Rescue in Thailand*
The Pontifical Mission Societies
By Julie Rattey
*Based on the story of a young woman in Thailand. Some names have been changed for privacy. Information for this story was provided by Sister Anurak Chiayapheuk, coordinator of the Good Shepherd Youth Center in the province of Chiang Rai.
The sound of a vehicle rumbling into their mountainside tribal village in northern Thailand drew Apae out of her house. Here, no one but the head of the village owned a car.
Apae’s younger children — her eldest was away at school — also stepped outside to see, clutching Apae’s legs in the January cold. Apae stared at the shiny pickup emerging from the trees and felt envy creep along her skin like an insect. It had been a hard year — their rice crop had failed from disease, making it impossible for them to repay the loan they had taken out. They were poorer than ever, and with many mouths to feed.
Apae wondered where the pickup was going, and who was driving it. Someone whose wife doesn’t break her back in the rice fields all day, she thought. She would think herself too good to step into my bamboo house. Apae started to turn away when the pickup stopped, and a man got out.
He was well dressed, with crisply ironed clothes and neat black shoes. He was older than her — in his 40s, or perhaps 50s. He was walking her way.
“Hello,” said the man, smiling. He had good teeth.
“Hello,” said Apae.
“My name is Wiwat,” he said. “Might you be Apae? But no. There must be some mistake.” He made a show of scrutinizing her. “Your neighbor said that Apae had a husband and several children, including one who is already 14. But you look far too young.” Apae blushed. His words were like honey. What it must be to be educated.
“I am Apae,” she said. “My husband, Suwa, is inside,” she felt obliged to add.
“That’s just as I was hoping,” the man said, smiling again.
Apae was intrigued. What could this well-dressed man want?
“Will you come in?”
Apae smoothed down her hair again and waited by the door for Wiwat’s weekly visit. This man — a doctor, he said — seemed to be the answer to all their troubles. On his first visit he had pulled cookies from his pocket for the children, praised Apae’s housekeeping, made Suwa laugh. In the following weeks he had asked questions about the family, and had seemed particularly interested in Name (“Nam-EE”), their 14-year-old who was away at school. Last week, he had brought them a motorcycle. Apae had a feeling that an offer was in the making. Not marriage, of course — Wiwat was already married. But something. Apae’s head was full of nice clothes, trips out of the village, free medicine, security for the whole family. Of course, there would be a price of some kind. But Apae pushed that to the back of her mind.
“I would like to make you an offer,” Wiwat said that day. “I have a house that needs looking after. I need a capable girl to take care of it.”
Perfect! Apae thought. Name would make an excellent housekeeper.
“I would also need her to attend to… any other needs that might arise.”
This last seemed significant, uncomfortable. Apae chose to dismiss it.
“How long?” asked Suwa. Apae tried to read his thoughts. He was Name’s stepfather, and the family’s needs were great; he would not, she thought, object to Name breaking off her schooling. Besides, Name was 14; some girls in their tribe married as early as 11. She was not too young to live and work away from home.
“About a year. I understand Name is about to finish eighth grade. The timing seems ideal. In return, there is the motorcycle, of course. And, I would pay 10,000 baht ($327).”
Apae and Suwa looked at each other. This was an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Wiwat’s house was quiet when Name entered it for the first time. It was large compared to hers, and modern. Wiwat gave her a tour and explained her duties. Name nodded, saying little. She still couldn’t believe her parents had practically sold her to this stranger. Everything about it felt wrong. And yet she had always been taught to show respect to her parents. So, after her initial attempt to argue, she had relented. When Wiwat had come at the end of February to take her away, she had not protested. He had been polite, coaxing. But Name did not like him.
“Where does your family sleep?” Name asked. She had counted all the beds, and there were too few.
“My family does not live in this house,” Wiwat replied. “Here we will just be the two of us.”
He left her, humming, while fear sped through Name’s veins. This man doesn’t really want a housemaid, she realized in terror. He wants me.
It was almost nightfall when, four months later, Name reached home. She had walked all day — sometimes hiding, sometimes running — from Wiwat’s house to her village. Not only did she detest what Wiwat was doing to her, but yesterday, he had told her he wanted to take her to Bangkok; she had been afraid she would never see her family again. Now, her heart nearly burst with happiness when she saw the familiar bamboo house. With each step, she had feared the rumbling of Wiwat’s pickup truck; last time, he had found her before she’d even left town. Tears sped down Name’s cheeks at the repulsive memory of what Wiwat had done to her. Everything about him was a lie. He wasn’t even really a doctor. He sold medicine, but did he even have a license? Her parents had trusted him. Well, now they would know the truth. They would protect her.
When, with much difficulty, Name had told her parents the whole story, she waited for their outbursts of indignation, their comforting embrace. But none came. Suwa stood with his back to her. Her mother was repeatedly smoothing her new skirt — bought with Wiwat’s money, Name thought — over her knees. She looked uneasy, and did not raise her eyes to meet her daughter’s. The truth hit Name like a blow to the face.
“You knew,” she said, her voice trembling. “You are my parents! How could you do this to me?”
Soon, Wiwat arrived. He would forgive her. She was young; he understood these things. But Name refused to go.
Apae’s eyes were fear-stricken. “We have spent all the money. We cannot pay it back. Go back to him and then, later, you can come home.”
Name wept. Suwa stalked out of the house. A few minutes later, Name heard Wiwat’s truck rev up and take off. Suwa returned, dejected.
“He took the motorcycle.”
Name turned her face to the wall to hide her hurt. He took much more than that.
A few days later, Name and her family received a visitor. It was not Wiwat, as Name had feared, but Napie, the head of the village. She sat down and looked Name’s mother square in the eye.
“I was very upset to hear from the other villagers what has happened to Name,” she said. “If I had known sooner, I would have spoken against it. I also understand that not all of your relatives were in agreement that Name be sent away.”
Name’s head snapped up. She had not known this.
“I would like to help Name,” Napie said. “There is a center for girls a couple of hours from here by car. Some of these girls have suffered as Name has. Three Catholic Sisters run the center, and they provide everything — food, boarding, education, even work opportunities. I would like to bring Name there.”
Name’s heart pounded. Please, please let me go!
“We do not have the money—” Suwa protested, but Napie held up her hand.
“The Sisters do not ask the girls to pay.” Napie then turned to Name. “Name, would you like to go with me to the center?”
“Well then.” Napie turned to her parents. “Do you have any objections?” Her tone, however, forbade any.
Suwa and Apae exchanged glances. Suwa slowly nodded his consent. “We will allow her to go.”
Name was elated. Was this really happening?
“Good,” said Napie. She stood, and smiled at Name, who beamed back. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow.”
Help girls like Name
The work of The Good Shepherd Youth Center, which currently houses about 45 girls and also sponsors schooling for other children, is partially supported by the Holy Childhood Association, which is part of the Pontifical Mission Societies. The association offers financial support for the Church’s missionary work in Africa, Asia, the islands of the Pacific, and remote regions of Latin America. The remaining support for the center comes from donations and the sale of handicrafts (handcraftingjustice.org). To help children like Name, visit onefamilyinmission.org or call 212-563-8700.
Where is Name today?
Name is now 18. At the center she received counseling, made new friends, and completed high school. She now works in sewing and embroidery at the center. The Sisters hope she will attend college at a future date. Sister Anurak Chiayapheuk, coordinator, says Name has mixed feelings about her parents but is in contact with them, and sends them part of her monthly paycheck.
Trafficking in Thailand
Thailand is a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking. Victims are trafficked from Thailand to countries as varied as Japan, South Africa, and the United States. As part of her work at the Good Shepherd Youth Center, Sister Anurak visits schools and villages to raise awareness about trafficking and about the center. “We take in every girl who comes to us, every girl we find in need,” she says.
Human trafficking worldwide
According to the United Nations, a conservative estimate of human trafficking puts the number of victims at any one time at 2.5 million. It affects every region of the world. For more information, visit unodc.org and click on “human trafficking.”