From the first moment I saw her, she stood out.
She is the undisputed leader of the clan. She moves ahead of everyone, organizes everything and even sits in the front of the Jeepny as all of us huddle in the back.
She stands with her shoulders back and looks you straight in the eyes when she talks. Even with her broken English, she minces no words.
I landed in Chaing Mai yeasterday morning. And after checking into a random Guesthouse after an hour of unsuccessfully hunting for the one I booked, I was given a ride by the unofficial manager; an Italian fellow called Nicholai, to the ‘Can Do Bar’.
I pretty much invited myself over to Empower Foundation. I wrote to Liz Hilton, who’s been in Thailand for almost two decades with Empower, to ask if I could visit and meet some of the girls she works with. She graciously agreed.
When I walked into the humble building Empower calls home, the girls were having lunch. I was greeted with big smiles and shy waving hands. The back of the building has a communal kitchen and dining area, the first and second floor is the office, reading room and home gym (Liz joked that ‘here we practice how to run from the police’). The front side facing the busy street is the entrance for the Bar with the words ‘Expertainment’ written in big bold letters.
The girls were headed to a Museum today.I had to ask twice to confirm, I later felt embarrassed for thinking it odd. Liz explained it’s for stress relief and I gathered it’s also part of encouraging the girls to have diverse experiences and help them develop other interests and perspective in everyday life. An opportunity they would never have with out Empower. A sex workers world can be a dark, lonely and shrinking place. Often ostracized by family and shunned by society. Empower helps the girls live fearlessly and with dignity.
Pimm is one of many success stories of Empower. She owns her own home, a small car and of course her bike. She leads outreach initiatives for Empower where they distribute condoms for free and information on HIV and STDS to ask risk people… which basically means, everyone, including you and me! She’s learning English from a lovely British girl who’s volunteering with Empower. Emma is the same age as me and in the short time that she’s been here; the girls have really warmed up to her. Thanks to her, the few words of English some of the girls speak, is in a proper British accent!
Many a timid girl would feel emboldened by merely observing Pimm. She has such a strong presence. She told me that when she came to Empower she was scared, embarrassed and felt isolated. A far cry from the girl I’m sitting in front of. Pimm is a funny, confident and no-nonsense girl. She’s the best advocate for Empower’s work.
After the Museum visit and a quick stop for a snack, we returned to the Empower office, from where I posted the previous update. At six pm- the bar opens and we all march down for what turns out to be the first of many stiff ones for the evening.
Pimm and I get talking and she’s full of questions. She’s curious and also well informed. Soon we’re just two girls sharing notes on life, love and work. With every hour I grew in admiration for this girl. Pimm is a dutiful daughter, an unapologetic sex worker and one heck of woman. She even paid for my dinner and eventually dropped me to my guesthouse on her bike.
She’s just a young woman whose life and circumstance led her to what she does. She wants the same rights and rewards that would have been hers if she’d had the opportunity of a proper education or other paths to choose from.
But she’s here and she won’t spend a moment feeling defeated or demeaned. I say, more power to her.