By LAURA TESTER
Above: Film producers, all from or originally from Central Alberta, shoot the film called She Has A Name, in the Thai countryside. The movie about sex trafficking will be released on December 2.
It’s a country known for white sand beaches, ornate Buddhist temples — and several of the largest red-light districts.
Thailand has an estimated 250,000 prostitutes, according to black market information provider Havocscope, making it one of the world’s leaders in sex trade. Most are young women and girls, some are “ladyboys” and young children.
Whether or not those working in the sex trade come voluntarily or have been forced into it, the end result is the same. They’re treated as a commodity.
They wear numbers on wristbands or their shirts as Thai men, the largest percentage of clientele, and foreign men seek their sexual services in bars, massage parlours and on city streets. The majority of prostitutes come from desperately poor regions to work in Bangkok and Pattaya, infamously dubbed the sex capital of the world.
The sheer magnitude of Thailand’s multi-million-dollar sex trade is huge. It’s not strictly illegal and Thai culture largely accepts it.
A Better World Canada isn’t deterred.
It’s giving young girls and women a new identity and hope for the future.
It’s sponsoring projects at Home of New Beginnings which opened in 2006, just three blocks from one of Bangkok’s three main red-light districts. Former prostitutes now receive an education in a sanctuary run by American couple Roy and Bonita Thompson and Thai native Ann Thongves. Home of New Beginnings also provides counselling and preventative outreach.
In 2014, A Better World began working with this home that has helped girls as young as 11. She Has a Name project, named after a stage play and soon-to-be released film produced by Canada’s Unveil Studios, gave $5,000 towards a washing machine, computer equipment and other essentials.
As well, it’s raised $11,000 of a $15,000 goal to provide a year’s supply of food so staff can focus on long-term needs.
A Better World also plans to support a second residential and vocational site in the resort city of Pattaya. Home of New Beginnings bought a building there, with the intent to work in both prevention and rescue. Once it opens sometime in 2017, the Pattaya site will include a restaurant where residents will receive an income.
These sustainable impacts fall in line with A Better World’s mission.
Home of New Beginnings is witnessing success, including eight who have graduated from university and nine from high school. As of late September, it has 12 residents aged 15 to 24.
The youngest girl was trafficked for labour and then sold to a bar where she was found. She had never attended school before. The now 15-year-old Grade 10 student hopes to become an engineer.
“We are proud of all our young women,” founder Bonita Thompson tells A Better World.
Shanelle Adams has volunteered with A Better World since 2006 and works within co-founder Eric Rajah’s computer based business in Red Deer. She was interested in overseeing a social justice project and when she learned about Home of New Beginnings, she was excited to take part. Initially, she was shocked to learn more about Thailand’s massive sex industry.
“It grew from (American) soldiers who had gone over there during the Vietnam War,” said Adams of Lacombe. “To learn what these girls were going through hit me hard.”
Having been born in Canada with easily accessible education and other freedoms, Adams felt she had a responsibility to help.
“This is an important issue and it’s not going to go away any time soon. As North Americans, we need to be involved and put our voices and money towards making a change in other parts of the world.”
She encourages people to get involved through donations, education, prayer, organizing an event, and sharing what A Better World is doing with its partner in Thailand. The key is to help prevent and stop sexual exploitation, locally and abroad.
Adams believes wholeheartedly that sponsors will make a difference.
“We may not see immediate results, but in time those small investments of our time, talents and resources will have a compound effect,” said Adams.
The Thailand project first came to light when Rajah met Andrew Kooman during a TEDx Red Deer speaking event they were both a part of.
Kooman, who wrote the critically acclaimed She Has a Name stage play slated for Off-Broadway in January, has visited the Bangkok site twice.
“We met some of the young women in the home who have willingly left the sex trade and are now really thriving through education and what they’re really meant to do in life,” said Kooman, a Red Deer, Alta. native now living in London, Ont. “It’s really amazing to see the transformation and the hope that is in that home. You meet these young women and they’re the salt of the Earth.”
People may ask, ‘why help when sex trafficking is so huge around the world?’
For Kooman, personalizing the issue is important. That’s why he wrote a play centred on a Cambodian girl forced into the sex trade.
“If both of us can do that for one person, then there’s two. If there’s a million people that can do it, then there’s a million lives changed.”
Sex trafficking is pervasive through society, he added, including in Canada where it’s much more clandestine than in Thailand.
“When we toured the play, we connected with a survivor from Red Deer who had been trafficked by bike gangs and forced into prostitution, bought and sold for decades,” Kooman said. “Even though it’s located in Thailand, it’s really a universal story.”
With A Better World’s involvement, he’s hoping to see greater awareness for Thailand’s sex trade and how people can help former prostitutes.
“We’re so proud to partner with A Better World,” added Kooman. “The real life change they have brought is significant.”
Kooman and his brothers Daniel and Matthew Kooman have now made a movie, She Has A Name, to draw attention to sex trafficking. The Kooman brothers, along with Donna Abraham and Shari Aspinall, are producers, and Lance Kadatz and Dean Kohut are executive producers. Andrew’s oldest brother Chris provided artistic expertise as a storyboard artist. All are from Central Alberta originally. Some of the filming was done in Thailand.
It will be released December 2 in select theatres globally and for purchase on the official film website, www.shehasanamefilm.com, proceeds of which will fund global anti-human trafficking agencies.
“Proceeds from every sale will go to those organizations, so really by watching the film, people will fund freedom,” Kooman said.
It will then reach a wider release through mediums like iTunes, Google Play and Amazon Video, as well as countrywide screenings.
She Has a Name will be the headlining film at Vancouver’s Mission Film Fest, screening January 27 and 29.