Thailand is known as “the land of smiles.” A word commonly heard among locals used to describe how someone is doing is “sabai,” which means “chill,” relaxed, at peace. However, the 300,000 women who are forced to work as prostitutes in one of Thailand’s 60,000 sexual service centers do not know such peace. Night after night, women’s bodies are leased to bar-goers for what is typically $24 U.S. per night. The sex enterprise brings in $27 billion a year, and that number is growing daily.
Freedom 4/24 is a nonprofit organization based out of Lynchburg, Va., that is working to provide a pathway to freedom for the sexually exploited. Founder Christine Gelatt became aware of human trafficking as an international justice issue through a family friend, Janelle Steele.
Steele spent several years in Thailand serving sexually exploited women, teaching them how to cut hair as an alternative trade to working as bar girls. The issue crossed Gelatt’s path once again in college when her local church was researching a Thailand-based organization called Beginnings—a safehouse in Bangkok that works directly with oppressed women. Gelatt founded Freedom 4/24 in response to a month-long visit she made to Beginnings. “[Being] with these women is something that changed my life,” Gelatt says. “Their beautiful faces and painful stories are etched in my heart. […]The goal of Freedom 4/24 is to provide alternative means of income and to reestablish their worth based on how Christ sees them, as precious and beautiful.”
This is the second year Freedom 4/24 has partnered with Beginnings, and the impact has been significant. Women from Beginnings frequent the red-light district in order to develop trusting relationships with the bar girls working there. Once a woman from Beginnings feels that one of the girls she has befriended is seeking a way out, she offers to pay the girl’s bar fee—the same fee a customer would pay the bar owner to “purchase” the girl for the night ($24 U.S.). By paying the fee, Freedom 4/24 is offering the girl a night of freedom through Beginnings. During this time, the woman is shown the opportunity to have a permanent route out of the sex industry. Beginnings offers a holistic approach to survival for these women, and opportunities that include a safe place to live, education, medical care, counseling and ultimately the opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus. Several girls have chosen to leave their lives of prostitution to live at the safe house. Last Christmas, 380 girls attended a Christmas party organized by Beginnings—81 of them placed their faith in Christ.
Freedom 4/24 is currently working to expand its support to similar organizations throughout Southeast Asia.
Human trafficking is an enormous issue—Freedom 4/24 cannot completely fix it alone. However, their mission is to rescue one girl at a time, one face at a time. Contributions made through T-shirt sales, sticker sales, university and church partnerships, and donations made to the organization work to bring justice and freedom to women who otherwise may never have that opportunity.
For individual girls’ stories of rescue, and to help young women find freedom from sexual exploitation, visit Freedom424.org.