEPDC has linked up with women’s and children’s organizations. UNICEF, ECPAT
International, Ashoka. Over the past ten years, we just grow, grow, grow. There are many young
people from the area that come to our center and a whole new generation of students is
coming. My assistants, Sompong and Puongtong are from
one of my classes in 1990. Ten of my former students were working there, but they have
now moved to another area. From the first group of daughters, I’m talking
about 19 young girls of the first group? Two of them still work in the center right now
with me. Pensri Norbang is the co coordinator of Mekong
Youth Net, a training project for youth leaders from six countries, who start up provincial
projects in their own countries. [INCOMPREHENSIBLE], is the co coordinator
of administration department. Today we have five young women in the directing
team working to assist Linda, the new Director of DEPDC.
One of the things I did recently is making a list of key issues for prevention, protection
and rehabilitation. Prevention cannot be just focused on the children,
it is the whole environment and surrounding them that makes them at risk.
Next to the brothel’s owners and middlemen, there is a whole bloodsucking cycle of people
who have wasted interest in sexual slavery. In the cycle are parents, aunts or uncles,
there are leaders, taxi drivers, tour guides, bankers, policemen and members of the border
patrol, and other respectable businessmen and officials.
Protection has also many key issues. Rehabilitation, repatriation, reintegration, reunion, safety,
follow up, sustainable income and jobs to name a few.
A special aspect of protection is the performance of a good luck, of welcome ceremony, of forgiveness
when young girls rejoin their family, the community, or tribe that they came from. This
is very important. For re building trust is difficult, which
when they have been away from their community for just long, long time may be from when
they are 10 years or even younger. So their attitudes and personality have changed and
perhaps they cannot even communicate or talk in their dialect anymore.
They have left at a young age and 10 or 15 years later, this was a very big gap. They
have to be brought up to date otherwise after one month or two months they will have left
home again, they don’t want to stay anymore. Our work focus on prevention, protection,
return and repatriation. DEPDC is a place of happy children because daughters and sons
who lived and studied there, know they are safe and they are learning that they have
choice for their lives. They are becoming empowered to change the
circumstances so that they do not see themselves as victim or nothing. They have a multi disciplinary
team approach that improves working with Government, NGOs, in our half way home across border issues.
We also have child voice radio that the youth and the children will broadcast the news and
the story about the children. The 24 hours a day child help phones, free calls.
There have been people in my life who have been examples to me. The wisdom of His Majesty
the King of Thailand, has benefited everyone especially grass root organizations like DEPDC.
His Majesty’s agricultural, environmental, cultural, and economic projects continue to
provide Thailand with a greater opportunity for the future.
My Peace Corps volunteer teacher inspired me to take apprentice of opportunities to
lead a better life, to demonstrate kindness, non violence, and patience for seeing the
results. In this way, I feel that she helps brace me
with example to show me how to be both teacher and like a parent to daughters and son.
At DEPDC, I don’t think about how much time, money and energy, a daughter or son might
need. Becky has strong instincts for giving and change making.
If Buddha was here today, I think he would say that selling children or accepting money
for human trafficking is a sin. It hurts to see girls and boys enslaved in brothels or
anywhere, if you can protect one child, you can protect future generations.
I want to thank the university for this singular honor. Thank you all for being here today.
Thank you. [APPLAUSE]>>JOHN GODFREY: Thank you Sompop, now we have some time for some questions, if any of you have some questions
you’d like to ask Sompop, but we must insist that, since we’re taping this, that you use
one of the two microphones that have been set up. So does anybody, we’ll wait for the…
Yes.>>TOM PARTRIDGE: I’m a local democrat and
progressive democrat. My name is Tom Partridge and I want to salute you for your life’s work,
and your dedication and your achievements. You are an inspiration to your own country,
to this country and to the world sir. [APPLAUSE]
I would like to know if you would propose that American cities as well as European cities
would adopt the plan that you’ve worked out for your own country.
[WHISPERING] [WHISPERING]>>SOMPOP: Thank you. I think the background
of European countries and American societies much different from Thailand, I think. You
have very strong social control and you have a strong education system. You have come up
with a lot of quality and potential of the social structures.
I think you can decide appropriately to protect these kinds of problems in different ways
or similar ways, but still, I think, we have to link learning experience, you know?
There are something that Americans and European people don’t understand, the dimensions of
the culture, that’s why many people when they go to Asia, they just think, they believe
that to buy young girls, prostitutes, is to help them.
Many times that I had to talk to them, this is not the right idea that you are thinking,
that they are there already and I have to buy them and it will help them. So this is
kind of the dimensions of the rules and the social issues, but again, I think that education
is for everyone, that we can learn, we can change. I also learn how to care, how to love,
from my Peace Corps volunteers, you see that is universal: love care, share, protection.
Prevention is universal, like God, you know god provides these kinds of things, well yours,
everyone can benefit from it. So it’s not mine, it’s not Thailand’s its universal, it’s
human beings, it belongs to humans.>>STEVE MODELL: Thank you, Steve Modell, you’ve
clearly been able to lift the lives of countless children, have you been able to follow the
impact of your programs on the families? [WHISPERING]>>SOMPOP: This is very good, thank you. Well at the beginning I had a hard time to deal
with the families. You know, many times they shut the doors when they went into the house,
they just wouldn’t, just don’t want to talk to me.
That’s why, you know, you need a lot of patience when you want to protect children. So I try
to build up a good relationship all the time, sometimes I apologize, I try to explain. One
thing that can help, if you work very well with a daughter, and you explain to the daughter,
the daughter will be a good person to lead you with the parents.
So many times when I go back to the family, I will not go alone, or talk without daughters,
but the daughter will talk for me sometime. So that kind of thing created a good kind
of relationship. I believe that the girls improved, it impacts to the family directly,
and when one family showed that something changed in that family, the second family
will look at it, will view that it is some new choice. At the beginning it doesn’t work,
but 5 years later, they know that children from the DEPDC daughters can stand up say
and talk and make very important roles to participate in the movement of the village.
You know maybe the social workers, volunteer, daycare center, healthcare center, whatever.
That’s how it goes, it goes slowly, but you see the change, and now it’s changed all over
Thailand in the north.>>STEVE: This is what we call the domino effect.
[LAUGHTER]>>SOMPOP: Yes please?
>>STEVE: My daughter.>>MARISSA MODELL: I’m Marissa Modell, and
my mom, my dad and me, we’re going back to Thailand and we want to help this organization,
how can you help it? [WHISPERING]
[APPLAUSE]>>SOMPOP: You are helping me so much. I just
heard here, a girl talking like this, it just comes to my heart, you make me much stronger,
you know, even you have not arrived in Thailand yet as you can see.
You can you imagine that when you arrive in Thailand and you call and you get in touch
with the organization and it invites you to charge a little bit with the girls there.
Your dad, your mom, can go there and stay there for a while, and if you know how to
play, you know how to sing, you know how to cook. Right?
You know how to sing English song? Interested? You know any games from your primary school,
kindergarten? The teacher taught you a lot of games, right? We don’t know much games,
so please come and play games with our girls. You’ll help them. Thank you.
[APPLAUSE]>>FEMALE AUDIENCE QUESTIONER 1: I was wondering
what other solutions you saw to attack the root causes of the families feeling they were
forced to sell their children, to contribute to human trafficking.
>>SOMPOP: Well I think to solve the problem [WHISPERING]>>SOMPOP: Well I think to solve the problem of human trafficking has to come up with almost
every levels. Prevention is one thing that we need to work on in the village, in the
school, in the community, where we are talking about the supply side but not many people
are talking about the demand side. Supply side that means the family, village,
girls, but the demand side means the market. Has anybody talked with the brothel’s owner,
massage parlors, restaurant owners, or those who can benefit from children.
There is not much movement yet in the society to solve that kind of thing. So I think it
is very important that we have to focus on that kind of solution. Not just only focus
on prevention at the girls, like what I am saying.
Well DEPDC has started up in a small town, and they view prevention as a priority, but
doesn’t mean that it’s going to work just only with DEPDC strategy. There must be lots
of different kinds of network coming together to combat against human trafficking, economic
students, university professors, law school, human rights school, social work school.
We have to come up with some kind of progressive idea, movement, that can reach 1000 people,
and those 1000 people can reach 10,000 other people, that kind of thing can expand the
network. And you can hear that the more you get in touch with more people, it’s growing
and growing. The area of trafficking is smaller and smaller
and smaller and they have no place to go. There are eyes, ears, minds, hearts everywhere.
This will eventually make it more dangerous for traffickers, dangerous to get started.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE QUESTIONER 1: Thank you.>>FEMALE AUDIENCE QUESTIONER 2: Have you
yourself encountered many dangers as you do your work, since certainly a lot of people
would like you not to do it so they can continue to make money off these children? [WHISPERING]>>SOMPOP: At the beginning I think I almost got killed, and almost got hurt many times,
but from time to time, I learned how to deal with this kind of thing. Not to compromise,
not to compromise, but to deal meaning that you have to learn a way, and which one your
friends, which is enemy, which is good people. By being good to villagers, by being friendly
with children, by being sincere with the military people or police. Any way you make friends,
even when they are different, much different from you.
You remember that in my presentation I talk about that guy from Australia? Actually he
is very difficult, he would talk one word and swear three, can you imagine that? So
I had to have patience give this guy. I don’t put in this presentation
[LAUGHTER] these very interesting words I have never
learned in my life, my peace corps teacher Rebecca doesn’t teach me, she didn’t teach
I didn’t understand what kind of meaning of these things, that is the kind of things,
you have to negotiate that kind of people. Many times I talk with the brothel owners,
they say to me that, “Oh I don’t care you do what you do,” similar things. “If you
have no money just go, scholarship go! Go, go go!”
I don’t think you have enough money to buy girls in this town, not to go to sex industry
because we have a lot of money to do. We’re not doing anything to harm you because we
will not break our business by killing someone or hurting someone.
I have to be ready also. That’s why I talk to my family there. [INCOMPREHENSIBLE], Quan,
[INCOMPREHENSIBLE] we are now working and we have enemies, so you have to be careful
when you come back home late at night. Check before going to the house, anybody there.
Turn on the lights whenever you leave the house.
Sometimes I say, OK, if I say, everyone run, then it means something’s wrong coming. You
have to reach the back door, go into the back of the garden and then go into the creek and
then go to another house. It’s like practice to run away from something happening in the
house, something. I always say to my family that, if you see
someone, arrest me with a gun or something, you don’t come to help, OK? I will block and
then you have to leave me, OK? You have to go take care of your mom, take care of your
brothers, sisters, you have to go off right away, and they will see you someplace. After
that, you will see me somewhere, some place. Don’t worry. Your father is good at fighting.
I follow. I follow you. [LAUGHTER]
That’s it, caught up. How to make things get ready. I am not careless, but I
am not afraid of troubles with that, because it is the choice that I’ve chose already.
FEMALE AUDIENCE QUESTIONER 2: Thank you.>>ALMA ABROSIOCHAN:
My name is Alma Abrosiochan, and I’d like to say [INCOMPREHENSIBLE] for all the work
that you’ve been doing. Around ten years ago, there was a group of Presbyterian women who
went to Bangkok and Xiang Mai and we met with ECPAT that was started by a group of Thai
women, and they did a lot of things and they had a global conference.
It became a worldwide problem, and then a solution. I wonder, I admit I have not kept
up with it. As you know, ECPAT stands for End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism. It
later got broadened to stand for End Child Prostitution and the Trafficking of Women.
I just wonder what is happening now with ECPAT and if you have been working, or they have
been working with you.>>SOMPOP: Thank you. [INCOMPREHENSIBLE].
ECPAT International is very active also. They have ECPAT in almost every country. ECPAT
in Japan, ECPAT in Thailand, ECPAT in Australia. They’ve become a global network of ECPAT,
and I know people in ECPAT. They are very active. They’re still working in the area
where I am, and we network with ECPAT also. I used to be invited by ECPAT International
to be the key speaker in their international conference in Bangkok and I met lots of people.
I cannot remember their names. ECPAT is very active in the big city because they have to
do something with the campaign, raise awareness, produce a lot of materials and toolkits to
reach with tourists and people who are living in the city.
Area this size, different kind of activities. My organization is in the forest, in the border,
so that’s why prevention at the origins and try to do the protection in the city different.
But in that difference, we work together, because we have to share information, so ECPAT
is a good organization that we should pay attention and support them.
>>ALMA: Thank you.>>FEMALE AUDIENCE QUESTIONER 3: I have two
questions for you. On the one side, you were talking about how you send these children
to…cannot hear me? You were talking about how you send the young
children to school, and on the other side, you also spoke about rehabilitation of the
children who had already entered the trade. My question is, how are they accepted back
in society? How do the schools take them back, and do
you have trouble there to convince the schools to take these children in, or do you have
a separate school where you send the children to? Which I hope is not the case. I hope they
go to regular schools. How do you get the women to come back into society and to be
accepted on the whole? [PAUSE]>>SOMPOP: That is a very good question [INCOMPREHENSIBLE] children to the work that we are doing all
the time. There is no one single answer, because they are very different cases, different background
difficulties. I can say that as long as you can take care and she’s happy, she doesn’t
want…it depends on the children. If the children would like to go back and
she is trust, she is happy, she believes that the family is a place where she should go
back, and we have to do what we call the family tracing. We have to reach out to families
and investigate, check, follow, and look in details.
If the family is going to be the good place for them to go back, then we try our best
to do like we call a family reunion. We have to invite parents, people we involve, and
those families come to stay with the kids, with us in the center for some time. Then
maybe we come up with some activities for them to do together.
Cooking together, talking, sharing, and at the same time, we try to interrupt those kinds
of things. That’s why we have to help them to be able to get back. Many times that we
send them back home and they were happy, but some kids, we thought we made a mistake also,
that we just feeling that she should go back home, but as soon as she went back home, a
couple nights, three days after, gone again. The parents sold them back to the brothels
again. That’s the sad thing, because it was going to be re trafficked again, which it
is a very sad story. We tried to learn, we tried to update our lesson learned, not to
make any more mistakes on that kind of thing.>>FEMALE AUDIENCE QUESTIONER 3: Thank you,
very much.>>SOMPOP: You’re welcome.
>>REBECCA PARHAM: Hi, Pop. [LAUGHS]>>SOMPOP: Hi, Becky.
>>REBECCA: One of the ways that DEPDC reaches into the world is through its volunteers who
come to stay at DEPDC for sometimes three months, sometimes six months, sometimes a
year, sometimes two years. Some come back and take another tour, but they work alongside
Sompop and alongside all of the other Thai staff.
There is one of these volunteers who has come today. She’s driven here with her grandmother,
Jessica McHillen, and Sompop has already seen her today. I hope she was a surprise for you,
Pop. I’d like you all to just say hello to her
and for her to know that her presence here is very special, because she is one of the
volunteers who has spent time at DEPDC and knows it inside and out and loves it enough
to drive here today and honor you.>>SOMPOP: Thank you.
>>JESSICA MCHILLEN: Very unexpected, Becky. [LAUGHS] I guess just as a general note to
anybody who’s considering attending Thailand and going to DEP, it’s a wonderful organization
and not only will you be contributing to the lives of these youth, you’ll be contributing
to yourself. I went to Thailand as a volunteer when I was 19 and that was a couple years
ago. I really grew and learned about myself and
learned about the world around you and what’s out there. Those girls became my sisters and
my friends and my teachers and above all, I can’t thank you enough for everything. My
volunteer work was everything for me during that time, so thank you.
>>SOMPOP: Thanks, Jessica. [APPLAUSE]
>>JOHN: Thank you very much. The Wallenberg committee would like to thank Sompop and his
family, His Excellency, the Ambassador Crete of Thailand and his wife, and the Consul General
from Chicago and the other people who’ve accompanied you from Washington and from Chicago.
Also, we’d like to thank the members of the Thai community who have helped put this together
and have been here today. We also want to thank Rebecca Parham and other former Peace
Corps volunteers, and thank you all for joining us this evening. Please join us now. We will
have a reception directly outside in the lobby. Thank you and good evening. [APPLAUSE]