Her Mother, the “Singer”
Recently, SOLD has been updating a few details in our scholarship database. When we began, we knew all the kids by name. But a lot of students and staff have been added lately–thanks to donors and sponsors like you! Most of the Thai kids go by nicknames, so it isn’t uncommon to come across what appears to be a totally new name when, actually, it’s a child that is at the Resource Center everyday, but going by a completely different nickname. It’s often their favorite English word, like “Dream” or “Game” or, of course, “Cat.”
If you are a student sponsor, you know that a profile includes your student’s picture, birth date, some basic information, and a message from the student. My husband and I sponsor a girl whose older sister is already a prostitute. Her profile includes a picture of her with her sister, posing in a familiar side-hug. It’s a startling reminder on our fridge how close she is, like so many, to following in her big sister’s footsteps.
The other day, I was clicking in and out of profile folders on our database, marking “boy” or “girl” next to the long Thai names. I noticed a small notation at the bottom of one young girl’s profile. I’ll call her Pim.
Pim is in 4th grade. Her mother and father have divorced, which is a common story in a land of so much alcoholism and abuse. Her stepfather is in jail. Alone, Pim’s mother could not make enough money to support her family, much less her daughter’s education. So Pim’s mother left the village to find work in the big city, leaving her daughter with friends from school, an aunt, and a grandmother who is too old to work.
“I feel I have become a burden for my grandmother,” Pim writes in her profile. “I feel so bad.”
Her profile continues:
My mother went to Bangkok to work as a singer at night. She doesn’t make a lot of money as a singer. Sometimes when my mom is sick she doesn’t have enough money to go to the doctor.*
Huh. I was surprised that someone would travel all the way to Bangkok just to be a singer. I hadn’t seen anything like that before.
Only I had. Countless times. The sentence ends in an asterisk, and the notation at the bottom simply states:
Her mother is a prostitute in Bangkok.
Of course. Of course she isn’t a singer. And of course the mother would tell her ten-year old daughter that she was going to Bangkok to be a singer.
In the midst of my data entry, in the midst of the daily to-do’s of a small non-profit, I was punched in the gut all over again by what we do here at SOLD. I couldn’t help but picture how fervently Pim believes her mother is a singer, a performer in the bright lights of the city. Or maybe she knows, deep down. Or maybe she refuses to believe it at all. Or maybe she doesn’t think twice. Will she realize the truth when she is older? Will she be angry and ashamed? Or perhaps proud of her mother’s sacrifice to provide in the face of desperation and poverty? To maybe provide for her daughter so she won’t have to be a singer in Bangkok, too?
I don’t even know which scenario is even the most desirable. They all make me sort of nauseous.
When I visited Bangkok over a year ago for the first time, I learned more than I wanted to about the nature of prostitution in Thailand. There, poverty is the trafficker. Most Thai girls are not held in brothels by some violent pimp. They are held there by a cultural obligation to provide for their family. They stay in the sex industry because they need to provide income for their parents. Or medicine for their grandparents. Or food for their children. Or education for their younger siblings so they won’t have to travel to the big city to be a “singer.”
That first week in Bangkok, I wrote in my journal, “Would I?”
I was born in Omaha, Nebraska. My public school education was free. I never wanted for a thing.
Would I do that for my family? These girls do it everyday. Would I?
I never have to find out.
Written by Heather Colletto. Heather and her husband, Michael, are SOLD staff and lived at our Resource Center in northern Thailand from July to December 2010.