A Close Encounter of the Sompop Kind

DEPDC/GMS has long recognized the importance of networking with organizations and agencies around the world to support its ever-growing programming. Since 2009, DEPDC/GMS has established a partnership with a San Francisco-based organization called Volunteers in Asia (VIA).

Founded in 1963, VIA promotes cross-cultural understanding in part by sending qualified volunteers to work with NGOs in seven Asian countries. Currently, two VIA volunteers serve in areas related to English resource management and capacity building at DEPDC/GMS.

One early November day, DEPDC/GMS’ founder Sompop Jantraka embarked on a quick day trip to Chiang Mai to meet Dwight Clark, the founder of VIA. Despite never having met before, Dwight and Sompop share not only a very similar vision of providing services to where there is need, but also a tireless drive to motivate all those around them to take part in social change. Now retired and in his 70s, Dwight makes a habit of keeping himself active and busy by leading college students from various Asian countries on tours to study first-hand the social and cultural issues surrounding today’s society in Asia. This time, Dwight was leading a group of 13 students, 5 from Japanese universities and 8 college-bound from Yangon, Myanmar (Rangoon, Burma), to learn about the various social problems encountered on the Thai-Myanmar border.

The group meeting took place at another VIA-partnered NGO called Bridging Educational Access to Migrants (BEAM), a special migrant learning center that provides advanced academic and vocational education for selected Burmese migrants, so that they can prepare to pursue higher education opportunities overseas in the future. Introduced by Dwight as a special guest, Khun Sompop first gave the students a comprehensive overview of human trafficking in the border area, and then introduced them to the different approaches that DEPDC/GMS pioneers in targeting and preventing exploitation of children and young women. However, the most poignant moment of his talk was when Khun Sompop went further to encourage the students to get involved and be part of the change that society needs, “You are all young. You are in a unique position to bring changes and harmony to your community. In order to bring peace to yourself, you must bring peace to your family, your community and all those around you. You must learn to care deeply about the needs of others in order to be truly prosperous.” The young audience was a most receptive one, and the questions-and-answers session that followed showed off eager minds and a mature understanding of the difficult and intricate relationships between politics and social conflict in the region.

What followed this inspirational round of discussion was an equally special second half of the event – the meet-and-greet between Dwight’s students and the BEAM students, many of whom are Burmese migrant workers that hold full-time jobs besides studying at BEAM. Over a dinner of traditional Burmese cuisine, the college-bound Burmese students from Yangon (Rangoon) mingled with the Burmese migrant students of ethnic minority backgrounds, both groups sharing a common aspiration for higher education in spite of such drastically different life experiences. One volunteer, Jessica, observed, “It is simply amazing and so heartening to see that despite all these obvious differences complicated by circumstances of their country, deep down these students are just one big group of young people wanting a better, more open future through education.” Following a hilarious ice-breaker game of “Darling, I love you,” the evening ended with the exchange of contact information among the new friends and promises of staying in touch. Watching the goodbyes, one cannot help but feel optimistic that these young people will indeed bring the changes that we all want to see in the future.

Events like this one remind us that no one organization can exist in isolation, but that we must work together, through collaboration, partnership and networking, if we are to effect real social progress. DEPDC/GMS is no exception. Here, we salute our partners, donors and supporters for their belief in the eradication of human trafficking, and we look forward to diversifying our connections as we push forth our efforts to globalize in the near future.

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