“Since my childhood, I have little taste of freedom and happiness.” He can still remember how as a small boy, he saw the killing and rape of his fellow villagers by Burmese soldiers.
Shan-Tai prayer month 2011, day 14
From Shan State to sex worker
Ten years ago Eak’s hill village in Shan state was forcibly evacuated, reducing his home to a makeshift tent in the jungle. They had no food, medicine or clothing.
Urged by his father, Eak crossed the border into Thailand. For a 14-year-old boy, entering a monastery seemed the best survival option. He spent eight years as a monk, finding in the monastery shelter and refuge from his familiar companions: fear and death.
Together with other friends, Eak ended up in the city of Chiang Mai: fields of play for foreign tourists, fields of toil for Shan immigrants like him. Many Shan villagers escaped the Burmese military junta only to be denied refugee status by Thai authorities. Without identity cards or work permits, they subsisted on low-paying jobs. Eak tried his hand as a construction worker and building painter for a couple of months before someone told him of a more lucrative employment opportunity.
Working as an Escort
“I remember to use a condom almost every time I have sex with clients,” he says. How often is “almost every time”? Nine out of ten, he says, and smiles.
The male sex workers of Chiang Mai have an HIV infection rate of 11.4 percent, according to a 2005 survey. Nearly half are of Tai Yai origin and come from the Shan states. The Shan are in high demand for their unique physical features. Of the more than 30 boys at Eak’s club, about 80 percent, are Shan. (Source: A boy’s journey to sex work by Lin Gu)
Working in the ‘sex industry’ is an obvious way that people become infected with HIV. Intravenous drug use is another. Because these are both frowned upon in almost all societies there is huge stigma attached to this virus. Yet most who become infected are not involved in these activities, they are children, wives, health workers, cleaners and labourers who happen to encounter the virus in the course of their ordinary lives. Most have no idea they are even infected until they become unwell. Such as person is Sai Aung Chit a Shan man training to “help my people get life.” He was struck down by the very disease he was learning to prevent.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40 ESV)
- The Shan to be faithful to their spouses and make wise decisions as they travel and work far away from home (Hebrews 13:4).
- Available and affordable medicine and for Christian doctors to share about Jesus as they treat their patients (Luke 5:31).
- Believers to show love to those who are HIV positive (Matthew 25:42-46).
- The children in Burma suffering and dying from preventable diseases and malnutrition.
- Entire villages in Shan State that are forced to cultivate and produce opium and methamphetamine, and are addicted to drugs.
- 1.5 million people living in dark, frightening jungle-draped prisons fleeing from the attacks of the Burma Army.