Prevent Child Trafficking Through Mentorship

by The Freedom Story (Formerly The SOLD Project)
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Prevent Child Trafficking Through Mentorship
Prevent Child Trafficking Through Mentorship
Prevent Child Trafficking Through Mentorship
Prevent Child Trafficking Through Mentorship
Prevent Child Trafficking Through Mentorship
Prevent Child Trafficking Through Mentorship
Prevent Child Trafficking Through Mentorship
Prevent Child Trafficking Through Mentorship
Prevent Child Trafficking Through Mentorship

Dear Friend,

We, at The Freedom Story, are grateful for your continued support of our work through GlobalGiving. We wanted to share with you a quick story about one of our scholarship students, Sara*, whose strength and perseverance have allowed her to pursue her goals despite the many obstacles life has thrown her way. 

When Sara’s father died, her life changed irrevocably. She describes her father as the pillar of their household. When he passed, she says, "After that, our home felt pointless, lonely, unbearable, desolate, and millions of other feelings all at the same time. At that time, it could be said that the mental state of the people in the house was very bad and very hopeless.”

 

The Impact of Her Father’s Passing

Sara was only ten years old when her father passed. He had been the primary income earner supporting her parents, four grandparents, an aunt, and four children. Although her mother and aunt worked as well, they did not earn as much as he did. Before his passing, Sara explains, “Even though we were poor, we had enough to cover our household expenses with three people working.” But after his death, “Now there is only my mother left to work to earn money to pay for everything in the family, especially the tuition fees of the four children. And of course, my mother did not have the strength to send all four children with only her two hands. My aunt worked sometimes, but only when there were jobs available.”

With only one consistent income, the financial situation was dire. Sara is the eldest child, so her mother suggested she drop out of school to support her family. “At that time,” says Sara’s mother, “the world was dark, and I couldn’t see a way out. I had to take care of my kids and four grandparents. There was no way for me to do that. My only way out was to ask my older children to leave and go to work.”

At such a young age and without proper education, Sara would be at significant risk of being trafficked or exploited if she dropped out. 

 

Sara Carves Her Own Path

However, Sara is a bright and dedicated student. She was determined to continue her education, and thankfully, someone at her church introduced Sara to The Freedom Story. She applied for a scholarship to help ease some of the financial burdens.

While waiting to hear the result of her application, the family still kept trying to improve their situation. “Sara’s mother is the hardest working amongst all of our scholarship families,” says Ning, the Education Program Assistant Manager. “She would wake up at 3 am to prepare pork to sell at the local market, which she would sell until 9 am. Then, she would come home, change, and go out to her pineapple farm, where she would work until around 3 pm. After that, she would go to the local market, where she sold crepes, sometimes not coming home until midnight. Despite this incredible effort, there was still not enough income for her family to live on.”

Sara is keen to explain her family’s motives, showing how protective she is of them and how difficult their choices were. “My mother was not indifferent at all. My mother and my family were constantly nervous and were trying to find a children’s home for my siblings [to decrease our expenses]. Ultimately, my siblings found a Christian Foundation where they could live together. However, that makes us separate from each other in different directions. Even though we did not want to be separated, we knew we had to for our futures.” Sara explains. 

Sara was the only child who remained at home with her mother because she had tested into the best high school in Chiang Rai. Her mother did not want her to miss out on the opportunity to study there.

“At that time, my mother was worried about me because my siblings all went to the children’s home. Then The Freedom Story contacted me to say that I had received a scholarship. When she heard, my mom cried as though all the stress, all the fear, was taken away. I thank God for giving me such a great opportunity. This kind of opportunity is not easy for everyone to receive.” 

“It was as if another hand had reached out to help our family in a time of helplessness, like a light that opened the curtain, someone to bring us out of hopelessness to see some of the family's hopes,” Sara explains. 

The Impact of The Freedom Story for Sara & Her Family

“After receiving the scholarship from The Freedom Story, the mental condition and well-being of my family improved, as if to fill the missing parts as a father, an elder, a friend, a relative,” Sara says. “The Freedom Story has done many things, and my family has received a lot. Not only receiving scholarships, but also other activities such as organizing a family camp, mentorship, and training on various subjects. Meetings are held twice a year, and income generation assistance is provided.”

When the COVID pandemic hit, Sara’s family struggled financially. Her mother wasn’t able to sell crepes or pork, and the price of pineapples plummeted from 10-12 THB per kilo to 50 satang per kilo (about 10 cents in USD). Her mother had to shift to work as a daily wage laborer in construction and agriculture. 

In 2021, our Sustainable Livelihoods program approached Sara’s family and suggested raising chickens as a form of additional income. With support from The Freedom Story, her grandfather started raising chickens and selling eggs in their village. (He’s so involved with his chickens he plays music for them!) Her mother has also joined in training sessions on topics such as personal financial management. 

Both Sara and her mother have developed new confidence since joining The Freedom Story. “Before, her mother wouldn’t talk to others or share anything because she saw others as better than her. Despite being such a hard worker, she never saw her own value,” says Ning. “Now, after joining in activities like our family camp, she appreciates Sara’s skills and abilities. For Sara, before, she was shy and felt limited by her mother. Now, she has been able to meet new people and is braver. She’s had opportunities to develop her skills and is a leader in her church and her community.” 

Sara is a good student, currently studying math, science, English, and even music in her free time. She dreams of studying abroad in America or being an au pair after she graduates.

She says, “I would like to thank The Freedom Story and its sponsors for providing scholarships and great opportunities for my family and me. We have gained more knowledge and understanding of family communication, have received good advice, positive energy, and many other things. Really, thank you. There is nothing else to say except thank you. I will focus on studying, and I will try to do my best with the opportunities I have been given, which many people do not receive. There may be some tiredness, discouragement, and some crying, but I will not stop trying and continue developing myself.”

The thanks go to you, our supporters, whose steadfast commitment to protecting youths like Sara has made this relief possible. Her resilience and incredibly poignant worldview are so inspiring. Celebrating the accomplishments of Sara and students like her rejuvenates our spirits, and we all look with hope toward the future.

 

In Hope,

The Freedom Story

*Name changed for privacy.

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Dear Friends,

Thank you for your continued support of The Freedom Story. Your support has given us the ability to accept 23 new students into our program this year! These youths are among some of the most at risk in the region, especially as their families have already indicated an interest in dubious job offers and sending their children to work in neighboring countries. 

We’d like to tell you a bit about them. Because we have just begun working with these students, as the Thai school year begins in May, we believe it’s inappropriate to share any individual story. In lieu of that, we’d like to share a summary of typical cases among our prospective scholarship students. To be clear, it is not based on any individual child, but rather illustrative of the kind of vulnerability and needs we see. 

This Year’s New Cohort

The youth that we’re accepting into our program this year are teenagers, part of ethnic minority groups, generally living in small villages along the Golden Triangle. Their grandparents moved to Thailand from Burma decades ago, and despite being in the country for so long, the older generation never had the opportunity to get an education and they don’t speak Thai. As a result, they are isolated from the wider society and cut off from access to information and technology. 

These families live in houses made of concrete blocks, on land they don’t own. With no rental contract, working in exchange for a place to live, the families have little security. If jobs are available, they work as daily wage laborers, helping to farm products like rice, oranges, or lychee. When there is no work, they have no income. Most live on an average of $150 per month. This low, and inconsistent income, has caused many to seek informal loans from loan sharks. Repayment leaves many crippled financially, as interest can be as high as 20-30%.

Without citizenship in Thailand or Burma, the children rely on a government-issued card that allows them to go to school in Thailand. If they graduate from university, they can apply for Thai citizenship. In the meantime, they have no right to access government-subsidized healthcare, and cannot travel outside of Chiang Rai province. Graduating from university seems like a monumental task. 

Many of these youths have already missed a few years of school, due to instability. Some may be several grades behind their age mates. The age gap between them and their classmates is awkward and embarrassing. 

Even so, they feel lucky to be in Thailand. Many have siblings who have been sold to other families, for example, being sold into marriage in China, a form of trafficking that is increasingly common among ethnic minority members in Southeast Asia. Staying with family in Thailand is a lucky escape from that.

COVID and its impacts have left these families in an even more precarious position. Decreased work and decreased wages have worsened the financial strain. Meanwhile, they’ve needed to study online due to outbreaks at school. Most families are lucky if they even have a device to use, and internet access is extremely expensive. These youths struggle to focus and follow along in online school, often losing the motivation to study. Their elders cannot help them or answer questions. Moreover, the elders don’t understand why the kids spend so much time online and can’t help with chores around the house. 

There are many well-known dangers online. There is the risk of being groomed online for sexual exploitation, a growing issue impacting around 10% of internet-using Thai children in the last year alone. Lonely and seeking affection and understanding, many are at risk of being exploited and targeted due to their vulnerability. 

And there is a new emerging danger. Online job advertisements offer jobs in Cambodia or Laos, working online for salaries starting at 30,000 THB or $1,000 USD per month. For those impacted by COVID, living in poverty and out of hope, it seems almost too good to be true. Word of mouth spreads the news far and wide as villagers hear about the opportunity and encourage each other to go. But the reality upon arrival is a dangerous, terrifying experience of exploitation where they are forced to find customers for illegal online gambling sites or other scams.

However, for many, the lure of a chance to earn money they desperately need outweighs the rumors of exploitation. Many of the families of the students that we’re working with this year are open to sending their children to work in Cambodia or Laos. Their desperation outweighs their perception of the potential risks.

How We’re Supporting These Students

We have already begun counseling and working with these families, helping them see the reality of the ‘too good to be true’ job offers online. We will continue working with them to help them see how education for their children can open up better, safer opportunities and choices in the future. 

Scholarships go a long way to reducing the lure of these other offers and making better choices possible. Freedom Chapter memberships sustain the scholarships we can offer to help keep further education more attractive than the lure of these jobs. With your help, together, we can prevent these children from being trafficked, and support them to pursue dignifying careers and life paths. 

Thank you so much for your support of these children and their families. Together we are breaking the cycle of trafficking at the source. 

 

In Hope,

The Freedom Story

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Dear Friend,

We, at The Freedom Story, are grateful for your continued support of our work through GlobalGiving. As the end of the year approaches, we wanted to share a story of an inspiring young girl, Arisa*. Because of your generous support, we are able to help prevent trafficking at the source for children like Arisa. 

Among the Hmong people, it is common to believe that girls’ education is less important than for boys. When a girl gets married, she becomes part of the husband’s family and no longer contributes to her own. From many parents’ perspectives, especially among older generations, even a college-educated woman will find value only with her husband’s family. For families that are in poverty, it seems to be not worth the investment.

Arisa’s Story

Arisa is a bright fifteen-year-old Hmong girl. In her free time, she embroiders beautifully intricate Hmong fabrics to earn extra money for her family. “I feel proud every time I see my embroidery work in a frame,” she says. She also loves sports, especially takraw, a Thai game that is a cross between volleyball and soccer.

Her family lives in poverty. Her father is largely absent due to substance abuse, and he has remarried, leaving the financial burden for four children on Arisa’s mother. When he is around, there is often stress and violence, causing even greater strain. Arisa’s family lives in a very rural village in a remote province. The only jobs available are in agriculture. The wages are not enough to live on. 

When we met Arisa, she was already spending a lot of time on social media, sometimes talking to strangers and engaging in risky behavior. She was taking a lot of sexually explicit photos and posting them with captions like, “I’m lonely, I’m single, I want someone to take care of me.” She had many contacts on Facebook, many quite a bit older, but she didn’t know most of them. They would comment on her photos and send her messages. Her homeroom teacher has also been concerned about her posting and said this is also pretty typical of Arisa’s friends.

This behavior opened her up to the likelihood of online sexual exploitation. Meanwhile, as she started getting older, her mother put more pressure on her to drop out of school to help support her younger siblings. These twin forces, the need to support her family and the drive to share herself on social media, create a situation ripe for exploitation.

She needed support to reassert her commitment to her education and to learning to value her online privacy, or she would be at significant risk of trafficking or exploitation.

Our Response

Last year, when The Freedom Story expanded to Arisa’s village, we immediately saw all these factors that put her at risk: her family’s financial situation, the exposure to abuse, her family’s beliefs around educating girls, and her mother’s pressure on her to drop out. 

We offered her a scholarship to encourage her to stay in school. Seeing her activity on social media, we also encouraged her to join in the training sessions we host for children and parents on the dangers of online exploitation. 

Arisa joins activities at the resource center regularly, and they’ve had a significant impact on her. At first, she was reticent to talk to us about her online activities. But soon she began to tell us about her friends. She would bring her friends to activities with us too. Doing activities with her friends there helped her open up more.

Her mentor shared news articles about online sexual exploitation, which proved to be a pivotal moment for Arisa. As her mentor says, “We knew that if we only taught out of a book, it wouldn’t have any impact. No one thinks this kind of thing will happen to them, but after we shared the news story, she said, ‘Oh, I do those things too.’ The way she was dressing, things she was posting, it was dangerous in ways she didn’t know. She told us, ‘Hill tribe girls have to be pretty. When girls are pretty, they will get attention.’ We helped her understand the dangers a bit more.”

The Impact

Arisa says, 

“After I joined The Freedom Story, my life changed for the better. Before, I spent most of my time playing on my phone, and I didn’t know anything about online exploitation. I would also take no responsibility for my chores. 

“Now I have been to human trafficking prevention trainings and life skills development activities, for example in agriculture. I have learned how to spend my free time productively, spend less time on my phone, and use social media appropriately. I am also taking more responsibility for my duties, like taking care of my younger siblings and helping my mother work on the weekends and holidays.”

She no longer shares the same types of photos and captions. She is much more open and brave in talking to the staff. She seems happier too. She said she feels like “I have someone who cares about me, so I am happier to talk about myself.” We hope that being surrounded by people who care about her, value her, and support her–and not just for her looks–might be key to preventing her from seeking that kind of affirmation online.

Arisa says she’s also really enjoyed activities like the cooking classes at the resource center. They’ve helped her make new friends and build relationships with students from other villages and schools. Her mentor is there to support her, for example, when conflicts arise at school or with friends, issues that she feels uncomfortable sharing with her parents. 

She dreams of one day becoming a nurse. She wants to help others in the community as well as have a stable career to “help lighten my mother’s burden in taking care of the younger children.”

There are many young women like Arisa. The belief in a girl’s right to an education is changing very slowly, especially among younger generations. The home visits we do play a role in helping to change these beliefs and encourage seeing the value in educating girls and young women. With your partnership, we are working to prevent trafficking for many children like Arisa. Thank you! 

 

In Hope,

The Freedom Story



*Name changed for privacy

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Dear Friends,

 

Thank you for your support of The Freedom Story's End of Year Campaign. Because of supporters like you, we had a great Giving Tuesday and are excited to continue to expand our work across Northern Thailand. We wanted to send an update on some of our work and give our supporters an idea of how partnering with The Freedom Story is helping to benefit children who are at risk of trafficking and exploitation.

We’re thrilled to announce a new video that shares about two sisters, Saifon and Panee! These young women are stateless, meaning they don’t have any kind of national citizenship. Statelessness leaves them without the legal protections that governments give based on citizenship, and they are also denied access to many of the basic rights citizens enjoy.

When we were first introduced to Saifon and Panee almost 10 years ago, they were living in a very unsafe place, isolated high up in the jungle on a mountain, without electricity and far from even a dirt road. The nearest main road was about a 45-minute drive through the jungle where there was often no discernible path. Without electricity, it was completely dark at night, and the walkway between the hut and outhouse was covered in slippery moss. Though they were only children, they carried a lot of responsibility for taking care of themselves. Getting to school from so far away was an incredible burden.

In this video, you can see how far they’ve come in the years since. Because of the generous support of donors like you, they’ve reasserted their right to dream. Their determination to make a life for themselves, even in the face of statelessness, is inspiring, and we feel certain you’ll feel moved by what they’ve accomplished too.

Thank you so much for your support of these families. Together we are breaking the cycle of trafficking at the source. 

 

In Hope,

The Freedom Story

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The Freedom Story (Formerly The SOLD Project)

Location: San Francisco, CA - USA
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Project Leader:
Rachel Goble
Oakland, CA United States
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