Passion Points: Giving Back
You don’t have to stray too far off the beaten path in Bangkok (or Phuket or or Pattaya, for that matter) to witness the dark side of the so-called Land of Smiles. Streets like Soi Four and Soi Cowboy, as well as districts like infamous Patpong, are chalk-full of neon-lit go-go and hostess bars, their sidewalks littered with women in four-inch heels and slinky dresses. Technically, prostitution has been illegal in Thailand since 1960, but the laws are rarely enforced, and due to the fact that the country has countless unofficial crossover points along its borders, it’s one of the main trafficking centers of Southeast Asia.
The true tragedy, however, is child prostitution and sexual abuse, as knows Gabrielle von Reding, the Thai-Swiss founder of the Lotus Flower Foundation (www.thelotusflowerfoundation.org), an NGO whose mission is to confront child abuse, trafficking, prostitution, sexual exploitation and pornography head on. “UNICEF estimates that approximately 250,000 children become victims of sex trade each year in Thailand alone,” says von Reding, who founded LFF in 2007. “These severely abused children are often left with so little hope that traditional shelters cannot begin to address their immense traumas or give them the deserved special care so necessary in their long-term healing process.”
The Lotus Flower Foundation—ambitiously innovative in its approach and deeply committed to breaking this cycle of sexual exploitation and violence—is focused on policy change and, especially, education and raising social awareness about a topic that’s all-too-often veiled in silence. Von Reding, a plugged-in Bangkok local, is tirelessly working on promoting a conversation about the issues, in part by collaborating with high-profile brands and properties (hot spot Bed Supperclub recently hosted a highly successful fundraiser). “Gabrielle has an incredible approach,” says Jenna Davey-Burns, a philanthropist and regular volunteer of the LFF. “I’m the type of person who gets so upset about child exploitation that I want to shout facts into people’s faces to wake them up to the sordid truth about what is happening around the globe; a wake up call to the harsh realities of the cruel abuse that many children face. That’s not Gabrielle’s style. She’s totally focused on changing the failing system and raising awareness, but her approach focuses on building relationships and giving people the chance to be the change they want to see in the world. And I really think it works. The fundraiser at Bed, for instance, which brought together a diverse range of people from the Bangkok community, was extremely successful in solidifying awareness and solidarity for the cause as well as raising tens of thousands of dollars for the foundation in the process.”
The goal of the LFF—eradicating child abuse and sexual exploitation in Thailand—is an ambitious and perhaps unattainable one, but von Reding is determined, patient and deeply committed to her cause. In 2009, she is opening the LFF Academy and Shelter, an education and rehabilitation center where caregivers will be trained in life skill and trauma relief methodologies, while the shelter will house and work with thirty abused kids between the ages of three and twelve. “Earlier in my life I often thought about the two different cultures in me, Thai and Swiss,” she says. “I find that my devotion to children, to help the poorest and weakest in Thailand, is strengthened by combining knowledge from the Western and Eastern worlds. One of the greatest changes you can make in your life is to give to others and open your heart and mind to giving…the result is more than you could ever imagine.”
Read an interview with von Reding about the Lotus Flower Foundation and how you can help and get involved.Statistics & Numbers
- UNICEF estimates that approximately 250,000 children become victims of sex trade each year in Thailand
- 1 out of 4 children in Thailand is emotionally, physically or sexually abused.
- Only 20% of these children are successfully reintegrated back in to society.
- Up to 80% of children who are victims of domestic violence become orphaned as returning to their families becomes increasingly unsafe.
- Abused children are also at a much higher risk of becoming casualties of drug, alcohol and sexual addictions, feeding continuous patterns of victimization.
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