Lauren Dekleva
Lauren Dekleva
Thailand 2017
S̄wạs̄dī! My name is Lauren Dekleva, and I am traveling to Chiang Mai, Thailand where I will intern with Urban Light, an anti-trafficking NGO that restores and empowers boys who work in the red light district. At Urban Light, I will teach ESL classes, lead life-skills workshops, assist with social media marketing, and support case workers.
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#FreedomIs

I am now in my second to last week of my internship at Urban Light, which is bittersweet to say the least. Already the process of saying goodbye to the people and places I’ve come to love has begun. In some ways, I’m ready; the idea of spending the holidays with my loved ones in my home is very exciting, and six months is, in many ways, the perfect amount of time to spend in a placement like mine. It has flown by, and although there will always be more to explore, discover and accomplish, I feel like I can close this chapter feeling like I did what I came here to do.

This weekend was a good way to start processing my upcoming departure. On Friday night, the Urban Light team got together for an end of the year dinner. It was so fun to see everyone all dressed up and spend time celebrating and reflecting on the many ups and downs of the past year (or six months for me!). It’s been a complex and beautiful journey for all. It was also the beginning of my goodbye: the team honored myself and my fellow volunteer/partner-in-crime Chloe with sweet words and beautiful gifts to remember our time here.

Then, on Sunday evening, Urban Light put on an awareness event that Chloe and I have spent the past weeks pouring our blood, sweat and tears into, with tons of work and support from the UL team.

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The concept of the event was #FreedomIs: an awareness event and live art installation/flash mob at the Three Kings Monument during the very busy Sunday Night Market. The core of it was a square of 64 volunteers in 8 rows of 8 who, when a whistle blew at 7:45 pm, formed a sort of human maze. The front row held large posters with facts and statistics on human trafficking and Urban Light’s work. The middle rows held boards that told the stories of 7 of Urban Light’s boys, which participants read using flashlights as they weaved in between rows of people. Each of our volunteers was blindfolded with the pseudonym of the boy they were representing. To top it off, we had two large boards that read “#FreedomIs” – one at the entrance and one at the exit. The board at the entrance was for participants to write what freedom meant to them. Then, once they exited, they could read on the second board what freedom means to our boys.

Pulling this off required a ton of work from the whole team. The Thai staff secured the permit for us to use the space, talked to the printers and helped to translate all of the statistics and narratives into Thai. Chloe and I wrote the narratives and statistics, designed the posters and banners and social media graphics and made the blindfolds and volunteer packets. Alex reached out to her Chiang Mai network to form host committees that could recruit volunteers (64 was a huge goal, but we ended up with around 75 volunteers who were both farang and Thai!).

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And... the event was a huge success! Not only did it look super cool, we had so many passerbys participate and learn about Urban Light’s boys and work. We even had some Thai police officers walk through, which is a HUGE deal – anything we can do to promote government relations and help officers understand what our boys go through is a big step.

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I can’t even communicate what it meant to me to produce an event like this. It was something that would’ve seemed impossible a few months ago, but with an amazing team and a lot of work, it happened! And now, UL has all the necessary materials to easily put it on again.

This event was the culmination of my time here, a final offering to Urban Light and the boys before I leave.

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