Tuesday, January 6, 2009

End of the road for Thai project?

Stevens Point - Like many idealists, Joseph Quinnell believed he could achieve the impossible. Unlike a lot of dreamers, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point student actually made it happen.

But now, harsh financial reality threatens to dash it all away.

This was the dream: He wanted to bring undocumented women at risk of being sold into forced labor from Thailand to UW-Stevens Point to earn degrees. Born on Thai soil but lacking citizenship, these women had little to no access to government health care, education or travel.

Quinnell pictured these women, armed with an education, returning to their own country to fight statelessness and the sex trade from within.

To make it happen, Quinnell knew he had to get people as angry about the situation as he was - to see red. That's where the posters came in.

"Do you have sex with strangers?" they read. "Thousands of children are forced to every day. Get ready to join the fight against child prostitution. Get angry. See red."

The signs plastered all over campus helped launch an unprecedented effort that in August brought two 19-year-old undocumented Thai students from rural villages to central Wisconsin. State Department officials, experts on statelessness in Thailand and university administrators agree: The accomplishment was rare, impressive and important.

"Mountains moved to make this happen," said Brad Van Den Elzen, director of foreign student programs at UW-Stevens Point. "So many people stuck their necks out who didn't have to."

But the dream could end. Despite efforts, the Thailand Project hasn't raised new donations. And the women will run out of funding in May.

"We've proven the concept of gaining human rights through education (can work)," Quinnell said. "If it dies with these two girls in one year, we're never going to be able to get this again."

Read more here.

No comments: