Thailand: Heartbreak in the ‘Land of Smiles’

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Bangkok is such an interesting city—so many people, sights and smells, and they aren’t always fun.

But now that the jet lag is finally gone, we have been able to adjust to our new home in the “Land of Smiles.” Our apartment is nice. I live on the 8th floor of an all-girls apartment, and my roommate and I share a bedroom/kitchen/living space, since it’s all really one room. We also have one bathroom—with a bucket flush. We are pretty blessed to be here, with good food and great people and thankful to be part of a life-changing ministry here in Bangkok. 

thailand interns300Stacie Aguilar (center) with fellow interns Rebekah and Hannah.Rebekah, Hannah and I are interns for a nonprofit anti-human-trafficking organization. It focuses on bringing so-called “ladyboys” out of the red-light district. With so many organizations already working to bring women out, our supervisor Celeste realized that no one was helping the ladyboys, who also are exploited in the sex industry.

As a westerner, I did not understand what being a ladyboy meant in Thailand. There are 67 million people in Thailand, and an estimated 2.8 million of them are prostitutes—men and women. Sons and daughters can be sold for as little as $12 and can serve up to a dozen customers daily. The problem is so widespread, there are more centers of prostitution than there are schools. It’s tied closely to the poverty level and low educational level here in Thailand, but we almost must understand the culture of Thailand, particularly Thai Buddhism. 

thailand street400Nearby street filled with vendors and good food.Prevailing culture says Thai men are notorious womanizers and gamblers, and their wives do not expect them to be faithful. They are not considered healthy role-models for their children. Some mothers, especially single ones, have such a negative view of men that even if their child is born a male, they will raise them to be female, just to avoid their growing up to be like their fathers. They have stopped believing it’s possible to raise up a son to be a good man. That breaks my heart. 

According to common Buddhist practices, mothers will take their child to a monk. He may tell the mother her son has a female spirit—due to the belief of reincarnation. So, that boy might be raised as a girl. Buddhism also considers sons to be the spiritual merit providers of the family, which is just fulfilling a duty in a temple for a month and then being free to live as he pleases. Daughters however, are considered the financial providers of the household, which is partially the reason for female prostitution).

If a family only has sons, they may choose one of the sons to become a ladyboy so that they will have someone to support the family. I’ve met at least one ladyboy whose story was exactly that. These are not just things I hear. These are all parts of the lives that I have only started to witness here.

thailand skytrain view300View from the Sky Train in Bangkok.It’s estimated there are 20,000 ladyboy prostitutes in Thailand, and 10,000 are in Bangkok. HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, hormone side effects, eating disorders, botched surgeries are all real threats to these individuals. Ladyboy prostitutes are 10 times more likely to contract HIV than female prostitutes, and 80 percent are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

I cannot even tell you how much our hearts have been broken. Where idolatry exists, so does sexual immorality.

But on a more positive note, we work everyday at the prganization’s headquarters, which is also a cafe that helps employ former prostitutes and vulnerable young boys to give them a safer option to make money. Unfortunately, the cafe has been closed for a couple months and is in the process of restarting soon. Please pray that it will.

thailand motorbikes300Motorbikes are a common sight.The organization also sponsors students to be able to go to school, and we offer counseling sessions and English instruction, art classes and other courses to help these young people. We provide an outreach at the districts on Tuesday evenings and Friday evenings. I also help teach English to young men who work at a “massage parlor,” and so far I have been very blessed by that. These are people that Christ died for, and I pray that I can show them his love each and every time I see them.  

Bangkok is such a dark place. It’s so overwhelming sometimes. But please pray for God’s light to always shine in us. Pray for our hearts, that they would not be crushed under the weight of the burdens our students carry. Pray that we give those all up to God. Pray for revival in Thailand and that Jesus’ name will be known all throughout the nations.

Stacie Aguilar, a recent graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso, is serving withand anti-trafficking organization in Thailand through Go Now Missions.

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