In the fall of 2017 I traveled to Thailand for the first time with an organization called Not Abandoned. This past year, in October 2018, I made a return journey across the Pacific for my second Vacation with a Purpose. Over the course of the next several blog posts, you will learn about Not Abandoned and my motivation for working with them, my experience in Thailand, and my reflections.
First, let me start by telling you all a little bit more about who I am and why I chose to travel to Pattaya, Thailand through LPP’s Vacation with a Purpose. My name is Valerie Pokladowski and I am the Lead Kindergarten Teacher at Lincoln Park Preschool and Kindergarten. I have taught at LPP for five years: four as a Two’s teacher and one as the Kindergarten teacher. It was during my third year teaching that I put my words into action. When I began teaching at LPP, a huge consideration in my acceptance of the position was the Vacation with a Purpose program. I could not believe that a school would be so thoughtful and generous as to provide its teachers with an opportunity of this magnitude. The day I signed my first contract with LPP, I vowed to submit my proposal as soon as possible. Flash forward three years and I finally made that dream a reality.
After researching the various organizations that filled the requirement of a vacation with a purpose, I chose to volunteer with Not Abandoned. Not Abandoned is an organization that works with women who have been trapped or tricked into the sex industry due to family obligation, lack of education, and debt – to name a few of the causes. Their goal is to provide women and men who are victims of sex trafficking support and opportunities to escape this life. I was initially drawn to this work because of my family’s history and my own history with sexual abuse, but the more I learned about sex trafficking, the more I realized how useful my training, as an early childhood educator, would be. A large indicator of whether or not women will end up in the sex trade industry is education. The obvious answer? Give these women more education. It seemed so simple to me. This is the reason I teach! I believe people deserve a quality education regardless of how old they are, where they live, or how they identify. However, little did I realize the complexity of the situation. It sounded simple, sure, but the real question was: How do we offer learning opportunities and support to women who have been repeatedly lied to and betrayed or have been broken down so far that they now believe they are worthless? Regardless of our good intentions, trust was not something being given out frequently by these women – and for good reason.
In response to this, Not Abandoned molded their Redlight trip into two weeks of volunteers going into bars where women work, building friendships, and, eventually, inviting the women to visit the center where free classes, free food, and a welcoming community are offered daily. As I began each Redlight trip, this was the goal: to bridge the gap between the bar and the learning center in Pattaya. The task would not prove easy at some points, but it was always worth it.