PAVENA Foundation Offers Hope for Women and Children
By Sinthamala Lanavanh,
Lao Women’s Newspaper
Vientiane, Lao PDR
Not so far from the capital city of Bangkok, Thailand, there is a house which is a place for rescuing women and children who have been trafficked by criminal gangs. The place is known as the PAVENA Foundation for Children and Women.
The Foundation is run by Pavena Hongsakula. For the women and children living there, Pavena is recognized as a giver or a big-hearted mother.
Mrs. Pavena is the former minister of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and also the former minister of the Ministers Council.
Wearing a long-sleeved striped shirt, Mrs. Pavena is smiling while giving her name card – a picture that shows she is in official government attire – and talking to a group of reporters from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam about this foundation.
During her talk, diligent children with happy faces are serving water and snacks to the visitors in her office. Around the walls of the office are hanging many pictures of victims that show what happened to those children and women. That evidence has reflected on the unsafe life they have had in today’s society.
When asked the reasons why she came up with ideas to form the foundation for those children and women, Mrs. Pavena explained about her emotions toward a girl she met at a government-owned rehabilitation and vocational training center for former prostitutes. The girl had been sold into prostitution by her step-father.
“I came across an 11-year-old child who was busy knitting, and I asked her under what circumstances she was brought there. That child replied she had been sold by her step-father to a brothel and was placed in the government center after a police raid,” said Mrs. Pavena. “I was terribly shocked to learn what had been done to this 11-year-old girl.”
This experience boosted Mrs. Pavena to talk to her colleagues working at the government center about how to solve the problem of trafficking.
After that, the Pavena Foundation was formed to help the victims of criminal gangs. “It is too difficult,” Mrs. Pavena continued. “During my work I got many problems -- like conflicts with gangs or persons who lose benefits when trafficking stops.”
Some people accuse her of simply trying to raise her profile through the foundation. But she already had a high profile as a Bangkok parliamentarian before she formed this foundation. She keeps doing what she wishes to do.
Mrs. Pavena has a son who is 26 years old. He also works in Bangkok politics, which she wishes he wouldn’t do because it is such hard work. But Mrs. Pavena said he wants to help her by going to rural areas so his mother can stay at the office.
“However, I have never given up helping (victims) and I have gone everywhere that they need for help, either daytime or nighttime,” she added.
Many of those victims come from Burma, Laos and Vietnam. They were told lies by people who promised to find them a good job in Thailand. But in reality, there was no good job and they were forced to work as prostitutes.
One Lao girl, who asked not to be named, is now living in her own country and had been rescued by the Pavena Foundation. She said that when she came to Thailand, she was forced to sell sex. At that time, if she had refused, she would have been smacked and threatened to be beaten to death.
“One day I went to market, there were gangs following me and I tried to find a way to call my cousin who was living in Thailand,” she said. “And my cousin asked Pavena Hongsakula to help and they took the police to save me. Later on, I returned home.” She had been forced to work in Satun province near Malaysia. Had the foundation not rescued her, she said, she most likely would have been sold in Malaysia.
At the foundation is another girl, 11 years old, with short, straight shoulder-length hair and a slim body. She looks younger than she is. She was sent from Nonthabuly province to the Pavena Foundation.
“After my mother and my father divorced, my father took me to the Pavena Foundation and then he went to another province to find a job,” she said. “At first I felt lonely. And I wondered why my father left me here.”
But even though her past experience of being left has come into her mind, it seems that the foundation is the starter for her new life.
“After one month, I felt happy to live here. I have a chance to study and get support from everyone kindly.”
The Pavena Foundation for Children and Women has established the Pavena 24-hour help line (1134), which anyone can call to file complaints or report incidents of children and women’s rights violations. Emergency help is available for rape, physical assault, involuntary prostitution and other types of abuse.
“Humans cannot choose who they are at birth, but they can choose to become good citizens if they are given a chance,” Mrs. Pavena said.