Rachel Blumenthal, BSILR'13
ILO, Bangkok, Thailand
Growing up in Southeast Asia, I was exposed to many of the nuanced gendered and labor issues that exist, both culturally and in reality, in this region of the world. Seeing this ignited a passion in me to improve the lives of migrant women in Southeast Asia and I knew that I would dedicate my future work to this cause. I never could have imagined that I would have the opportunity to begin this work before completing my undergrad! The experience of working at the ILO in Bangkok, Thailand entailed not only an incredible internship but an amazing life I built for myself here. I worked on projects with internally-renowned experts on tourism policy, put together presentations for conferences of hundreds of people, and created a training module that was piloted with Bangkok NGOs and is now being expanded by the ILO across Southeast Asia. I even had the chance to carry a flag in the opening ceremony of the 69th United Nations ESCAP Commission Session! I have been very fortunate to meet an incredible group of people here and explore this wonderful city with them. I’ve also been to Cambodia and India, and am going to Vietnam next week. I Skyped with a friend at Cornell from the beaches of an island right off the coast of Thailand as I watched snow fall outside his window!
My main focus during my time here has been the training module I’ve developed, entitled the Migrant Women’s Empowerment Program (MWEP). The MWEP training program is an innovative tool that relies on self-facilitation and social learning techniques to empower migrant women both personally and economically. It leverages existing knowledge present in the community to create a safe learning environment where lessons can be applied to the migration and work experiences of participants. Training does not require the presence of an external expert; only a literate member from the community is needed to introduce the modules and keep time. MWEP is designed to be a low cost, flexible program that organizations and communities with minimal capacity can easily implement and adapt to meet their local needs. At the pilot of the program, women were brought to tears sharing their stories and experiences. A representative of the Thai domestic work trade union board told me that the women in her group were all saying how good and empowered they felt, before she asked me if we would be interested in collaborating with the trade union on later trainings of MWEP. It was such an honour to contribute to this cause, and see the work that I had done have a meaningful impact on these migrant women.
When I decided to study at ILR, I wanted to learn about international worker’s issues, migration policy, and gender, and the intersections between them. My courses taught me much of the background, such as law, collective bargaining, work and family, and gender-specific work issues. It was through my internship at the ILO, however, that I was able to apply these theories and make a concrete effort in the cause of supporting migrant women in Southeast Asia. I am lucky enough that the ILO has asked me to return after I graduate in a few weeks, and I can’t wait to return to Bangkok (even if it is just in time for the monsoon season!).
- Rachel Blumenthal