Sompop grew up in poverty and started working at the age of six. His organisation DEPDC/GMS (Development Education Programme for Daughters and Communities/Greater Mekong Sub-Region) has given thousands of poor children from throughout the Mekong Region – Thailand, Laos, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam and China – protection and education. Many of these children belong to indigenous ethnic groups who are treated badly in their home countries and live in dire poverty. Their parents or grand parents are mostly migrant workers. Very often these children are not registered at birth, so they don’t have citizenship and often cannot attend school as a result.
Sompop’s work has earned him many enemies, but despite death threats he has managed to build up a school and vocational training centre, two safe homes for particularly vulnerable children, a 24-hour crisis phoneline, and a radio and TV station run by young people. Sompop saves children from being lured into the child sex trade by giving them knowledge, safety, self-esteem and faith in the future.
More than 25 years have passed since Sompop began his work. The first 19 ‘daughters’ are adults and many of them now work with Sompop as leaders and teachers. Other ‘daughters’ have founded their own projects, forming part of Sompop’s large network, and are fighting trafficking throughout the Mekong Region. Together, Sompop and his young students have built up a movement that has given protection and education to thousands of poor children. But much remains to be done. Every year, tens of thousands of children still become victims of trafficking. “We’ll never give up. It pains me to see girls locked up and abused in the brothels. With every child we save, we make the future a little better,” says Sompop.
Meet Fanta, one of the girls protected by Sompop’s organization.
Learn more about Sompop and his work in the Globe from 2013
The facts and figures on this page were accurate at the time of writing, in 2013