Pattaya, Thailand — In a large, brightly lit classroom at the Fountain of Life Women's Center in Pattaya, about 20 young women curl and style hair under an instructor's direction. Down the hall, about a dozen women practice techniques and pressure points in Thai massage. Upstairs, some women learn computer skills while others take English classes.
These are some of the 250 women who come daily to the center, run by the Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd Sisters, to gain skills they hope will give them an alternative to earning money in Thailand's sex tourism trade.
Many think helping women get out of lives of prostitution "means you rehabilitate them, take them out of the bar," said Sr. Michelle Lopez, founder of the Fountain of Life Women's Center, which takes its name from the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:15 who asks Jesus to give her the life-giving water he describes. "After we worked with them, we realized you can't quite do that — it's just not possible."
"When we approach trafficking, we have to do so with a new vision," she said. "Our vision has been empowering women."