Emi grew up in an orchard on a tea farm. After her father passed away when she was only a year old, she lived with her mother and brother, and during harvest seasons, they would work to harvest tea. With an income of only 500 baht (about $13US) per day, they own no land of their own. As Akha hill tribe people, life was precarious for them. They speak Akha, not Thai, and without Thai citizenship, her access to education and job opportunities is limited – a situation which prompts many in her situation to leave school.
Emi’s mother eventually remarried and they moved in with her new stepfather, who also didn’t have land of his own and didn’t have much income to live on. Her stepfather has health problems but refuses to see a doctor. By the time she was 15 years old, he began pressuring her to work in a massage parlor to make money for the family.
When Emi applied for a scholarship to further her education, The Freedom Story staff were most concerned about her stepfather and the way he would pressure her to work, especially in massage parlors, which might be legit or might be a site of potential trafficking and sexual exploitation. They were further concerned that Emi was sometimes left alone with him when her mother was working. Emi sensed that, deep down, he didn’t love her the same way he cared for his son.
There are too many instances of sexual abuse in scenarios like these for us to turn a blind eye. We felt the combination of poverty, limited options for ethnic minorities, and the blatant pressure for her to work in dubious situations put Emi at risk of being trafficked or exploited.
How The Freedom Story Is Supporting Emi
After accepting Emi into our programs, Emi received a scholarship to support her education. At age 17, she is now studying Fine Arts at a local vocational college. She also benefits greatly from the various activities at our Resource Center. Though she has only been in our scholarship program for about 2 years, we can already see a remarkable change. At first, she hardly joined in activities because she felt shy. But, knowing she could draw and do crafts well, she used this ability as her inspiration to step out of her comfort zone. According to her staff mentors, she became especially assertive after attending a training session on self-knowledge. Training sessions on legal pathways to gaining citizenship, along with our staff supporting her in the application process, have given her a lot of hope for the possibilities that could open up for her. For example, we’ve helped her gain a higher level of legal status that now allows her to travel more freely within Thailand. She also loves knowing she has the support of generous donors–combined with activities like the Family Camp we hosted, she feels it has opened up her perspective to the wider world around her.
“Since I received the scholarship, I had a chance to continue studying. It made my life better. I could join activities and gain new experiences. I learned to plan for my future and acquired leadership skills. I had new friends and new family here.
“Education gave me an opportunity to change and gain self-confidence. I could solve my own problems. The Freedom Story gave me space to do what I liked, such as New Generation’s Innovation project….I attended an international scholar contest for designing wooden toys and I came in fifth place.
“I appreciate The Freedom Story and its staff that have supported and taken care of me, no matter whether it was an academic or life challenge. Everyone was so nice to me. Thank you to all the sponsors who gave me opportunities to improve my life. I felt so lucky.”
Emi also feels that her relationship with her stepfather has improved. Meanwhile, her mother is now more supportive of her education, having learned that it can help pave the way to Thai citizenship.
We believe the material resources are only part of the story of preventing children like Emi from experiencing trafficking or exploitation. As her words show, the experience of being surrounded by support, friendship, mentorship, positive activities, and opportunities for growth really helped her blossom. These connections are key to developing inner resilience, to keep her strong against pressures like those from her stepfather–protecting her, every bit as much as the scholarship does, from those who would exploit her.
Because of your support, we are able to protect children and youth like Emi 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 Emi, please give here on Giving Tuesday and know that 100% of your gift goes directly to prevention programs that keep children safe from trafficking and exploitation. Thank you!