Westside Christian High School students travel to Thailand each year to work with group aimed at stopping child sex trafficking

Photo Credit: SUBMITED - Students from Westisde Christian High School in Tigard traveled to Northeast Thailand in June to spend three works working a living in a small village and helping to teach English at a local school.As students across the region are preparing to head back to school, a group of Westside Christian High School students are still thinking about their summer vacation in Thailand.

About 20 students went to Thailand for a three-week-long trip to the small town of Krasang, in Northeast Thailand.

The students helped teach English to about 2,600 middle and high school students in the area. But most of the trip was spent at Grace Ministries Foundation Thailand, a local ministry in Krasang for underprivileged children at risk of entering Thailand’s massive sex industry.

The ministry provides kids a safe home and an education.

The trip to Krasang has become a yearly tradition for Westside students. Since 2007, students from the private Christian high school have made their way to the rural community to teach English and help around the camp.

It was hard work, said Deb Givens, a spokeswoman for Westside. Students awoke just after 5 a.m. and shared the children’s daily chores.

Givens said the work helped them form strong friendships with the children.

“The staff at Grace Ministries believes that the young people in their care will become leaders and change agents in their country, making Thailand a safer place for children,” Givens said.

Laura Leong, who graduated from Westside in June, was on her first trip to Krasang and said it was a trip she will never forget.

“It was life changing,” she said. “I have always wanted to travel and go places, and now I am submerged into this whole new culture. The kids were so much fun and full of joy and laughter. They made my life.”

Leong said the trip was partly about spreading cultural awareness about Thailand’s rich heritage, as well as its large sex trade.

“It is the most infamous sex trade in the world,” Leong said.

No one is sure how many children are used in Thailand’s sex industry, but it’s estimated between 12,000 and several hundred thousand.

Grace Ministries was started in 1996, when Charles and Yoke Fong Harvey took over Women with a Vision, a ministry that worked to provide alternatives for underprivileged girls at risk of sexual and labor exploitation.

Grace expanded its mission, and today has offered shelter and education to more than 200 children from elementary school age through college.

“They grow up there and become a family,” Leong said.

Grace Ministries currently has about 60 students living at the ministry.

Givens said the partnership between Grace and Westside is important to the area, and to Westside’s students.

“The value in going and visiting is not just in the bond they forge with the Thai children when they visit,” Givens said, “but also in the promise that Westside will be back. Each year, the friendships formed with the Thai students grow stronger, and the assistance with the English program expands.”

Westside’s new Head of School Debi Miller said the partnership between the two organizations is a win-win.

“There is a possibility at Christian schools that faith development can be very internal and cognitive,” Miller said. “But opportunities like this give our students a place to put their faith into action and see what it means to serve. They get outside of their own comfort zone and their culture and go to place where life is very different, and it is a transformative experience. They have a chance to apply the truths of what it means to love and give and serve. They come home different people.”

Westside’s relationship with Grace Ministries extends past the yearly visit. Many families at Westside sponsor students, Miller said, and the school gives financial donations to the ministry each year.

Since the relationship began eight years ago, Givens said, Westside families have raised enough funds to build two new buildings at the ministry, which will provide a home for 60 more children.

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