The Women in Business Luncheon is held every three months and never falls short of being a great opportunity for women to connect and promote their businesses surrounded by friendly faces, splendid food and gorgeous settings such as the Shangri La Gardens, Wynnum Road, Wynnum West. Equally important, is the guaranteed opportunity to laugh amongst friends.
Last Tuesday, 22nd August however, was a sobering affair as the women listened, captivated, to hear the words of what truly was an inspirational and emotional speech. Guest speaker, Wynnum born, Kay Danes, revealed herself to be a woman of amazing strength and courage having suffered and lived through the nightmare of one of Laos’s secret gulags.
When police pulled up late one night Kay and her husband knew something was wrong, but in that moment they could never have imagined the cruel twist of fate that was to have them flung into a world of corruption and pain.
In slow motion, her heart pounding in her ears, Kay was told by, husband and successful businessman, Kerry Danes to, “get the kids and go, I’ll sort it out.”
But she was not to see him for a long time afterwards. He had been kidnapped by the corrupt Communist Laos government. Gathering her two youngest children she fled towards Thailand only to be intercepted at the border by the same ruthless and corrupt police. Wrenched from her children, Kay was then told she was to join to her husband.
“I’d never been to prison before, there was blood on the floor, I couldn’t process anything. My children had been secretly taken out of the country and I had no idea where my husband was. I tried to find a reason for all this but there was none.”
She was left clinging to the words of her father spoken years ago, “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear.”
In a world of justice and truth this would be so, but the Laos government that held her captive was callous and corrupt.
As the prison door slammed shut behind her, she was left in a dark cell with strangers, five other women, the reality of the situation only now beginning to dawn on her, “It was all a lie,” her husband Kerry was no where to be seen.
“Kay, be patient” said the other women, “I’ll explain in the morning” always it was, “be patient.”
She later discovered her husband was being kept in another cell. She saw him finally as they lead him passed her room. They put his legs in braces and beat him, tortured him in front of her.
The communist regime wanted her husband to sign a false statement against one of their clients but Kerry refused to sign his name to a lie. They were held hostage, the subjects of mind games, pressure and brutality to force them to do as they wanted.
Kay came to realize however that there were many worse off people held captive in Laos - people without a voice, or any hope of freedom.
“I was frozen by my own tragedy but then I looked around me. I saw people who had been there for fourteen years and more, as skinny as holocaust victims… They would burn their genitals and pour sewage water down their throats.”
One prisoner in particular became a great friend and source of comfort, Mr Joy. He was in there because he had wanted freedom and democracy, things we take for granted as a part of our everyday lives. He asked Kay to make him a promise, that if ever she got out, she would tell their story then maybe someone would help them.
“I learnt a lot in that prison, you have to put your feet in someone else’s shoes to learn compassion.”
For ten months Kay and her husband, Kerry Danes endured torture, imprisonment, death threats and outrageous injustice at the hands of a corrupt regime. They were released at the end of 2001 after Federal Government intervention.
During their time in Laos the couple saw unspeakable human rights violations acted out each day in a place where the outside world can't hear the cries for help. Since leaving the prison she has kept her promise to Mr Joy, sharing the journey that brought her face to face with the torture, the struggle for survival and the spirit of those who endure the horrors of inhuman imprisonment every day.
Battling against corruption and an overwhelming helplessness they fought for their freedom. Today they continue to fight for the freedom of others still caught in the nightmare.
Kay’s book, ‘Nightmare in Laos’ will be released in Australia, November 12th 2006. It is a moving and overwhelming story, the remarkable strength of the people she met in Laos is guaranteed to touch the hearts of all who read it.