While visiting Thailand in 2009, I witnessed firsthand the horrors of trafficking, exploitation and the violence committed against an overlooked and unimaginable population of Boys...yes, Boys! While walking through the Red Light District of Chiang Mai, I observed a thriving and booming sex-trade that was taking hold of vulnerable Boys as young as 11 years old. That night, unwilling to walk by, I instead chose to walk deeper into the alley of boy bars.
Finding refuge at a table, I immediately befriended one working boy. Through broken English, a love of soccer and the ability for me to lose gracefully at Connect Four (over 18 times!), a friendship was quickly formed. I had unexpectedly befriended this young, kind and protective Hilltribe Boy—his name, “Oi”. The friendship and trust between myself and Oi--two complete strangers from two completely different worlds, would only intensify over the next 5 days. On my fifth and last day in Chiang Mai the desperation of knowing that there would be no one to play Connect Four with Oi, and no one to talk soccer stats with him other than the male customers in the boy bars left me frantic.
Upon arriving back to Washington, DC I quit my job, informed my husband and family that I was going back to Thailand and quickly made arrangements to pawn my engagement and wedding rings. I was able to use that money as start-up capital (this was before Kickstarter existed!) and just 3-months after meeting Oi, I traveled back to Chiang Mai and started Urban Light.
With the help of Oi, Urban Light soon became an organization dedicated to empowering, restoring and providing emergency services and support to boys in Chiang Mai who are victims of trafficking exploitation. Urban Light has become my life purpose and beyond that an advocate and torch holder for the millions of overlooked Boys around the world.
In just the past five years, Urban Light has provided services to over 3,000 Boys, over 10,000 hot meals and over 15,000 hours of services. Together, we are impacting the lives and bring hope and light to the depths of the darkness.
-Alezandra Russell, Founder of Urban Light