Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Compassion in Thailand

Temple in Chiang Mai
Last week I had the honor of traveling to Thailand for work. I posted previously about the sponsor gifts I was able to carry with me, and how touched I was by all of the love these wonderful sponsors were sending their children.
Chiang Mai

Learning Traditional Thai dance
Thai Soap Flower (carved by hand out of soap!
Thailand is an amazing country. The people are sweet and gracious, and the countryside is lovely. My meetings were in Chiang Mai, the northern capitol city that has become a major tourist destination in the country, and one that native Thais are quite proud of (and rightly so).

Hmong woman with child
Sunday Market
One of the most amazing experiences in the city of Chiang Mai, to me, was the street market. Every night there are night markets in the city with a variety of artisans creating and selling goods right in front of visitors; food vendors selling items from yummy, amazing banana waffles to somewhat less enticing insects and unusual fruits; small shop owners hocking souvenir items; and Hmong women toting children on their backs and baskets on their chests selling all manner of jewelry and ubiquitous wooden toy frogs.

(Not so) Yummy
In addition to the night markets, there is a weekend market on Sunday that we were able to squeeze in (we were a bit jet lagged, so we more or less staggered through the Sunday market). There we saw more beautiful handwoven purses and silks, artwork, and amazingly intricate soap carvings. At one point in the Sunday market a man came over an intercom and began what sounded like a political speech. When his speech concluded, he announced in English "please stand for the national anthem" and immediately all movement on the street stopped....entirely. It was as though Times Square ceased all activity in one moment. All people, tourist and native, stood completely still.  I can't describe the eeriness and yet powerfulness of the complete silence and stillness in that moment while the anthem was sung....and then as soon as it began it stopped and the bustle was immediate.

Riding an Elephant
My new Friend
On the third day of the conference meeting we had field trips related to forest industry in Thailand. In the country, elephants were used historically for logging purposes. Thus, elephants are a massive part of Thai forest industry history. Now there is a domestic population of elephants that seek work elsewhere, as work is necessary to feed these intelligent giants. The result is a booming tourist industry revolving around elephant camps. We visited the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, which is devoted to training mahouts to treat elephants in their care humanely, and which provides free hospital services to elephants who are injured or sick. Their goal is the conservation of the domestic elephants in Thailand.
Bath Time!

As part of the field trip I was honored to participate in the mahout training show, and learned how to mount and dismount from the elephant, how to ask the animal to pick up an object I had dropped, and other training commands. We also watched the animals demonstrate logging techniques, and we were able to watch them bathe (they absolutely loved the water!). I also helped make some elephant dung paper--a really interesting process--and we learned how elephant dung can be converted into biogas for fuel.

Compassion Thailand Mailroom
Compassion Thailand Representative
Finally, and perhaps the pinnacle of my visit outside of the work we completed while we were there, was my visit to the Compassion Thailand office. The office is a 2-story, fairly modern building in Chiang Mai. It seems to be in an area where many other humanitarian organizations are located. It's a modest office, with a handful of cute little animal statues out front. I was met by a lovely, friendly staff member who was happy to explain the inner workings of their office. I was able to see the mailroom, which was a real eye-opener for me. I was amazed to see the pile of letters waiting to be translated. I learned that they deliver from the main office to the local offices once monthly, around the 20th of each month. When letters arrive at the main office they are sent out in small groups to the translators, who have about 7 days to complete translation and return the letters. Then the letters are placed into bins and when it is time to deliver the letters they all go into gigantic manilla envelopes for deliveries. Sponsor gifts like those I dropped off are delivered separately, as soon as can be arranged.

Compassion Thailand
Compassion Entrance
Thailand was beautiful and amazing, but it does have a dark side. One evening coming back to the hotel from dinner we walked down a road we were unfamiliar with. Signs of the infamous sex trade in Asia were ever-present, and left me feeling very depressed. In the airplane from Bangkok I read the book "Only 13," a poorly written but nonetheless heartbreaking account of a girl introduced into the sex tourism industry in Thailand at age 13, and a cataloging of the culture that lead her to that point and that ended in the development of severe mental disorders. Nothing could have concreted my opinion that Compassion and other aid organizations are desperately needed in Asia more than that happenstance walk through the red-light district.

I ask that you please pray for the poor in Thailand, and particularly the poor women and children who are exploited in southeast Asia. Shame on the tourists (and locals) who prey on these women.


  1. What a great account, and great pictures! I will definitely be praying. It is a scary thing. I have Compassion kids in Bangladesh and Indonesia, and I am so glad that they are able to be helped out of that horrible trade.

  2. Thank you so much for posting this and for updating me on your trip while you were there. It was such a blessing to be able to follow along with your trip and to learn more about my Pin's country in the process. I really enjoyed all your photos!! And I look forward to reading the book.

  3. Thank you for showing us Thailand and thank you for delivering the goodies for the children. I received the red elephant today, you have no idea how thrilled I am! That was so thoughtful of you, really, wonderful! Blessings, Lesley-sponsor for Wilawan.

  4. Thank you for posting about Thailand! One of my girls is in Thailand and I do think it's a beautiful country. The trafficking is so incredibly sad, though. :(