I’m joining a photography expedition with Kaya Volunteer to Northern Thailand, visiting hill tribes being supported by COSA (Children’s Organisation of Southeast Asia). COSA is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the prevention of child trafficking and sexual exploitation within the Northern Thailand region. It’s a community based organisation developed in 2005 to meet the needs of communities at risk within this region. My friend Lou Gilbert and I will be led by Mickey Choothesa, a world renowned photographer who has channeled the proceeds from his photography into COSA. He says ” The illustrations of my work represent the diverse perception of the term ‘Community’, and the effects communities have on the lives of those within them. The sequence of images depict women and children residing in communities, trapped in poverty, vulnerable to abuse and trafficking rings; those who are victims, restricted from freedom and disempowered; and those who have found shelter, learning to trust the safety of a supportive community.”
I arrive in Bangkok on 8th November – giving me a day to recover from my flight. We have a general orientation day in Bangkok before flying to Chaing Mai and transferring to the Baan Yuu Suk shelter in Mai Rim where we have further training and orientation covering the topic of human trafficking, ethics of photography, meeting the victims and being helped to understand the issues at a local, cultural and political level.
We’ll then travel to Wieng Haeng on the Burmese border to understand how rife trafficking of Burmese people is in the area. We’ll travel through Fang to Doi Wawee and then to Ban Khun Suay, two of the villages targeted by COSA. Next to Huay Mak Liam where we’ll spend a few days, hiking each day to meet people in this area. On to Mae Salong and then to Mae Sai where we’ll explore the Golden Triangle and communities known for drugs and human trafficking. We’ll cross the border into Burma as well. On our return to the shelter there will be an opportunity to write up prepare our work to share with a wider audience. The whole point of the trip is to communicate the issues through the images we make and I will be keen to find opportunities to do that on my return to the UK.
From the Project description
“A harsh reality in this world is that child and human trafficking are real and pertinent issues facing millions of people each day. In an effort to fight this social taboo in Thailand, the need to raise awareness is essential, in turn helping to cease the spread of human trafficking whilst providing support to those who have fallen victim to the trade as well as creating a better future for children at risk.
Documenting the trade and those affected by it photographically, is a vital tool to allow ordinary people, far removed from Thailand and the situation at hand, to get a visual taste of this unseen world. To do this, the project needs more keen and committed photographers to devote their time, skills and dedication to documenting the hill tribes of northern Thailand – helping to create real change in the lives of victims and those at risk of human trafficking.
Providing child victims and those at threat from human trafficking with a network of support and hope for a positive future, is what this project achieves through photography. All of the profits from the photographs taken during the expedition are channelled into a shelter which provides support to victims of human trafficking as well as helping to raise awareness in the greater hill tribes of alternative methods of income rather than them having to resort to selling their children into the trade.
Previous images taken while in these communities depict women and children residing in poverty, trapped and vulnerable to abuse and trafficking rings; those who are victims and disempowered – restricted from their right to freedom; and those who have found shelter, learning to trust and give themselves wholly to be part of a loving and supportive community. It is this cycle that needs to be documented, this cycle that needs to be broken at stage one, so the children and victims never have to be rescued, this cycle that needs your camera and you pair of eyes.”