As we shared last week, traffickers are capitalizing on opportunities the pandemic presents. Trafficking has not diminished, so we believe it is more important than ever to focus on prevention. We must address all the factors that push or lure people into risky situations or leave them unprotected if they are trafficked. Research shows that prevention programs are most effective when combining awareness-raising with actual material support. We want people to know the risks of trafficking and exploitation and have the resources they need to make other choices. We’ve designed our holistic approach to prevention with these goals in mind, and, despite the challenges presented by COVID, we’ve successfully continued providing our services and expanding our reach. Here are updates on what we’ve accomplished:
On Migrant Volunteer Training
In October of last year, we shared how we adapted our outreach programs to hard-to-reach communities like migrant workers. Due to COVID concerns, we were cut off from directly conducting outreach efforts within the communities. But we were able to connect with individual volunteers from within the communities and train them on human rights, labor rights, protection from trafficking, and COVID safety. We gave them the training and financial support to conduct their own workshops within their communities.
We’re proud to report that we excel at this approach. It has been so successful that we’re looking to expand it even further. We’ve developed training manuals in Thai and Burmese, and we’re testing them for adaptation for other Thai and Burmese communities.
Our use of social media in these communities has also been particularly effective. People in these communities rely on Facebook and the app called LINE to receive their information and news updates. We’ve stayed in communication by spreading knowledge and videos that our staff creates in local languages via these channels.
On Expanding Our Prevention Model
One of our heart goals has been to expand our prevention model. Our strategy for this has been to create, test, and prove a model for prevention that we can share with partners who want to bring this model to their own communities. This strategy allows for adaptations that are sensitive to the local context, capitalizes on the expertise of local leadership, and grows prevention efficiently and sustainably.
Our programs in Chiang Rai were the first. Three years ago, we expanded to Nan province, where children in those communities are in many ways even more vulnerable than in Chiang Rai. Nan has been our test case for how well it adapts our model in a different community. It has been particularly successful, even despite COVID, because of the unique situation in Nan, where local leaders had the authority to isolate their community to prevent COVID spread. While our staff from Chiang Rai were unable to travel to Nan, our team in Nan have been able to work unhampered by COVID. We’ve identified excellent business partners who collaborate with us on youth activities and even offer part-time work in their businesses.
Thanks to funding from NEFO, we’re well supported over the coming years to identify partners in other communities, train and coach them in our methods, and then evaluate lessons learned for future adaptations.
Our sustainable livelihoods program has likewise been a successful incubator for projects where families-at-risk can generate extra income. Our team coaches them as they develop their ideas. We also connect them to business or academic partners who can guide them and create an ecosystem of community support. We now have about 6-8 families who’ve become self-sustaining, and we have a model we believe we can systematize and scale-up.
On Human & Legal Rights Support
Thanks to the groundwork we’ve laid in developing networks for collaboration, we’ve also successfully continued our support work in human and legal rights. With the help of our partnership with JICA, we implemented large projects for COVID relief – distributing masks, test kits, PPE, etc. to local authorities, community leaders, and workers. In doing so, we furthered relationships of trust with government agencies, which facilitates our efforts when we have cases of rights violations in our communities. Likewise, when government agencies came across migrant workers who may have had their rights violated but didn’t have legal representation or language interpreters, our Burmese staff could step in and provide support.
Finally, we’ve been engaged in a big operation to identify stateless and hill tribe children who are undocumented and register them in the civil registration system. Getting them official identification is critical for access to rights and facilitating legal protections if they ever come across exploitation later.
Though COVID has made it difficult to do some things, such as afterschool activities with the children in Chiang Rai, we look forward to the prospect of more in-person opportunities opening up again in 2022. With the help of other local partners, we’re imagining new ways to support children in their development journey. Hopefully, we can organize even more of these collaborative activities this year.