Freedom seems to be the key concept linking all phases and experiences in my life so far. As a child, being raised by severely strict Hong Kong-Chinese parents, I was always on the search for freedom. I would try to escape my parents rule/power over me and run to my room, or run away from home – but always return around dinner time as I got hungry… When I became a rebel teenager, I would tell my parents I had a sleep over at a friend’s place in order to stay out late. My curfew was midnight – even after I graduated.
In university, my search for freedom was enhanced and I searched for freedom in a different way. During law school, I focused my studies on human rights, development, anything related to true justice and freedom. From the Four Freedoms (freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, freedom from fear) to the full international, regional and national human rights conventions and charters… I wanted to know all about the most basic and fundamental rights for human dignity, which to me was key to empowerment, development and freedom. My aim was to work in human rights and freedom – to help people who are suppressed by governments or other people.
While in university, I also started travelling – exploring freedom in a more ‘practical’ way – exploring the freedom to travel across borders by backpacking through Southern and East Africa, Asia – Europe and the US. Learning about different cultures and different conceptions of freedom. For example, in Mozambique, women are at liberty to breastfeed in public – and there is no concept of privacy in the toilets (women line up right next to each other while they are doing ‘their thing’ or do ‘their thing’ while squatting next to each other on the beach – and they’ll be chatting at the same time). However, should you wear anything shorter than at knee’s length (either a skirt or trousers), you will immediately notice how this is not tolerated in society. At the same time, while I find it very liberating to be single and without children (for now at least), in many countries, the first question you get asked is whether you’re married and/or whether you have kids. Anyways, it is nice to see cultural relativism in practise – and through my travels, I always kept thinking about the concept of true freedom and the different meanings to freedom in different cultures and different parts of the world.
Since my arrival in Bangkok, the freedom link is even clearer. First, I worked with an organisation on human rights and development in Burma, with political freedom being a main issue. One of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s pledges was “please use your liberty to promote ours.” The struggle against oppression and human rights abuses in Burma has been going on for decades. However, the recent revolutions in the Middle East may have been an example for the people in Burma. By all means, may this revolution be more peaceful and bringing change. Since Daw Suu’s release from house arrest, she has been engaging in dialogue and presenting speeches as important meetings and conferences, hoping this will lead to change in Burma, to freedom and democracy.
Now, I work for ECPAT International. An organisation aiming to end child prostitution, child pornography and trafficking for sexual purposes – and thus working towards the abolishment of modern day slavery :: freedom. Maybe it’s too soon to talk – as it has been less than a month since I started with ECPAT – but I think this has been the most rewarding job I had so far. Previously, I also enjoyed being a research assistant to Professor Theo van Boven, for example. He worked a lot on the prohibition of torture – also justice and freedom oriented – but this is different. Working on research and at the same time engaging directly with the public, with companies and clients – it’s a perfect balance. Several campaigns and projects to fight modern day slavery have been set up in recent years. I truly hope that with all our small steps and efforts combined, we will bring big progress to the situation of millions of children and adults who are currently enslaved through modern day exploitation. I hope to be able to contribute to this cause and stick to my fight for freedom.