Mexicali Blues’ Kim Erskine, second from right, bottom of pyramid, visiting “daughters” with Friends of Thai Daughters in Chiang Rai, Thailand, this past spring. Courtesy photo

DAMARISCOTTA — Darrows Barn at Round Top Farm will be transformed into a celebration of Thai culture —with food, dance, music— on Aug. 4, at the first local “Sunflower Celebration.” The event raises funds and awareness for a Maine non-profit that helps young women from Northern Thailand escape the threat of human trafficking.

Friends of Thai Daughters, founded in 2010 by Boothbay residents Jane McBride and Patricia Zinkowski, is a safety-net organization that assists at-risk girls living in extreme poverty to flourish and become educated, successful adults.

While visiting Thailand as tourists in 2002, the two were interested in contributing to a volunteer or community-improvement effort, and learned of the human trafficking dangers in that country. McBride and Zinkowski met a group of young girls, fending for themselves in a dangerous area, and a series of “small steps” led to Friends of Thai Daughters being born.

“We didn’t set out to start a program,” McBride said. “We started small, for example, helping these girls — many of whom had parents who were incarcerated or deceased — with things like food storage and cooking; improvements in their shelter’s roof and structure … they had absolutely nothing. Yet they were these wonderful young girls.”

Since incorporating Friends of Thai Daughters as an official nonprofit in 2005, the organization has helped upwards of 100 young women and girls in different capacities. Providing a safe living space, paying for education and even college, and life skills training are the key focuses of FTD. Several young women have gone on to work for the organization’s two group homes in Thailand, and others serve on the FTD board.

“Mee Aryi joined our program when she was about 16 years old,” McBride said. “She belongs to the Ahka hill tribe. Her father died of a drug overdose, leaving her and four siblings alone as her mother was in jail for opium. Mee was fending for herself and her siblings, resorting to catching rodents for food. When her mother was released from jail, she sent Mee to a children’s foundation in a distant town. When Mee ‘aged out’ of that program after ninth grade, she was referred to Friends of Thai Daughters.”

From there, Mee went on to graduate Chiang Mai University and started a career in real estate. She bought land and started a pineapple farm, employing her mother and older brother. She then became an FTD housemother, and is now general manager of FTD’s two “Sunflower Houses,” caring for 40 girls in total. Mee will be present at the Damariscotta celebration.

“We try to create families for these kids who never really had one,” McBride said. “Many had never slept in beds or seen running water. They come from severe poverty. And the idea is to guide them in running the program themselves. Thai helping Thai.”

Midcoast businesses have not only supported fundraising efforts for FTD, but some business owners have also spent time in Thailand and become supportive in other ways.
Mexicali Blues is the lead sponsor for the event, and store co-owner Kim Erskine serves on the FTD board and on the event committee. She has visited the FTD sites in Thailand, and continually donates a percentage of the store’s proceeds to the organization.

Brady Hatch of Morning Dew Farm studied in Thailand in 2002, and discovered the work of Friends of Thai Daughters. She is now a committee member for the Sunflower Celebration. Morning Dew Farm is donating all proceeds from the sale of Thai chili plants to FTD, and donating vegetables for the Damariscotta event.

Event ticket-holders will taste Thai-inspired cuisine from Stone Cove Catering, with additional food and drink donated by local purveyors such as Long Grain and Best Thai restaurants, Oxbow Brewing, Mook Sea Farms (oysters) and Split Rock Distilling (horseradish-infused vodka for oyster shooters).

Other local businesses sponsoring the event include The First National Bank; Gallagher, Villeneuve & DeGeer; and Cellardoor Winery.

“People in Maine have been remarkably supportive and interested,” McBride said. “When people ask ‘why Thailand,’ we reply that we just stumbled on a place in the world where we felt we could make a difference. The money goes so much further there; we’re able to effect meaningful change in these girls’ lives for not a lot of money. We couldn’t just walk away from these girls.”

Does McBride have any advice for someone struck by the urge to make a difference in the world in a similar way?

“Just do it,” she said. “Nike may have coined the phrase, but it’s honestly the best advice.”

The $75 ticket includes food, open bar and a reverse raffle ticket. A limited number of additional reverse raffle tickets are available for $50 each (with a grand prize of $3,000 cash). A free charter bus will be available from Boothbay.

Live auction items include two-nights on a private island off of Southport, a Red Sox dream package, a trip to Brittany, France, a giant Buddha and much more. Absentee bids will be accepted. Tickets are available online and at Mexicali Blues in Newcastle, and the Damariscotta and Boothbay farmers markets.

For tickets and more information, visit FTD on Facebook, www.friendsofthaidaughters.org, or email [email protected].