(LAOS) Last year, a group of 27 young people from Pho village were tricked into working in a sugarcane plantation in Thailand. Everyone was caught by surprise: the village leaders, World Renew staff, and district social welfare officials. It is first time we’ve heard of a major human trafficking incident in one of our target villages.

The following story is told from the point of view of Sang (name changed), a young man from Pho village, during an anti-trafficking event held in his village in December…

In December 2012, my friends convinced me to go with them to Thailand.

A man from Vientiane, Mr. Seng, had come to visit our village and told us that we could make lots of money working on a sugarcane plantation in Thailand. I didn’t really want to go but my friends convinced me to go with them. A big group of us went together, about two-dozen young men and women, ages 20 to 35, and a few of the children of married couples in the group. “We left in the middle of the night from our village and didn’t tell anyone we were going. A man took us on a bumpy, 8-hour trip by truck to Sop Lao, where we spent the night. Then we drove all day to Kham District.

At night, the man drove us to a village on the Mekong River, an hour south of Vientiane, where we spent a day or two. A boat came at night to take us across the river, and we worried that the Thai police would catch us because we didn’t have any papers—but we were lucky. On the other side of the river, another truck took us several hours to the sugar cane plantation. We didn’t know where we were. Once we arrived, people let us rest and then taught us how to use the tools to cut the cane.

On the third day at 5am, we went out to work in the fields. We were split up into three groups: clearing land, planting, and harvesting sugarcane. It was really hard work!

At 5pm we were done for the day and taken back to our rooms to rest. We could buy rice, eat, and then sleep until the next day’s work. We got paid 300 to 400 baht a day (US$10-to $15), depending on the difficulty of the job. After three months, I had earned over twenty thousand baht (US$600), but the people over us took some of the money for our transport, housing, and a finder’s fee. By that time, some of us were tired of the work and wanted to go home. So they took us back to the river. We had to pay our own way home: a boat, a van, a bus, a truck, and another truck until we got home.

I only had 300,000 kip (about US$35) left in my pocket when I arrived at home, and I felt ashamed that I had been tricked into going to Thailand. I don’t want to go back, and I tell all of my friends and family in the village that they should not trust people who come promising lots of money for work far away.

World Renew heard of this trafficking incident about two weeks after it happened and contacted district authorities to let them know. The Department of Labor and Social Welfare officials at the district and province levels were just as concerned as we were for these young people’s safety. They tried unsuccessfully to track down the location of the sugarcane plantation where they were working. We gave family members in Pho village various hotline numbers in Thailand they could call to receive help. In the end, they were able to come back on their own, not much richer, but much wiser than before.

In December 2013, World Renew held an anti-trafficking event in Pho village to warn the youth about the dangers of going to work in a distant place. Sang told his story during the event, there were games and songs, and in the evening we showed a movie that dramatizes a typical trafficking situation. We will continue to work with the youth in Pho village and in the surrounding villages to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Pho village, Boko area 
Nonghet district, Xiengkhouang

Some Final Words from James and Sarah

Sarah and I are currently wrapping up our time with World Renew by visiting churches until the end of May. We have a short goodbye and thank you to give during services, and also a presentation for small groups or adult education classes. While traveling for weeks is exhausting, we do enjoy talking about the ways we've seen God at work in Laos. We look forward to seeing many of you during our speaking events!

Our future plans are still not certain, but here's what we have planned so far: two months of rest in June and July; spending time with family in Glen Ellyn, IL, and Goshen, IN; and two family reunions in August in Estes Park, CO, and New Orleans, LA. I've enrolled in the Masters of Divinity program at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI, and will start orientation in late August. We are excited to move to Grand Rapids and enjoy life in West Michigan!

We don't know yet where we'll be living in Grand Rapids, although we have a few options: seminary apartments, house rentals, etc. Once we move there, Sarah will start looking for part-time work as a tutor (elementary math, science, and reading are her interests) or as a library assistant.

If you know of any job opportunities for Sarah, please contact her at sarahjanezwier@gmail.com. My permanent email is jzwier@gmail.com. Please add these emails to your contacts and remove any others you have for us.

Blessings! 

James Zwier

Program Advisor 
World Renew Laos