In 2020, we shared with you a story about a young woman named Mai. At that time she was a youth at risk. Today, we’re sharing something really special: a look at where she is now, three years after graduating from our child sex trafficking prevention programs.
Let’s Recap Mai’s Story
Mai* was originally from Myanmar, but at the age of 7, she was sent to live with an aunt in Thailand, migrating in the hope and promise of a better life. However, things did not turn out as they had imagined. Mai’s aunt and uncle were abusive, demanding that Mai help with all the household chores, and beating her severely if they weren’t done on time. When household chores made her late for school every day, she was hit there too. Meanwhile, money sent from Mai’s parents was taken and used to support a drug addiction.
When she was in the 4th grade, her uncle attempted to abuse her sexually. She escaped to a friend’s home. At first, her family denied this happened, but eventually, her aunt admitted the truth, and Mai moved to a children’s home.
At the children’s home, she became acquainted with staff from The Freedom Story and was encouraged to apply for a scholarship. At the age of 14, she was accepted into our programs. We were able to cover the costs of her education; however, her challenges continued. Her sister’s boyfriend attempted to abuse her, as an immigrant she didn’t have the right legal status to pursue her dream of becoming a tour guide, and eventually, her sister talked her into engaging in bar work, where she was forced to dress in sexually suggestive clothing, to cover her other living expenses. She knew, daily, she was at risk of sexual abuse and being pushed into sex work.
As she said at the time:
“If you offer money, nowadays, people will go anywhere. If you don’t love yourself, if you don’t see your value, people will go. If you think money is more important than yourself, you will go. I have people who invited me to leave the bar with them for money. [Editor’s note: leaving the bar with someone is a euphemism for going with a client to perform sexual favors in exchange for money.]
“I always tell myself, ‘No matter how much money it is, I am not going with them.’ It’s just money, you can always find more money. It’s not worth it for the money–we don’t know what they will do.”
With the help of the scholarship and the caring support from her staff mentors, Mai was able to escape bar life. She applied for citizenship, and her application is still pending (the process can take upwards of ten years). In the meantime, she graduated with her beautician degree and was able to open her own salon and even help her sister get out of bar life as well.
Mai’s story is a successful one – but her success didn’t end there.
Three Years Later: Where Mai is Now
After graduating from our program, Mai has done a stunning job of owning her life. She is now married and has a child. She owns her own business, they have a car, and they have plans to build their own home in the mountains, so they can move from her husband’s relatives’ land, where they’re currently staying. Her sister is also married and has a child too. Getting her sister out of bar work is something Mai considers to be one of her biggest achievements.
Though she’s no longer a scholarship student, she still keeps in touch regularly with her Freedom Story mentors. She is grown up and has her own family now, yet she still feels that TFS is her home and her family.
She says The Freedom Story revived her life. When she worked at the karaoke bar, she had always felt bad, knowing that people assumed she was already in prostitution. She knew she had to free herself, but she says that The Freedom Story’s mentors helped her see how unsafe her situation was, and she remains grateful to her mentors for changing her life. She’s joyful and generous, always wanting to help – whenever our staff post updates announcing visits to her area, she insists on feeding our staff at every meal.
She’s made a commitment to herself to be one of the voices helping The Freedom Story raise awareness about human trafficking among the people around her. Now that she has a child of her own, she wants to ensure her child never experiences what she went through. She actively helps other children in similar situations. When she comes across children at risk, she refers them to TFS. She also talks to our current scholarship students about her experience and how she got out.
Mai’s case had been so precarious, but now she has taken charge of her destiny and is using her opportunity to improve her life and the lives of so many others as well.
When you invest in prevention, the impact reverberates. It lasts. It’s not a one-time event of preventing someone from entering the sex trade, end of story. The story is that lives can be changed forever.
Between now and April 25, 2023, we’re asking for your support to continue helping children in similar circumstances as Mai had been – children at high risk of being lured or pushed into engaging in the sex trade in order to get by. To help them the way we’ve helped empower Mai, we need to raise $10,000 by April 25.
If you give now, every dollar will be matched to DOUBLE the impact. Please join us in transforming lives from a state of threat to one of possibility and hope.
Thank you for taking part in the movement to end child sex trafficking!
*Name changed to protect her privacy.