As 2019 draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on the blessings, growth, challenges and lessons we’ve learned at Rapha International over the past year. This year-end blog series is dedicated, not to the large achievements and show-stopping miracles that took place this year, but to the quieter moments that continue to take my breath away and keep me picking up my sword to fight another day.
Marching in Chiang Mai
Our Thai aftercare program was granted an incredible honor at the end of 2018 when the government awarded us a brand new license as a child protection center. Only two of these new licenses were granted in the entire country. This license, which allows law enforcement the opportunity to rescue children and bring them directly to our aftercare facility, showcased the trust that our staff has built with the local and national government over the past several years. This honor has come with many extra responsibilities for our staff as they are travelling and training all over the country and as they are training other organizations to do this critical work in a quality way.
Fast-forwarding to July 2019, I was in Thailand with a fantastic team of designers, putting the finishing touches on an art center at the Chiang Mai campus when I was approached by our Thai director. “There’s an anti-human trafficking march and rally taking place downtown in a few days,” she told me. “Would you like to march with us?” She bashfully went on to tell me that she was receiving an award at the rally from the Chiang Mai Governor. Our Thai staff are warriors, but they are humble and quiet in demeanor. I agreed to take part in the march immediately- even before I heard the best part of the news. Several of our staff were participating in the march, alongside a group of our older girls whose court cases were closed and who were nearing completion in our program. When they were asked if they would like to take part, they jumped at the opportunity to take a public stand against human trafficking. Friends, in all of the sixteen years of doing this work, I had never had the privilege of marching in an anti-human trafficking rally alongside an international Rapha staff team, let alone marching alongside Rapha girls! I could hardly sleep that night...
On the evening of the rally, our Thai director gave me and the design team our marching orders. We found out that we would be marching through downtown and right through the tourist district on a very busy evening of the week. “This is very different from a US march. We must be quiet and very respectful. Just walk, pass out flyers, and if someone asks questions, then you may stop and answer.” She went on to tell us that there should be no “shenanigans” (Stephanie translation), no photo taking, no laughing, no chanting. There would be banners of the Thai king along the route and we should show respect, and bow our heads a bit as we passed by those banners. The Americans looked at each other, worried that we would mess this up in some way! Yes, this was going to be very different from an American march.
When we arrived at the starting point of the march, there were a couple hundred Thai people already there and the excitement level was high. We found the Rapha staff along with the girls, and I was immediately wiping tears from my eyes. I decided not to pass out the flyers, which were in both Thai and English about everything from sex trafficking to child begging rings, but instead, I followed closely after our girls and Thai staff and watched them pass out the flyers, and engage with people along the way who asked questions about the different forms of trafficking. My tears continued through the route, as I found myself hiding these memories deep in my heart, taking mental snapshots that I will never forget. These girls, once victims, had become survivors. Moreover, they had become thrivers, who were now using their voices on behalf of others. The people they talked to along the way didn’t know that these girls had once been victimized. To the crowd, these were simply strong young women who were passionate about this issue.
“I’m so proud of you, I’m so proud of you, I’m so proud of you” I told each girl at the end of the march, where a program was beginning, involving loud-speakers and government officials talking about their efforts to end this epidemic of exploitation taking place in Thailand.
Friends, this day will always rank personally as one of my favorite days in Rapha history- when I had the opportunity to witness empowered young women on the journey of healing fighting for those awaiting their day of rescue.
When I think of the Rapha girls, I think of the assets that they will be to their communities, to their countries, to the world. Who better to help people understand the tragedy of human trafficking and sexual exploitation? Who better to reach the next generation of survivors.
I marched with the Rapha girls in Chiang Mai, but I was really walking in miracles.
As this year draws to a close, we invite you to remember Rapha International in your year-end giving. Your support means the world to the children we serve...
It’s not too late to make a year-end gift to Rapha International. You can lock in your charitable deductions for 2019 by donating on or before December 31.
There are even more ways to give. 2019 is a great year to donate stocks or other assets that have increased in value, which may be exempt from capital gains taxes.