I was the quintessential Thailand tourist this week: kayaking at sea, devouring savory curries, haggling at the floating market, soaking up a bioluminescent bay and kicking it with elephants. Each experience adding a different layer of icing to an already delicious cake. Yesterday was the game changer, though. I spoke to the students of @shearloveinternational, an organization dedicated to eradicating human trafficking in Thailand.
After my session with the students, we did a walk through in the red light district. I’ve never felt so burdened and heavy before. The weight on my chest more constricted with each step. So much darkness and despair in one location. I could feel everyones pain.
Then I saw them - the tourists. Men, women and whole families walking through this plot of land where people were being sold as if it was Disneyland. I witnessed men from other countries offering women 50 baht ($1.50 USD) to sleep with them, couples walking through pointing at their potential third for the night, and kids buying ice cream next to brothels.
On our ride home, I sobbed. Tears of rage, anguish, and the weight of it all. Then I looked at my friends face, the woman who invited me there to share with her students, the woman who uprooted her comfortable life in America to set captives free in a foreign land, the woman who catalyzed a program offering hope to weary souls looking for a way out. She wasn’t a stranger to what I just observed yet it didn’t deter her from her mission. My friend’s name is Dianna Bautista, the director of Shear Love, they teach former prostitutes how to cut hair and set up their own business. It provides a real way out. Her ministry is a glimmer of light in a dark corridor of the human experience.
After witnessing a grandmother sell her three year old grandson (you read that right, three years old), Dianna decided to hand in her tourist badge and became an activist in a matter of seconds. She witnessed a deep need in a foreign land and couldn’t go back to business as usual. What she experienced woke her up. She had to do something and she’s been doing something ever since.
Tourists pass through. They have no ownership of the land they’re in. My trip to Thailand changed my perspective on travel. I don’t want to just be a tourist anymore. I want to do something that gives back to the land I’m visiting instead of just consuming. I don’t want to be a bystander who’s just passing through. No matter what continent I’m on, I want to fight for freedom and life - just like Dianna.