We enter a small secondary street at Patong, the famous beach in Phuket,Thailand. Patong is known especially because of its red-light district. In front of us there is the Good Shepherd vocational center, a location for Thai women and girls, working in the red light surroundings, to learn better English, to study for a massage certificate or to learn basic hair cutting. Even some computers are at the second level of the small house. The vocational center is just one of many initiatives the Good Shepherd sisters run in Phuket.
But what we could define as a “bad business”, is not always seen in the same way by the women themselves. “Most of the women are mothers, even very young ones, coming from rural areas where they were married and have one or more children. Their husbands disappeared one day and do not care anymore about the families, there is no legal obligation to do so. The women call these husbands butterflies,”explains sister Cathry. “That’s when most of the women decide to leave the children with the parents or relatives and to come to Phuket to earn money for the family. When they arrive in the city they do not have any professional skills, so most of them end up working in bars and this means prostitution. The highest good is to be a good daughter and to care not just for the children, but for the parents, too. It is not a question of moral. When they are able to provide them a comfortable life in the rural villages, a nice house, TV and mobiles included, then the families recognizes their daughters as very good ones. Often when the women being today in Patong get old their daughters will do the same for them.”
When I ask the women what is their big dream, most of them say to find a husband who cares for them and their families: “Normally, men from abroad do. They are not like butterflies. Especially, elder ones. They are looking for someone who cares about them and gives them the feeling to be important. Some retirees even like to live here with us. That’s good.”
Sister Cathry explains that – seen with Western standards- it is often difficult to understand how the women see themselves: “Even if they learn a lot here at the center, there are only a few who want to become business women on their own, start a different professional life or get a better job. It’s not their main objective to become independent from men’s support. That’s not what they are looking for. Ideally, they want to be protected and need men as family supporters. They just say that life is as it is. Prostitution is a well paid job and therefore not ‘wrong’. Much better than working at a reception desk. Many women do not see the real benefit of working for less money.”
Fatalism and development
We would maybe call it fatalism. Maybe. That’s again one of the situations when I ask myself what it really means to be a changemaker for a better world and to ‘develop’ someone.
Don’t get me wrong, but when we in the so-called ‘developed’ world talk about development initiatives, we often think that we are right. Is it a question of being right? Developing, but what and where to? Which are the right criteria? And what means better? Better because it is aligned to our moral standards? Because it is less risky? Are we happier, better, more successful?
And if so, which is the price we pay for it?
It’s a global issue whatever you may think about it, not just a local one. It is just too easy to point at them.
So what can help?
The sisters need money to engage some good teachers, who could work continuously with the women. They need funds to ensure that the women can support their families as needed. And some project managers who could coordinate all and connect to local businesses so that the women after their ‘apprenticeship’ could get a job that is paid fairly.
“The best would be to connect to the girls and women as early as possible, when they reach Patong,” adds sister Cathry. “Before they start thinking that the prostitution life is a destination and the way to take.” Besides the moral aspects the health risk is high: the HIV rate is growing in Thailand. The tourists nowadays come from other countries than 10 years ago. The rudiness is becoming worse… Many men force the girls to do the job without any protection…