Hope and Help for Prostitutes
The Tamar Center in Pattaya, Thailand gives women a way out of prostitution.
Along the sunny, sandy coast of the Gulf of Siam, not far from the Thai capital of Bangkok, sits the city of Pattaya. Originally a small fishing village of only a hundred families, the Vietnam War brought discovery by the western world and Pattaya soon became the official center of rest and relaxation for war-weary soldiers.
With the close of the war, the tourism boom began and shops, bars and hotels grew to meet the demand. Though its registered population is only 100,000 people, Pattaya has as many as 5 million tourists visit each year. Today, Pattaya is a thriving resort destination, but is more notoriously known as one of the “sex capitals” in Thailand. There is believed to be roughly 2 million prostitutes working in Thailand and of that number Pattaya is home to about 40,000 of them.
Though prostitution is technically illegal in Thailand it is no mystery why a blind eye is turned to the glaring lights of the sex industry: prostitution in Thailand generates an estimated annual income of US $22-27 billion. Close to $300 million is transferred yearly to rural families by women engaged in prostitution in urban areas.
For women like Oh Waennan, who was left a widow and single mother of two at 31, joining the sex industry felt like a matter of survival. Then she met Nella Davidse, the founder and director of the Tamar Center, and found a way out, through a relationship with Christ and a new talent for baking.
“I’m very thankful that God gave me a new life,” Oh said through Nella, who was her translator on a month-long tour of the United States to raise funds for the Center.
The Tamar Center staff and volunteers go into bars in Pattaya three nights a week, and tell the women about the organization. The Center strives to address all aspects of the women’s lives. They are offered a three-month counseling course and Bible study. “Many of the women are very broken,” said Davidse, 47, adding that about 90 percent of the women are victims of sexual abuse.
Lack of finances is one of the top reasons for women to turn to prostitution, so the women are also shown new employment opportunities. The Center offers courses in English, card making, hairdressing and baking, so that they are able to return to their families with marketable skills, Nella explained.
Since it began in 1999 the Tamar Center has helped about 100 Thai women leave prostitution. About 20 percent of the women who go through the Tamar Center return to prostitution, but for Oh, who now leads the Center’s training program, it was a door to a brighter future.
“I know God is taking care of me and he will take care of me and my children,” Oh said. “My son is saying, ‘The Lord Jesus is my father,’ and that’s enough for me.”
For more information about the Tamar Center visit: www.ywamthai.org.