News & Advance Feature

Earlier this year I posted that I had gone on a mission trip in December 2012 to minister to girls being trafficked in Thailand. The harsh realities of their lives day in and day out (many we talked to only getting a day off a month) on top of the pressures of providing for their families and being shunned by their own society really hit my heart hard. I hated having to leave after only 10 short days and ever since I have tried where I could to stay involved. Freedom 4/24 and the Run For Their Lives race came to mind because it is a local non profit here in Lynchburg that works to raise awareness against the exploitation of women and children all over the world, including Thailand. In my efforts to get the word out on behalf of the Lynchburg race I was blessed to have the opportunity to be profiled by the News and Advance for The Burg. Below is the article written by Casey Gillis and you can also link to it here. Please feel free to use the contact form with any additional questions you might have and I encourage you to check out Freedom 4/24 to see how you can get involved.

Focus On: Elizabeth Bundrick talks volunteering with Freedom 4/24 in Thailand by Casey Gillis

Why you should know her: Elizabeth, who goes by Libby, is a volunteer with Freedom 4/24, a local nonprofit that’s gearing up for its 5th Annual Run For Their Lives, a race that raises awareness and funds to help sexually exploited women and children.

Background

Libby, 26, grew up in Thailand, where her missionary parents moved from Chicago when she was four years old. They returned to the states as a family when she was 18, and she enrolled at Liberty University.

She graduated in 2009, with a degree in visual communication arts, and has lived in Lynchburg ever since.

Libby, who now works in LU’s financial aid office, got involved with Freedom 4/24 after going on a mission trip to Thailand in December 2012 with her church, which had partnered up with the organization for it.

There, they stayed at the Home Of New Beginnings, a ministry and home for women who have left the sex trade in Thailand. In addition to spending time with the women already there, Libby and her fellow volunteers also visited bars where the sexually exploited women work and invited them to a series of Christmas parties held at Beginnings.

“At the parties, it’s just celebrating them and at the end of that, we would basically invite them, if they want to come out of [prostitution],” she says. “It really is a hard decision for them because most of these women … have to raise money for their family. So to come out of that and live at Beginnings is a big sacrifice in a way, because they lose that source of income. But Beginnings offers education and skills … so that they can make money moving forward.”

Freedom 4/24 was started in 2009, after founder Christine Gelatt witnessed an adolescent girl being purchased for $24 in Thailand. Since then, the organization has partnered with other ministries and homes in Kenya and India that are similar to Beginnings.

“Thailand is really close to my heart for obvious reasons,” Libby says. “At the same time, even beyond that, I just see how human trafficking is hurting all parts of the world, including our own backyard. It’s just become one of those things that may have been easier to ignore in the past. We want people to know how much of an issue it is, and really how much of a business it is. The fact that people in the states and from around the world in Eastern countries actually own the bars in Thailand … [and] are actually profiting off of this business.

“We want to raise awareness for the exploitation and the human trafficking of people all around the world,” she adds. “And just kind of the practical things we can do. Obviously Beginnings [is] providing a home for people. There’s a home in Kenya as well that offers a kind of similar thing. And, of course, [there’s] the spiritual aspect of things. Many of these girls in Thailand that I met who have been moved out of the industry, they still need their friends and they still need people to go out and reach out to them even if they’re not living in the homes.”

Here’s more of what Libby had to say about growing up in Thailand and what it was like returning for the mission trip:

What was it like growing up in Thailand?

“I loved it. I think it’s a unique experience to be able to grow up, as opposed to going later on in life. I didn’t know any better. All my friends were Thai. It was a lot easier to get to know the language and the culture. My mom is Filipino, so I look kind of Thai. … I miss it so much. I would live there if I could.”

What made you want to go on the mission trip?

“In the very, very beginning, just being honest, I wanted to go because I wanted to go back to Thailand. I ended up going back and spending a week there with people that I had grown up with [before the trip started]. It did shift for me. When I started meeting with the girls who were going with me and hearing their stories and doing research … it really just kind of did something with my heart. I realized that beyond just going to Thailand, it was so much bigger than that.

“I had the advantage of knowing the language, so being able to be there and for a lot of it, I was helping to translate for the girls as well. So after that week that I had spent with people that I already knew, I went to Bangkok to meet with the [other volunteers] there. After the 10 days, I didn’t want to leave. This isn’t about Thailand anymore, it’s about the girls that I met there.”

What was the experience like? How much interaction do volunteers have with the women?

“We definitely had a lot of interaction because we actually stayed at Beginnings, which was really an awesome experience, because not everybody gets to do that. We lived in the house with the girls who have come out of the sex industry. And then … we were able to go and do outreach in the bars.

“It was only for about 10 days, but it felt so much longer than that. Thankfully we did get a lot of firsthand experience.”

Going into the bars, were you in any danger at any point?

“I never felt like I was in danger, it’s just kind of an uncomfortable experience and a very emotional one. … It was just a very heart-wrenching experience, but at the same time you have to be careful not to be too showy with your emotions because you don’t want to insult them either. Even [if] on the inside we’re feeling hurt and heartbroken, on the outside we have to go in and be friendly with them and just get to know them and welcome them. It was definitely difficult but a good experience to be able to be there firsthand.”

How many women are at Beginnings?

“When I was there, there were 13 girls. I haven’t heard the most recent update. … There was still more room.”

What is the age range of the women?

“They’re getting younger as well, which is really sad. As far as the girls who are in the home, their age range was from 13 to 30. Some of the girls you see out in the bars, they just keep looking younger and younger. … There are girls as young as 10 that you can see out there, and it’s just really sad.”

What was it like to return being someone who grew up in Thailand? Were you ever exposed to any of this as a child?

“It was kind of a combination of both. I was in the country growing up, not the city. Anytime we would go to the city, it was in your face, I guess. It was definitely not something you could ignore.  … My dad is white, [and] sometimes we would get those kinds of stares. It’s understood in the Thai culture that if you’re a young Asian woman and you’re with an older white male, that’s what your situation is.  

“I never walked into a bar [then] … I guess it was different in a sense that I understood where these girls were coming from. I had seen [them] out in the country where my parents used to work. I would see where these girls would come from … This past December, I got to see where some of these girls end up.”

Contact Casey Gillis at (434) 385-5525 or cgillis@newsadvance.com.