Amara* hustles hard. She dreams of becoming a novelist and already has made a running start for herself. She loves to write romance stories, which she shares online on a platform where readers pay to read them. She started at the age of 11, and by the age of 15, she has already written 50 of them. Using gift money from relatives on special holidays, she has also invested in selling products like bracelets and photos of Korean pop artists online. At first, she wasn’t very successful, so she took free courses she found on Facebook and other sites, learning about online sales techniques, graphic design, and creating ads so she could try again to sell on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. These activities have become a source of revenue for Amara, as she makes about 1,000-2,000 baht ($27-54USD) a month doing this.
She uses the money she earns to pay for the family’s water and electricity bills, as well as food. This income she gets online may not sound like much, but it is critical for their family, as she lives with her grandmother, who is in poor health and only receives 700 baht ($18USD) per month from a government stipend.
Amara’s parents divorced when she was 5 years old. Her father was subsequently killed in a car accident, and her mother left to live with her new family when she remarried and only sometimes helps with tuition. Thus, it falls on Amara to take care of herself and her grandmother, bringing in money and taking care of most of the household duties. While she has an aunt who helps sometimes, the aunt has her own family to care for and cannot fully step in to take care of Amara and her grandmother too.
A Budding Novelist At Risk
For someone like Amara, the internet can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s clear she has the drive to try to forge an income online and will do what it takes to learn how to use the tools at her disposal. However, as a 15-year-old in desperate need of money, she is also exposing a real vulnerability. As her staff mentor explains, “Amara has aspirations to become a writer. She currently writes and sells short stories over the internet. This has been a great opportunity for her but also a risk. She has had a lot of communication with strangers online, which is always risky behavior. It’s difficult because she finds a lot of inspiration and gets a lot of her ideas for stories from people she does not know.”
She engages regularly with strangers online, and we felt that, unless she has the knowledge and skill to protect herself while also promoting herself, she could be in very real danger of exploitation. Her grandmother would not be in a position to advise and protect her, to teach her about the dangers that can lurk on social media platforms, or how to guard against them. For Amara, it’s imperative to learn how to thread the needle–using the internet for gain, while minimizing risk.
How We’re Helping Amara
The scholarship provided by The Freedom Story helps keep Amara in school. However, our awareness-raising activities and the connection she has with staff mentors are key to her protection. According to her staff mentors, “We talk a lot about the problems of talking with strangers online and the overall risks of unsupervised online activity. We have even partnered with her teachers to address her behavior online.” She has become more open to discussing her online activities with the staff, which makes it much easier for them to help guide her.
She has also participated in workshops on how to protect oneself online, as well as the ones on child rights and protection from child abuse. In these activities, she not only gained valuable information, she also developed friendships with peers that helped her grow socially, become more outgoing, and have a wider network of support.
She also really loves activities like workshops on creating short films. She participated in a course we hosted on how to edit short films from a lecturer who specializes in film and advertising editing. She was excited about having another venue in which to explore her talents.
She values her relationship with her staff mentors. She says she doesn’t like going to her grandmother with her problems because she doesn’t want to cause her discomfort. Her mentors provide her with a safe place to share her worries and gain valuable advice. She appreciates what she learned about the safe use of the internet, which she feels allows her to use it more effectively. She’s more aware and mindful of online threats. With the combination of emotional support and actual encouragement in the growth of her skills, Amara has gained much more confidence in her own abilities. As her mentor says, “Amara believes that through our program focused on skill development, she is more capable to pursue her dreams of becoming a writer.”
Because of your support, we are able to protect children and youth like Amara from the choices and situations that put them at risk of trafficking and exploitation. Will you help us continue to provide scholarships and resources that help them stay safe? We’re working to raise $100,000 to keep our prevention programs running strong in 2023. If you’d like to help protect kids like Amara, please give here and know that 100% of your gift goes directly to prevention programs that keep children safe from trafficking and exploitation. Thank you!
*Name changed and stock photo used to protect privacy.