AMHERST, N.Y. – While participating in a recent service learning opportunity in Thailand, Daemen College students experienced first-hand efforts to prevent human trafficking in a country where this remains a serious issue.
For the three-week international service learning experience, which took place during winter break, students assisted with trafficking prevention efforts targeted to youth that are administered by the Development and Education Programme for Daughters and Communities (DEPDC) in northern Thailand.
“Thailand is considered a source, destination, and transit country for human trafficking, making preventive measures like those overseen by DEPDC crucial to fighting this issue,” said Dr. Diane Bessel, master of social work program director, who manages the service learning opportunity. “This is truly a life-changing experience for our students. In addition to developing key professional skills, students are exposed to a new culture and have a rare opportunity to make a real difference in a community in another part of the world.”
DEPDC’s primary focus is on preventing and protecting at-risk children from being trafficked. The organization’s projects involve a range of measures, including education, vocational and life-skills training, family and community outreach services, and leadership development of youth in the Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai region.
At DEPDC, Daemen students had the extraordinary opportunity to learn from organization founder Sompop Jantraka, a two-time Nobel Prize nominee and Thai activist who has worked for more three decades to protect children and women from trafficking.
Daemen students assisted the organization by providing English language instruction to children ages 3 to 18 who are at-risk for human trafficking, an effort considered an important component of the organization’s strategy on prevention through education. Madelynn Turano of Little Valley, one of the student instructors, found the interactive project immensely rewarding.
“It was wonderful to engage with the children and to know that the English language lessons we were providing supported the organization’s efforts to prevent and protect children from human trafficking,” said Turano. “For me, being in Thailand was an eye-opening experience that inspired me to specialize in my future career and work with children who have faced various kinds of trauma.”
Other student participants included Gary Brodhead of East Amherst, illustration/drawing major; Kristen Callanan of Arcade, social work major; Natalie Chiodo of Williamsville, social work major; Julianna Everdyke of Buffalo, master of social work major; Alliya Foster of Bronx, health promotion major; Emily Goldenberg of Vestal, animation major; Olivia Heffernan of Oakville, master of social work major; Kathleen Lemke of Rochester, animation major; Sydney MacInnis of Superior, Col., business administration major; Rachel Mathews of Westfield, physical therapy major; MacKenzie Robbins of Rome, physical therapy major; Gissela Rodriguez of Buffalo, physical therapy major; and Christina Stasiuk of Bowmansville, physical therapy major.
In addition to providing English language instruction, Daemen students taught Thai children basic hygiene habits to promote better health, including hand washing and brushing their teeth.
They also assisted with dismantling an unused, dilapidated building at DEPDC, and participated in the organization’s International Children’s Day celebration and sports competition. The group further immersed themselves in Thai culture by visiting prominent landmarks and attractions in Bangkok, the country’s capital.
Prior to traveling to Thailand, Daemen students learned about the country’s history, culture, and current affairs in an on campus fall semester course taught by social work faculty Dr. Bessel and Maggie Dreyer, clinical instructor and director of field education, who both accompanied the student group on the international service learning experience.
“The experience in Thailand allowed me to become more culturally competent and to develop my communication, management, teamwork, and other abilities that will help me as a social worker when interacting with diverse populations,” said Turano. “I see life so differently now and will always remember the appreciation that the children showed for what we did for them while in Thailand.”