In Gear | Rotary in Southern New Zealand In Gear - Issue 3 - Page 53

“Because these guys were prepared to come on the whole journey and committed 100 percent to it, that’s the real bonus, because that’s experience – building the relationships, making the connections. That’s going to grow awareness within our Rotary family, and we’ll get more and more people involved.” throughout the hill country of Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and China are among the planet’s most powerless and displaced – stateless, they have no status or citizenship. And that, together with endemic poverty, makes them extraordinarily vulnerable to child sex traffickers. For David, the trip was a significant milestone, both practically and sentimentally. The mission lays critical groundwork for succession planning, ensuring there are plenty of safe, passionate and progressive hands linked to the project that he’s held so dear since 15 years ago, when he first became aware of a little place called the Rescue Mission for Children, tucked away in northern Thailand. During term time, the Rescue Mission for Children is home to 30 Akha children. At present, all of the youngsters hail from nearby Myanmar, which recently opened its borders to Western business. With the extra trade, David says, has come a huge growth in the demand for child sex slaves. It was 2002, and David had just joined the Rotary Club of Dunedin Central, and, as newly-appointed director of the International Committee, he asked his club to authorise a donation to the small centre, a safe haven for children from the Akha tribe. But, David wanted to know more. In the ensuing years, he visited the Rescue Mission, which is overseen by an Australian-based board and runs on donations and fundraising alone, twice before the latest trip, forging a strong working relationship with centre co-founder Asa, who is, herself, Akha. It has been, he says, a powerful and challenging education. The Akha people, who are spread At the centre, the children are fed, clothed, taught life skills and attend a local schools to get the very education that gives them the best chance of status and citizenship – and the greatest protection from being abducted and sold into sex slavery. “When you look at Asa’s frame of reference, that includes seeing her best friend dragged away at gunpoint by a sex trafficker, and another friend dying of AIDS, when she was a young teenager. That’s why she does what she does,” David says. He established Project Starfish to help the Akha people, and also to support the non-government agencies at the coalface, which are waging war on the most heinous trade of them all. The Project Starfish team on the ground at the Rescue Mission for Children centre. Page 53