As part of the Think Small Foundation, Jason, a Cleveland native, and Toby, a former teacher for Bradley County Schools, use entertainment shows, education and youth empowerment to impact children in Thailand, where the couple is living. The emotional impact of what they have seen and heard in the Third World country is etched in their faces and in their unswerving resolve to effect change from the inside out of the Thai people.
The task is not an easy one, seeing as how sex trafficking and illegal drugs bring in billions of dollars each year. According to a 1998 Kyodo News report on Asian economies, “Between 1993 and 1995, it was estimated that prostitution in Thailand produced an annual income of between $22.5 billion and $27 billion.” To make matters worse, the internal sex trafficking of Thai females consists mostly of 12 to 16-year-olds. The majority are sent to closed brothels, which operate under prison-like conditions.
Researchers say victims of sex trafficking are easily deceived or lured into prostitution because they face poverty, unemployment and broken families. Most of them have poor families which they are supporting, or children to provide for. The easy answer has been turning to the local bars. The typical Thai person earns $300 a month, whereas some of these girls are reportedly earning around $2,000 a month.
But Jason and Toby said they want the youth of Thailand to understand that a more rewarding life, made easier by the love of Christ, is within their reach. The couple is asking the Cleveland community to join them in their efforts to save the children. Having returned to Cleveland with their own children to visit family and friends, and raise awareness about the plight of Thailand’s children, Toby stated, “I didn’t grow up in Cleveland. We moved here right before our first daughter was born.
“It still brings tears to my eyes — the beauty of this community. This community is one of the most beautiful communities I have ever seen. The good people of Cleveland have never ever been about themselves. They have always been about reaching out to others and helping them. They don’t wear blinders to focus on one little thing that’s happening right here.
“With all of the churches in the community they fully understand that God has called us to go to the poorest of the poor. They understand that the world is a community at this point. They want to do good and they want to touch lives elsewhere.”
The couple said their agency is influencing children to stay away from drugs, alcohol abuse and other destructive behavior by using entertainment and Christian principles to educate and strengthen the child’s ability to resist temptations from friends and strangers.
Toby admits what they are doing is seen by some as “putting a Band-Aid on a volcano,” but the couple believes each and every child saved from a life of prostitution or drug abuse is worth the effort and is precious in the eyes of God.
According to Jason, a fomer children’s pastor who also assisted at Mount. Olive Church of God, the Think Small Foundation trains and empowers local churches to reach, protect and instruct children in Bible principles.
“We use gospel and drug prevention shows and curriculum to bring people a whole life in Christ,” he said. “Since 2007, more than 300 churches have been trained, resulting in over 25,000 children entering into a discipleship with Christ.”
The couple said studies have shown that children between the ages of 4 and 14 are more receptive to embracing Christianity than any other age groups.
“Of Christians, 85 percent of them became Christians between the ages of 4 to 14,” Toby said. “We refer to it as ‘ The 4-14 Window.’ They’re the most vulnerable but also the most responsive to the gospel. That’s the group we target.”
Jason added, “Our hope is to really partner with the (Thai) government and help them with the drug issue. It’s here in America. It’s in Thailand and it’s all over the world. If we can partner with the government and help them by getting their future off drugs — and getting to the children before these other things do — we can make a difference.”
“Our goal is to have churches training churches,” Toby said. “We also want Thai people training Thai people to do these things.”
Jason said Think Small trains locals who work with children on how to become “outstanding influencers” of youths by using a simple three step process to help children become agents of positive change and leaders in their schools and communities. The three steps consist of entertainment, education and empowerment and focus on prevention rather than dealing with the aftermath.
Regarding their entertainment approach, Jason said, “Children make decisions from their hearts based on emotion, rather than their heads. This is why peer pressure is such a powerful influence. We train local teams to do one-hour variety shows in schools, malls, slums, parks or anywhere children are. We use clowns, dramas, illusions, comics and games to teach children about drugs or other important topics. When a show ends, they are motivated!
“After the shows, we train local teachers how to use a powerful and fun children’s curriculum to continue motivating, educating and empowering the children to make positive choices. We also teach teachers how to create a positive peer pressure environment. We guide them to set up Kids Clubs, using student leaders who learn to train other students on living a full, moral, safe and empowered life. This changes the culture of the school, orphanage or other organizations to one of health and positive life expectations.”
Since 2007, Think Small has partnered with the church, school and business community to protect and strengthen children, reaching and teaching more than 34,000 children with their three-step process of proven success.
“When it’s affecting us in our own home we’re not as likely to look away because we’re dealing with it too,” Jason admits. “If these were our own children — and it very well could be if this continues — we would look at things differently. Thailand has done a great job in coming down on sex trafficking but they cannot do it by themselves. That’s where partnering comes in. We want to work ourselves out of a job so the Thai people can go into schools and help their own people.”
“Thailand loves their children,” said Toby, who has been teaching since 1999, and teaches introduction to missions, history of missions and introduction to world religions online for Lee University. “Children ages 5 and up are being trafficked and people need to be made aware of this so they can help in supporting a change.”
According to the National News Bureau of Thailand Public Relations Department, Thailand is reporting anti human trafficking plans for 2012. The report said, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked the U.S. ambassador to Thailand to forward Thailand’s progress report on its fight against human trafficking to the U.S. State Department.”
The Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs invited the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand to a meeting during which he informed the latter of the steps Thailand has taken in its fight against human trafficking. The report contains an operational plan Thailand is taking to suppress human trafficking during 2012-2013.
“The plan encompasses seven points to be promoted, such as effective separation of victims in flesh trade, stepped-up efforts in investigations and legal actions against state officials involved in human trafficking, leniency given to alien victims to stay temporarily in the country and undergo occupational trainings, and sustainable measures to protect alien labor,” the reports said.
For further information, visit www.thinksmallfoundation.org or contact Jason and Toby Long at: insideoutasia.com.