Hello! My name is Lauren Dekleva, and I am from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I graduated in December from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, with a degree in Social Entrepreneurship and minors in Music and Political Science.
Through Cultural Canvas Thailand, I am interning full-time at Urban Light, one of CCT’s many partner organizations. Urban Light is an NGO that provides life-changing services to young male victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in the region.
I've always been interested in human rights, and first learned about human trafficking as a freshman in high school. From then on, I wanted to pursue a career in anti-trafficking efforts. That desire led me to declare a major in social entrepreneurship, join collegiate organizations to raise awareness of the issue, intern with domestic anti-trafficking organizations, and ultimately, travel to Chiang Mai to work with Urban Light.
I have been in Chiang Mai for three weeks, and started my internship two weeks ago. It’s been an absolute whirlwind! These first few weeks have really been about getting my feet wet. I’ve spent a lot of time shadowing the current intern and observing the way she interacts with the boys at the center. Despite the language barrier (which has definitely been the hardest aspect of the job so far), I’ve begun forming relationships of my own with them as well, through many, many, many games of UNO, a ping pong match, watercolor painting, and a few guitar/ukulele jam sessions. It’s taking time, but many of them seem to have gotten used to me being there, and are willing to struggle through the language barrier to interact with me. And they are such incredible people! I am loving getting to know them and am looking forward to supporting and encouraging them in any way I can.
In addition to hanging out and developing trust with the boys, I will be responsible for Urban Light’s social media. Currently, I am brainstorming ways to create content and engage UL’s online audience to further spread awareness of their amazing work. I will also be assisting with the development of merchandise and a social enterprise project to generate income for the organization.
I am so excited to be in Thailand, to learn the culture and some of the language; to observe and contribute to an international nonprofit; and develop relationships with the young men at Urban Light. Over the next six months, I hope to continue to step outside of my comfort zone, discover ways to combine my passions for music and social justice, gain the knowledge and tools to become a better advocate, and have a positive impact on the community at Urban Light.