The day Khun Nok (below right) gave birth to her second baby, she had a choice. She could send him upcountry to the poverty and hardship she faced as a child and return to work on the streets of Pattaya. Or she could stop working on the streets and keep her son – and therefore sever all contact with her family whose principal interest was the money she earned. In the end she chose the latter.
Khun Nok arrived from Isaan in the North East of Thailand three years ago aged fifteen. Last year, living rough with her first baby and three months pregnant with the next, she came to an orphanage asking them to look after her child so she could return to work on the streets. They introduced her to the Tamar Centre.
Everyone has a story to tell.
Khun Phon (above left) suffered cruelty throughout her childhood. A violent marriage followed in which both she and her children were abused. She went to Pattaya, started working on the streets, became an alcoholic and fell into depression. Now her life has changed. She completed the three-month training program at the Tamar Centre and earns a living by running the card-making centre. She knows what it is to have nothing and can offer support and compassion to the people who arrive at the centre. Most important of all, she lives with her children. “For the first time in my life I feel good about myself. I have a good relationship with my children and can be a mum to them now”.
The majority of the prostitutes in Pattaya, a city on the Gulf of Thailand, are single mothers like Khun Phon trying to support their children and families. Others, like Khun Nok, are young girls sent by their parents to earn money and transfer it home. If the parents in their hometown acquire possessions or wealth, the girl is praised and no questions are asked. If not, she is deemed a disgrace and cannot return home.
The Tamar Centre was founded by Nella Davidse, who still runs it today. She told me of its origins. It was opened 1999 by Project Life Foundation and there are now two locations: the Tamar café and training centre in the shopping district, and the Outreach Centre in one of Pattaya’s most notorious bar streets.
The objectives of the organisation are two-fold: to provide a new life and purpose for girls on the streets in Pattaya, and to educate their families in the villages of Isaan, north east Thailand. The latter involves prevention centres that educate relatives as to the realities of life on the streets in order to stem the flow of young girls arriving for work.
At dusk I set off with Nella to capture life at night. The centre wanted photographs that they could use for fund-raising and for educating the families. We arrived as people were preparing for work and stayed to document an evening in Pattaya.
The Outreach Centre in Soi 6 (known as “soi sex”) has a hair and beauty salon, which is run by Khun Jing and Khun Fa (below), now fully trained beauticians. It offers a constant presence to the 600 prostitutes working in the 60-odd bars on soi 6 and a reminder that there is help and a way out.
The centre provides counselling and advice, health check-ups for pregnant women, and free English classes three afternoons a week.
The main Tamar Centre runs a three-month program for women who have left prostitution. They are given professional training in baking, cooking, hairdressing, card making, sewing, and computer studies. Graduates of the program are offered jobs in the centre or given assistance to find the equivalent work outside.
The food in the bright and immaculate cafe on the ground floor is fresh and delicious and the baking irresistible. Who could say no to a thick slice of apple pie or Snicker cheesecake?
Chocolate Brownies bring happiness to all!
Khun Nittaya chops fresh vegetables in the pristine kitchen.
The crèche on the third floor of the centre provides childcare through the day for the babies and toddlers, and after-school care for the older children. The mothers and children live nearby in sheltered housing provided by the Centre.
Everyone we spoke to expressed the same sentiments: they are now providing for their children and living life in a way that gives them purpose, self-respect and hope for the future.
And Khun Nok? She is blooming and full of life, and as she blooms, so do her children. They are all learning to smile, to laugh easily, to feel safe. Best of all, Nok is learning to dream – to dream of a better future for herself and her children. She’s applied to an adult education centre in Pattaya and begins studies this October. Nok has hope now, and because of that hope, everything is possible.
Please note all names have been changed.
Further details are available at http://projlife.com/tamarcenter/ or visit the delicious Tamar Bakery & Restaurant at 124/130-131 M.10 Thirdroad, Pattaya, +66 (0)38 415 432.
July 13, 2010 - 4:16 pm Pooja Kishnani - You find the most amazing stories here in Thailand. Its inspiring to see what people are doing to help the community and the ladies. Thanks again for sharing this Jackie 🙂
July 13, 2010 - 6:58 pm Kaylea - Wow! I didnt realise there was a centre helping prostitutes in Pattaya. It sounds an amazing place. The photos you took are stunning as usual and you told such an interesting story with them. x
July 16, 2010 - 12:13 am Jaime Cortez - Jackie, it is great to hear about the wonderful work being done at the center. I think your compassion for the women and their children comes through very clearly. Your photographic strong suit is intimacy, it seems, which is a real benefit for a project like this where we want to have a sense of an individual's story, their hope, their humanity. Bravo.
August 31, 2010 - 12:46 pm Polly - Amazing Jackie ...... what beautiful photographs and a great story; these women are so strong ....... that must have been incredible to visit, photograph and document. Congratulations! keep it coming please!
September 25, 2010 - 12:51 pm Nella Davidse - Thank you so much Jackie for the beautiful pictures you donated to the Tamar Center. We are so thankful for your support. They tell the story of hope many women find in the Tamar Center! Be blessed, Nella
February 8, 2011 - 6:39 pm Claussniazi@yahoo.com - Dear Jackie, I have been revited to my computer for the last hour catching up on your blogs and have loved everyone....this one is particularly special for sharing the story of hope being brought to these women.....it is both heartbreaking and heartening at the same time. What a wonderful place the Tamar Center is and thank you for sharing it with us!