Risk isn’t usually visible on the surface. If you were to visit our Resource Center and watch the kids playing, if you didn’t know the work we do, you might never know the hardships these kids have already been through. This is part of why trafficking prevention isn’t the work of quick fixes: it’s deep and thorough. It requires looking past the surface to see a person’s whole childhood, context and all. Trauma doesn’t always show itself in a person’s face.
As an example, we can take the case of Jintana.* Jintana describes herself as “self confident and assertive.” She lives with her grandmother and younger sister. She loves studying Thai language, and watches TV shows about baking and cooking in her spare time. In many ways, she’s like an average 12 year old anywhere in the world. But she has been through extraordinary challenges and trauma, much of which has put her at risk of being trafficked.
A Life of Instability and Trauma
After her parents separated, her father dropped out of her life entirely, and her mother went on to have several romantic partners, leading to more instability and trauma. One of her mother’s partners abused Jintana sexually before she was even 10 years old. She went to a teacher to report the abuse–a testament to her incredible strength and fortitude. The teacher helped the family work out an agreement where Jintana’s mother broke up with the man, though no formal action was taken.
However, this episode led to Jintana and her sister moving out to live with her grandmother. Her mother’s partners did not improve–she has a volatile and violent relationship with her current partner, often fighting and using physical force with one another. They struggle with alcoholism and drug abuse as well. Kru Ball, our Education Program Manager says, “This had a huge impact on her day to day life. Her mother would use violence and emotional abuse to make decisions about and speak to Jintana. Jintana is, as a result, not confident to talk to her mom about different issues.” This is also trauma, of a different kind.
Soon after the girls moved to their grandmother’s home, her grandfather passed away, leaving her grandmother financially responsible for both children’s expenses, including the costs of education. Her grandmother runs a small shop in the village selling grilled chicken and other dishes, and can usually make around $100 a month. It’s not enough for them to live on, and the girls’ education costs caused financial strain. The family currently has around $2,100 in debt, which is an enormous pressure. Meanwhile her mother has lost her job due to the impact of COVID.
These financial struggles take on particular import in Jintana’s family. Her grandmother, mother, and two aunts were all trafficked, and her family has historically been involved in selling drugs to survive. In addition, Jintana’s grandmother has significant health problems which limit her ability to find work in the area. It’s a lot to have to overcome, and for many families, it is not easy to break the cycle of generational trafficking. Just like with other forms of abuse, though you would think parents would not want to put their kids through what they themselves have suffered, abuse often perpetuates itself. Without proper help, it is often the case that people can only do what has been modeled for them.
Overcoming the Struggles
Last year, The Freedom Story opened a new resource center in Jintana’s village. We knew there was a history of cyclical trafficking in the area, as in Jintana’s family, and that children like her needed support to overcome their risk of trafficking.
Jintana began receiving financial support to stay in school, helping to ease the financial burden carried by her grandmother. She also takes advantage of the resource center after school, coming every day and Saturdays for homework help, tutoring, and using the computers. This helps her understand her studies and learn more. Her favorite activity is making Thai snacks. She enjoyed making the treats and hopes to use these skills in the future to sell at her grandmother’s shop to make more income for her family.
“Since joining our program,” says Kru Ball, “we’ve seen Jintana become more open, more confident, and have more curiosity and be happier. She’s more open to communicating with staff, has more friends and is more brave and confident in general.”
She and her grandmother have joined The Freedom Story’s trainings on human trafficking and online sexual exploitation of children. We have also provided support for Jintana and her grandmother in the form of mentorship, advice, and guidance to help understand Jintana’s educational options moving forward, to help them build stronger relationships, and to help them support one another.
Strengthening this relationship is critical, to overcome the resistance from Jintana’s mother in supporting her. As Kru Ball says, “When we started doing activities, Jinatana’s mom didn’t want her to join activities because she wasn’t available or willing to run her errands for things like buying alcohol for her.” Her relationship with her grandmother is essential, as someone who values Jintana and prioritizes her needs.
Jintana wants to be a nurse when she grows up. After all she has been through, she has a heart to give back to her community and support her family. With your help, we can keep providing mentorship to ensure that Jintana remains on a path to pursue her dreams. Between now and April 15, we’ve set a goal to raise $10,000 for our mentorship program. Can you help us reach it?
*Name changed to protect privacy.