Hug Project, Chiang Mai Thailand
I started off college knowing that I was going to study abroad. I was very proactive in applications for trips all across Europe and with every application came a closed door. My heart hardened as I had to manage a series of “no’s”. I remember the night I went back to my dorm after the closed door to an Italy trip and talked with my roommate, “I’m not going to keep doing this; God clearly doesn’t want me to go, I’m done.” Lights went off that night; my 8 o’clock class came the next morning in which a study abroad coordinator came to speak about the last few openings on a trip to Thailand. Let me just tell you what my thought process was:
1. Are you serious, God are you really that cruel, to rub another trip in my face that I can’t go on?
2. Who in the world wants to go to Asia?
I stayed in the class and listened to the whole thing and by the end I was absolutely beside myself in tears. The presentation wasn’t emotional by any means–God really softened my heart in a way that I could hear his voice, and I knew that this trip, the one that 30 minutes earlier didn’t look the least bit appealing to me, was exactly where I was supposed to go. With lots of phone calls to make and only a few months to prepare, I was heading to Thailand.
I went to the beautiful country of Thailand for the first time a year ago. It was far from what I was used to as an American. In the first few weeks I fractured both of my hips, which didn’t make the adjustment any easier, and I just wanted to go home. God had bigger plans. I came insistant that I was not going to work with victims of human trafficking. I felt like the next few weeks were just a blur as I was gently guided into an internship with male victims of trafficking. I had an unbelievable peace that assured me I was not unqualified as I had believed but rather equipped with strength and direction. No matter where I went in Thailand, on vacation, grocery shopping, etc. I felt that my eyes were opening to the dark side of this beautiful country.
I came back to America and was so unsettled. Going into my senior year, I was required to fulfill a full-time practicum and in the process of deciding where to apply–the moment was so real to me– God stopped me where I was and said, “You are going back to Thailand.” I could not ignore this burn (and no it wasn’t 9 months of heartburn). I went back to school for fall semester, and trials came close to defeating me. Though it seemed the day would never come, it came! I made my way on the plane yet again with that same peace that passed all understanding.
I began my work at an organization called “The Hug Project” under a large foundation called Family Connections Foundation. Over the course of a few months I worked with victims of trafficking and exploitation from their placement into safety, through the legal process and into aftercare programs. Three words can sum up all the work nicely- Empower, Protect and Educate! The project is unique in the way that it works with a multidisciplinary team from around the world including doctors, counselors, teachers, social workers, and government officials and countless other professionals who are needed in the process towards justice and restoration. I was blessed to see how many of these professional leaders in their field gathered for each case.
A significant part of my work was with the local Thai Police. This group of individuals understands that they have a responsibility and are responding in a unique way. They are known to be amongst the few branches of police that are not corrupt, which is a common concern in Thailand. A group of them worked closely with us on another project called “The Big Brother Project.” These individuals are dedicated to being a healthy role model for the victims of abuse in this community who have no one to advocate for them. They understand that relationship and positive attachment are crucial in the process of justice and restoration. This is incredibly unique. Through this project, we worked as a part of a team to develop an educational center for these at risk children, partnering with the government to allow them to explore career opportunities and receive an education free of cost. (Read this incredible article about the project).
The Hug Project team is a faith-based team that is committed to follow Christ: serving as examples of his unconditional love and bringing light in the midst of so much darkness. As you may know, Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist nation. A vast majority of the children we work with, as well as the professionals we collaborate with, would also classify themselves as such. It is an incredible blessing to see that just through acts of love and kindness, people are drawn to Him!
There are many stories I could tell about my favorite destinations, favorite foods, struggles of the work and success stories, but one sticks out in particular.
I really believed that God was calling me to see the red-light district. I prayed that He would be the one who opened up the opportunity– surely He did! Late one night, the team needed to go to this area for a particular assignment and I went as an observer. As a caucasian female, I could feel surrounding confusion as to why I was walking down a road where there was so much darkness. Really, there was no reason for me to be where I was, except maybe as a “clueless tourist.” In the midst of flashing lights, loud music, and lots of alcohol, I saw some of the most (I need to use my words carefully) interesting people I have seen from all across the globe. We were walking by this one storefront and there were hundreds of Thai girls my age standing/dancing on the sidewalk. I made eye contact with one girl and just smiled; honestly I didn’t know what to do. I could tell what she was trying to communicate without any words, “Don’t smile at me; you have no idea what my life is like. You have no idea what tonight will be like for me.”
She was exactly right. I can study for years, I can watch every documentary, and I will never know what the depth of her life is like. We stayed in the area for hours that night, sensing the darkness all around. There’s a lot I am still learning, but I do know that there is a God who absolutely loves every girl I saw that night, and His heart breaks for every time they are mistreated and disrespected. I can only imagine God’s unconditional love for them, and I desire a heart like His. I want to live a life of absolute surrender and let Him guide my steps on this road. Only He knows the way and only HE can break all the chains.
I don’t know what the future will look like for me, but something happened in my heart that night. My eyes opened a little wider, my heart got a little bigger, and I got the sense again that this is just the beginning.
After my experience in the field, I believe that I now have a responsibility. I am forever committed to raising awareness and sparking a conversation– I believe that you can too! If you are interested in further resources, outlets to help or ways to GIVE to the Hug project please email me at Kayty@hugproject.org .
“The world is not a dangerous place because of those who do evil- the world is a dangerous place because of those who look and do nothing”- Albert Einstein
Kayty Marie is a recent graduate of Messiah College with a Bachelors in Social Work. Throughout her college career she had the opportunity to spend two semesters abroad interning in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She has recognized her calling to respond and seek justice in the area of Human Trafficking and Exploitation, specifically in South East Asia. Kayty also is passionate about writing, being outdoors, fitness and cooking. She is looking forward to seeing the doors that God opens in this new season of life.