Project Starfish is an initiative of the Rotary Club of Dunedin Central. The project was established by member David Black 17 years ago to support those fighting child trafficking and sex slavery in Cambodia and Thailand.
“Slavery is bad enough. It gets worse when you add ‘child’, but put ‘sex’ in the middle of it, and sometimes people just don’t want to know,” David said.
When it comes to horrifying stories and examples, David has no shortage of material and is an excellent guest speaker.
The global slavery industry is estimated to generate around US$150 billion each year; US$100 billion of which is spent specifically on children. Over the past 30 years, Rotary has invested about US$1 billion fighting polio. In that same period, paedophiles have spent US$3 trillion on child prostitutes, and the estimated tally of child rapes committed during that time stands at about 368 billion. In any given year, it is thought that 4.5 million worldwide are trapped in child sex slavery, with 2.2 million children estimated to be abducted into the trade annually.
“The children here are stateless, so the Mission gives them food, clothing and an education – the greatest protection from being abducted and sold into sex slavery.”
David is passionate about trying to stop this horrific trade. In December 2019, he took a group of young people to Cambodia and Thailand, including Rotary Club of Timaru member Jessica Hewitson and her colleague Keryn Ward. They travelled to Siem Reap in Cambodia and participated in the International Angkor Wat Half Marathon with the Hagar organisation. They then headed to the Rescue Mission For Children in Thailand to help with the planned upgrade of facilities.
The Rescue Mission for Children in Northern Thailand is overseen by an Australian-based board and runs on donations and fundraising. The children here are stateless, so the Mission gives them food, clothing and an education – the greatest protection from being abducted and sold into sex slavery. Project Starfish helps support the non-government agencies at the coalface. They have planted fruit trees and put a new roof on the laundry drying area. Further works include a bathroom refurbishment for the girl’s dormitory.
Project Starfish received support from Rotary International President Kalyan Banerjee in 2012, when he promoted the project at the Rotary Convention in Bangkok. The project won the district trophy in 2017 for the collaboration of Rotary clubs, including Interact in the USA.