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© Travel For Change 2020

Sustainable Travel & Wanders Co.



  • Travel For Change

Internship with Urban Light Thailand

Updated: Oct 8, 2019

Urban Light Thailand supports those who are often overlooked or disregarded; boys in the sex tourism industry.
This organisation is working to assist boys in Chiang Mai through emergency support services and has helped over 5000 boys in the region since 2010.

I have always loved the idea of travelling and doing so with a purpose. As I ended the second year of my PhD program in Counselling Psychology, I knew I needed to get out into the world and experience some of what I had studied for myself.

M​y focus throughout my studies was on Modern-day Slavery in the form of Human Trafficking. Although estimates vary, it is generally accepted that there are approximately 30 million individuals enslaved around the world today; more than at any other point in our world’s history. So, when I found the opportunity to volunteer with an organisation called Urban Light Thailand I knew it was a place where I could expand my practice. I had previously visited this non-profit organisation and believed it would be a suitable and responsible place to return to and volunteer through an internship!

Urban Light is the only organisation in Thailand currently working to help empower and support males in the sex trafficking industry. When I tell my friends that I am helping boys and men who work in the sex trade, I invariably get weird looks and even comments such as “Oh, I didn’t know that also happened to men”! Most of Urban Light’s clients began as children, refugees from nearby countries or from the hill tribe families who come into the city with the hope of finding a job. Young boys from families struggling in a life of poverty often become vulnerable targets for traffickers.

Those working in the sex tourism industry serve customers in many areas of the city; bars, sex shops or freelance work through a local commonly known as a Pimp. Many boys seen at Urban Light are struggling with additional health concerns and addictions such as sniffing glue, abusing alcohol or other drugs to cope with their harsh and painful reality.

Additionally, it is not uncommon for boys who work in the bars to be given some form of substance by the management, not only to keep them awake at night but also to create an addiction and subsequent dependency to the bar and the job. It is a difficult cycle to break free from even when someone no longer wants to be a part of it! During this internship I have learnt so much about the sex trade in my location which is in the North of Thailand in a city called Chiang Mai.

Many foreigners and visitors to Thailand may have heard of its reputation as a destination for sex tourism, however, the reason for so many individuals in the sex trade and the realities of the lives of sex workers in Thailand is rarely known. Though intervention is needed on all sides (women, men, and children), the more hidden side of boys in sex work has become shockingly obvious since I began my work with Urban Light. I now easily spot the odd bars in which young Thai men and boys are at tables with older foreign men and tourists.

I noticed the older men waiting at Tae Pae Gate alone until a Thai boy or man comes to them and they walk away together. My personal mission for my time here is to make others notice these happenings as well. To educate and inform the expat and nomad community in Chiang Mai so these interactions become just as glaring to others as they are to me​​.

Urban Light only takes volunteers who can commit to staying in Thailand for six months or more. Many of the boys who receive Urban Light services have previous trauma, abuse, neglect, and subsequent attachment issues. Staying for a shorter period in the lives of these boys may be insufficient and damaging.

Though short-term visitors and volunteers often leave with a sense of accomplishment, and hopefully motivation to create action within a cause, those out to make a difference should seriously consider the value of their presence to the individuals they are serving, and if their presence is helpful, or mainly disruptive.

If you do not have the ability to volunteer long-term, consider raising awareness through social media, talks at your school or business, or a financial donation. Recently, Urban Light launched their own Amazon Smile account, an amazing way to give back with every purchase you make on Amazon in which 0.5% of your purchase at smile.amazon.com goes directly to the charity of your choice.

Whatever you choose, whatever your cause, the most important thing is to get out and do something to make a change. You can make an impact! Please follow my adventures and feel free to contact me for any further advice or information on how you can help our work or become an advocate. You can connect with me via email at [madeline@stenersen.me]

Urban Light Information: For security reasons, Urban Light’s location is kept private, however, please visit our website for more information about our services and mission. If you would like to schedule a group visit or would like a member of the Urban Light team to come and give an information session, please contact us at intern@urban-light.org.​


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