Bay * dreams of becoming a doctor one day so that she can help others when they are sick. She is used to taking care of others. As the only daughter in their family of five, at the age of 12, she is expected in Hmong culture to be responsible for washing dishes, sweeping the house, washing clothes, cooking, and helping her mother with farm work. Only after finishing the household chores, can she then do her homework or read.
They live in a single-story home on a dirt road, at the end of an alley. Her family bought solar panels to access electricity, but when it rains heavily, such as in the six-month monsoon season, there’s not enough sunlight to power the solar cells, so there’s not enough electricity for her to have light to do her homework. In these cases, she has to wake up very early the next morning to finish her homework before school. Naturally, this leaves her tired and unable to focus on her studies in school. Having enough food to fuel her through the school day has also been a problem. She says, “Because we were poor and my mom was the breadwinner. The income was usually not enough for the family, so I was rarely given money to buy snacks at school.”
Meanwhile, there are other challenges. Her stepfather has hearing problems that lead to frequent arguments with her mother, causing a lot of stress in the house. She says, “Every time my parents argue, I feel unsafe and frustrated.” She wonders why this sort of thing happens in her family. Their house also has no bathroom, which means she has to go in the woods or ask a neighbor if she can use theirs. She feels embarrassed by this and says the neighbors don’t like her family, often speaking ill of them.
How Bay’s Challenges Translate to Risk
We believed that many of these factors put her at risk. The desperate poverty of their situation might make them an easy target for traffickers and exploiters, especially as there are already people in her community who are working abroad illegally and might influence her. As Hmong, an ethnic minority, their family faces discrimination, which makes it difficult to find an adequate living wage. Living with unstable electricity and no private bathroom also puts her at risk of abuse, as sexual abuse of children is distressingly common in situations like these. We felt it was a priority to protect her from that.
At the age of 12, having such high expectations for her to support the family thus far translates primarily to supporting them with house and farm work. As she gets older, there would be more pressure to drop out of school to bring in more income. With limited education, and as an ethnic minority with limited job possibilities, there would be a lot of pressure to turn to riskier choices to support her family. Our staff believes that, by stepping in early, we can help keep her in school, and also do the deep work of changing the idea that it’s acceptable or desirable for her to drop out of school to support the family. We hope by stepping in before she’s forced to leave school, we can ensure she has a stronger foundation for a safer future.
How We’re Helping Bay
Since accepting her into our scholarship programs two years ago, The Freedom Story has helped finance her education, which frees up family resources to buy food and other supplies. We also built a private bathroom for their family to reduce the potential for sexual abuse. Bay says that not having a bathroom had been a struggle and, since The Freedom Story helped build one for them, her quality of life has greatly improved. Her staff mentors have been working closely with her family to try to share different ideas about equality in the household, for the whole family to help each other out and reduce the burden on Bay. Her mentors are also planning to work with the electricity authority to resolve the issue of unstable electricity, in order for her to be able to do homework every evening.
Her staff mentors have been advising her on her career and life goals and including her in various life skills camps. Bay says that becoming a scholarship student has allowed her to make many more friends and helped her learn that, even as a child, she has rights. She also says, “The activity that I like the most is the life skill camp activity because it allows me to practice planning goals in life.”
According to her mentors, she used to be a shy child who rarely spoke, but now she meets with friends and talks openly with the staff. She communicates better with her family, and she has brightened up, having a lot more fun. Becoming more assertive is a great sign that she’s learning to value herself and stand up for herself, which we hope will become a great source of protection for her in the future. Her staff mentors also say, “The biggest impact has come from trainings about sexual education. We have seen a significant gain in knowledge around this subject, which has allowed her to protect herself and others.” With the combination of financial support and greater awareness about protecting herself from potential abuse, Bay is hopefully much better equipped to stay on a safe path toward her dreams.
Because of your support, we are able to protect children and youth like Bay from the pressures 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 Bay, 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 to protect privacy.