Human Trafficking

There are four members in our group named Jess Bacon, Greta Mertes, Matt Reiser, and Sophie Meads. I am Jess Bacon and my major at the University of Minnesota in Business Marketing with a minor in Management. I came on this trip to experience Thailand and to learn about the culture of the people here. I chose to have the topic of human trafficking because I have always been fascinated by this issue and how the types of trafficking vary by country. My original perception of this problem coming to Thailand was that children were mainly taken for either slavery or prostitution.

My name is Sophie Meads and I am a Family Social Sciences Major at the University of Minnesota, College of Education and Human Development.  I chose to come to Thailand this summer for study abroad because I wanted to experience a culture very different from my own to push myself and see a part of the world I had yet to explore.  Travel has always been a passion of mine and I love to experience as much diversity as possible, gaining world knowledge about people from all over. Child trafficking is an issue that I am passionate about given how large and quickly the trafficking industry continues to grow, and how many populations it is affecting. It is an issue that needs worldwide awareness and a global effort so I want to do whatever part I can. My original perceptions of child trafficking were that this is an issue that is not particularly affecting one place or population and that child trafficking can look a variety of different ways making it difficult to conquer.

My name is Matt Reiser. I’m majoring in Accounting and Finance with a minor in Business Law.  I chose to come to Thailand originally because it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  As the trip came close and I was able to learn what we were going to do on the trip, I became more excited about being able to see the world from a different perspective for a couple weeks.  I chose the topic of Child Trafficking because of how prevalent this issue is in Thailand and around the world. My original perception of Trafficking was the typical view of a person being taken and sold as some sort of slave.  I also thought that it only happened in developing countries.

Hi, my name is Greta Mertes and I am ending my sophomore year with an experiential learning experience in Thailand. At the University of Minnesota, I am a Family Social Science major with a minor in Spanish. For my topic in Thailand I chose to go more in depth on an issue that doesn’t only find itself in this country but also occurs across international boundaries: sex trafficking and more specifically child trafficking for manual labor or sexual exploitation. I chose to look further into this topic because I didn’t know how prevalent this issue was nor how to identify/go about handling situations that could potentially be exploitation of a child. Prior coming to Thailand, my expectation was that child exploitation was going to be more explicit and obvious; however since being here, I have learned about the implicit ways that children may be coerced or forced to remain in exploited ways that my group talks about below.

Human trafficking is a worldwide problem that isn’t specific to a particular country, but rather an issue that crosses borders and creates a system of its own. There are an estimated 215,000 Cambodian migrants in Thailand, and about 130,000 of those migrants are undocumented, and 15,000 of those are children. Children who are at risk for trafficking come from families in poverty, are often time unemployed and undocumented, therefore minimizing their protection from exploitation. Many of these children are taken from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and northern areas of Thailand. As trafficking gains popularity, these children are being brought to larger, popular tourist locations. Due to the children not being documented, it is more difficult for the government to monitor the movement of children across borders. According to the article that we read before coming to Thailand,  Human traffickers can make promises of financial gain and a better life to either the children or the families from poverty-stricken areas. From there, traffickers may break their promises and exploit the children through manual labor, sexual abuse, and using them for street begging.

As part of our experience in this course, we attended a Child Safe Workshop to educate government centers, tourists, and businesses about the potential dangers of unknowingly contributing to the exploitation of children. Child Safe works with kids who are at risk to protect their rights and providing them with resources to prevent further trafficking incidents. When these children come to the country, it is hard for the documented citizen which makes them more at risk. Even though these children are not documented citizens, Child Safe works to give them the same protection that documented children receive. They also work with neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar because they recognize that this is an international problem that is not constricted by borders. They work with and train government staff and centers to be aware of signs of human trafficking because they do not have reliable power to deal with these issues on their own. Corruption in the government is a problem that Child Safe may face when combating human trafficking. Since these human trafficking organizations have been gaining power throughout Thailand and surrounding countries, they may have the financial resources to convince corrupt government officials to turn a blind eye to this issue.

The Child Safe Workshop that we attended provided our class with seven tips to be mindful tourists when traveling around Thailand. Three tips that we found to be especially significant as a tourist are “Children are not tourist attractions, let’s not treat them like they are”, “Volunteering with children feels good but could be harmful – look for better ways to help them”, and lastly “Children pay the price for your generosity – don’t give to begging children”. Often as foreigners, we put children on a pedestal and want to spend time with them, so people will visit child institutions such as schools and orphanages. As an outsider coming into a different environment, we can perceive kids similar to a zoo animal; something to temporarily look at and interact with. We may take photos with them and “try to change their lives,” but end up objectifying them as something we enjoy, instead of the person that they are. Throughout the workshop, we were challenged to think about a foreigner coming into our kids’ schools and taking pictures with them, objectifying them, and potentially exploiting their rights. The second tip that we found important emphasizes the idea of volunteering and around the damage that can be reinforced by temporarily volunteering. Children from an unstable family life may have developed attachment issues and insecurities, or experienced past trauma,  making future relationships that much more fragile. When volunteers come into the lives of vulnerable children, it is important they develop a long-lasting, secure relationship. If a volunteer develops this relationship with a child but isn’t there for a prolonged amount of time, may reinforce pre existing attachment issues that a child might have already been dealing with. Finally, the third tip revolves around the idea that providing these resources to children may contribute to either the cycle of poverty in Thailand or to the traffickers that own the child. If the child learns that they can get money from begging, they could lose the incentive to attend school and to make money that capitalizes on their strings. Along with that, traffickers may take the money that the children received off of the streets, for their financial gain. Overall, we found that these tips educated us on the explicit and implicit ways that human traffickers and tourists exploit children.

Initially, we all had the idea that it would be easy to identify children being exploited in Thailand but we learned that there are many underground ways that these organizations can function. Whether this includes taking a picture with a child to objectify a person, giving them short attention, or giving money to a child begging, these are all versions of how the tourist industry contributes to child exploitation. The child-safe workshop provided us with great information to ensure that we were mindful tourists throughout this trip. Child trafficking is an issue in America as well, so we can incorporate these teachings into our everyday life so that we are not contributing to this issue.

Our Experience with Indigenous Peoples in Thailand

Our Experience with Indigenous Peoples in Thailand

Sawatdee Ka!  We would like to start by giving you a quick introduction to our group!  My name is Brenda. My gender pronouns are she/her/hers and I identify as Hmong-American. My name is Gao Zer Nancy Xiong. I am majoring in Family Social Science and use the pronouns she/her/hers. Hi, my name is Genevieve Locke, and I am studying strategic communication with an emphasis in advertising. My name is Lydia and I am an upcoming senior double-majoring in Psychology and Family Social Science.  We will never forget the people here, especially those we visited in hill tribe villages as they shared their lives and culture with us.


Throughout our time in Thailand, our studies have been heavily focused on ethnic minority groups, and hill tribes.  While here we have gotten the opportunity to visit both a Hmong and Karen village, visit a Hmong student group at Chiang Rai Rajabhat University, visit the Chang Dao primary school, and engage in discussion with the Hill Area Development Foundation, who focus on social justice initiatives for vulnerable hill tribes.  Of all these experiences, the main themes that emerged were that of pressures to assimilate to Thai culture, the generational divide between the younger generation and elders, the role of community-based tourism, and the implications of stateless.

Because many of our experiences are based on interactions with students from these communities, we have seen how they balance Thai culture with their native traditions and the challenges this can create.  One of the biggest challenges is the pressure to assimilate into Thai culture.  This stems from ethnic students attending schools in which the majority of the students are Thai.  Because of this, language barriers then become apparent as schools are taught in Thai therefore students from hill tribes must learn to speak Thai, but have no designated space to continue practicing their native language.  This combination can lead to students merging languages

as was common when speaking with the students in the Hmong student group at Chiang Rai Rajabhat University.  Another outcome of pressured assimilation to the Thai language, is loss of native language skills.  Speaking to the chief of Pha Nok Kok Hmong Village many Hmong students that leave the village to go to school in the city loose language skills.  Language is the main way we saw pressure to assimilate, but there are many other pressures as society continues to change and Thailand experiences the impacts of globalization.

For this reason, there is an increasing effort by schools to offer programs that help ethnic minority students preserve their traditional culture.  At Chiang Rai Rajabhat University we met with the Hmong student group which is one way that students at a Thai university can connect back to their ethnic heritage.  In the club, students participate in traditional Hmong activities such as pov pob (ball tossing), ncuav (pounding rice patties), outreach to other hill tribes, and educating outside groups, such as us, about Hmong culture and traditions.  Additionally, these Hmong students wear their traditional clothing for special occasions, which we got to see first-hand when visiting.  When visiting the Chang Dao School, a school that primarily serves

 low-income students from hill tribes, students were also wearing traditional clothing.  Because of the large population of hill tribe students, the school encourages students to wear their traditional ethnic clothing on Fridays as a way preserve culture and create a sense of solidarity between students of the same communities.

We also visited the Hill Area Development Foundation (HADF) and learned about their initiatives to help schools preserve student’s identities as members of hill tribes when attending Thai schools.  One of these such programs, centers on the traditional food from the hill tribes.  The organization polled hill tribe students in the area about their favorite ethnic foods and used those findings to organize a cookbook to distribute to local teachers.  This cookbook’s purpose is to make these students more comfortable integrating into the Thai school system, to make sure ethnic minority students can preserve connections to their culture, and to combat the integration of unhealthy food into these student’s diets.

Along with the HADF, there are preservation efforts being made within the hill tribe communities as well.  One of the ways in which they engage in this preservation is through community-based tourism.  Community-based tourism provides hill tribe communities with the opportunity to share their culture with outside communities in a structured way as well as create financial opportunities so less young people need to move away for jobs.  While visiting the Karen village, we learned about their community-based tourism program that allows a few tourists to come to the village at a time, stay in the village, and learn about their weaving and agricultures processes.  This structure helps to combat the threat of tourists taking over the area or culture through processes such as gentrification.  The products made from weaving can then be sold to help create one source of income for the community.

While each of our experiences has taught us about the challenges hill tribes face and the efforts to combat those challenges, these are not representative of all experiences of hill tribe members.  Throughout learning about these communities and their culture one of the biggest themes we noticed and want to acknowledge is the resilience and resourcefulness of ethnic minority populations.  The ways in which these communities balance both Thai culture and their indigenous culture is admirable especially when students face such a large pressure to assimilate.  We are grateful to the communities that welcomed us and allowed us to become more culturally aware while learning about their language, traditions, and communities.

The End of a Chapter

As the end of our trip is quickly approaching, I can’t help but think back on all of the amazing memories that we’ve made together as a group thus far, as well as the memories we’ve made with the inspirational and often quite humorous people we’ve met.  From KK, the Buddhist monk, to the Mexican-Thai chef, every person we’ve interacted with along the way has had an impact on our development in some way or another.  What stands out to me when I think back on our experiences isn’t the food or the views, it’s always the individuals that we were able to form personal and intimate connections with during our activities here in Thailand.


It didn’t matter whether the people we interacted with were two years old at the Hmong school or 75 years old leading us up a mountain, each of them had something to teach us and something valuable to take away from the interaction.  Even just meeting people for a couple hours a day, I was able to take something away from every experience.  Without even realizing it, I’ve grown and changed so much in the span of three weeks that it’s hard to even imagine my life before meeting these people.

KK taught us the value of balance and the need to take care of your mind in order to lead a truly happy and healthy lifestyle.  The elders at the Karen village taught us that lessons can be taught without the use of words as well as the value of patience.  The children at the schools taught us how to have fun and deeply connect with people through craft and music despite difficult language barriers.  Even our guides, our beloved Beer, Nett, and Eve, taught us the value of relationships and how important it is to stay true to your unique personality.

In addition to the numerous people who we’ve met here, I feel incredibly lucky to have added 14 new people from the US to my list of friends.  It’s not often that you get a group of people who mesh so well together.  I feel as though I’ve developed such a deep connection with each person in our group and that each one of them has taught me things about life and about myself.  From sharing our worries and hardships over lunch to a game of charades before bedtime, I will cherish every memory, both big and small, that I’ve made here.

While we’ve been learning overtly about Thai culture and many incredible organizations throughout the country, we’ve also subconciously been learning about ourselves and how to be better global individuals.  I truly hope that the growth and progress we’ve experienced on this trip stays with us and is able to easily translate to our lives back home.  One thing that I know we all home to implement is KK’s philosophy, “Let it be, let it go.”  I think that quote sums up our trip as a whole: accepting things as they come and not being distraught when they don’t turn out as we initially hoped they would.

The saying often goes that a country is the sum of its people.  It’s difficult to truly understand that until you travel and connect with the people who call that place home.  The welcoming and open spirit of the Thai people will stay with me forever, and I hope one day to return and get to see their smiling faces again.