kayaadvisor's Travel Journals


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Whats going on in Thailand?

Two of Kaya’s most popular Thailand projects are based in Chaing Mai, Thailand and work towards helping victims of Human Trafficking and prevention of trafficking at a local level. Our projects take place at a small and intimate shelter for girls.

Photography Expedition to Promote Social Change - June's Expedition 2012

Thailand Chiang Mai, Thailand  |  Aug 28, 2012
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 Understanding the cultural context of trafficking in each of the villages they visited was an important part of the learning process. Trying to capture the story of a place or person is integral to making a meaningful photograph 

There are a number of ways that you can help if you’re keen to help put a stop to human trafficking.  We have 2 volunteer projects in Thailand where your help and support can really make a difference.  Firstly, you can volunteer at a shelter for girls who have been rescued from the sex-trade or who were at high risk of being sold into it.

You can also join our Photography Expedition, which is coordinated by the team at the shelter.  We tend to conduct 2 or 3 treks per year but this varies each year according to volunteer interest.  Volunteers on the Photography Expedition project spend their first couple of days staying at the shelter for girls who have been affected by human trafficking.  During this time volunteers take part in an orientation and various training sessions such as role and power of photography as a story-teller and understanding and the issues of surrounding trafficking in the hilltribe communities. Following this, backpacks are donned and the trek begins!

This June, our volunteers Mia and Sandra headed out on our first Photo-Expedition of the year, complete with budding photographers, cameras and an eye for a story. The assignment? To document the plight human trafficking and to create a reach far wider than just the villages where it is occurring in Northern Thailand. Sandra Laurin from Canada and Mia Tarte from the US joined the project team on a weeklong expedition which took them trekking to Akha and Lahu hill-tribe villages, over mountains and across the border to troubled Myanmar.

Their first foray into the forest started at 9am on a misty and cool Sunday morning. With a breakfast of mountain rice and stir-fried veggies and stocked up with water, a daypack, cameras and 2 guides they headed off into the wilderness. No sooner had they set off but their entourage had almost doubled in size. A local Akha farmer, whose fields were on our path, joined us with her son, 2 dogs and a huge bamboo basket strapped to her back!

The trek took them through beautiful farmland, undulating hills and narrow dirt paths. An incredible sight for sure, but what about the more sinister activities that were lurking beyond the beauty? The highly profitable trade of opium smuggling used to pass through those exact hills. The trading of humans through trafficking and smuggling still exists in these areas, and trafficking is a common cultural norm.

Understanding the cultural context of trafficking in each of the villages they visited was an important part of the learning process. Trying to capture the story of a place or person is integral to making a meaningful photograph. What are the ramifications of individual actions from a mother, father, brother or daughter? Who is the victim? For a Westerner, it can be hard to grapple with the idea of them willingly selling a child.

In one of our already established target villages, the group was presented with a child who came looking for help. One of her clients in the local brothel got her pregnant and she has had to drop out of school. At 2 months pregnant, she is only 14 years old. The 30-year-old ‘partner’ of the girl has agreed to take her in to house her while she is pregnant which conveniently excuses him of wrongdoing as the situation changes to that of ‘girlfriend and boyfriend’. More astoundingly however, was they learned that same afternoon of the general frequency of this sort of behaviour. In the Akha and Lahu culture, it is very common to see children as young as 12 or 13 pregnant. Understanding choices at this level is key to taking a hold on the overarching situation surrounding trafficking and our volunteers hope to convey this through their photographs.

Sexual exploitation is not the only injustice the Thai locals face. Our volunteers learnt about the huge industry of tea harvesting and how it pays a pittance to the local farmers. Workers break their backs picking 30/40kg of tealeaves every day during harvesting season and get paid on average, 50 Baht ($1.20) per day. For this, the leaves fetch 11Baht per kilo and are sold on for export for hundreds and even thousands of Baht. The workers see none of this profit.  

It is this work; this struggle to maintain a basic wage for living and feeding their own families that was another story to capture in a photograph. This is the life that may drive a family to selling their child. These are the circumstances that stateless citizens have to endure and which leads them to seek alternatives to a greater income. Suddenly bargaining a good price for their child doesn’t seem like such a bad option after all and with a lack of stigmatization, the question is often posed – why not? Once more, looking beyond the statement of ‘a mother selling her child’ was imperative to the assignment. You have to put yourself in a parents shoes, to identify the driving factors of why they would give up their child (of which of course there are many) and to portray these to outsiders, to those to know little about the world of community based trafficking.

By capturing the essence of this in a photograph, volunteers can do their part to help more people see and understand the dilemma of so many in Thailand. Here, there is a blurry divide between victim, perpetrator and in some cases survivors, but all victims of circumstance.

If you would like to get involved and make a difference you can volunteer in the shelter for girls who have been affected by trafficking or you can take part in one of our Photography Expeditions (or you can do both!).  Please click on the links below to have a read through the full project descriptions on our website:

Photography Expedition:


Shelter for Victims of Human Trafficking:


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  • Photography Expedition to Promote Social Change - June's Expedition 2012

    August 28, 2012
    3 Photos | No Video