Today, we’re telling the story of one of our current scholarship students, Manee*. Freedom Chapter memberships provide the funding for scholarships for Manee and the other students in her cohort. Read on to learn more about why these scholarships matter!
“If she doesn’t take care of us when we’re old… I don’t know what to say. I have worked all my life and I have only $100 of savings.” Manee’s mother tearfully explains why her daughter must be able to support them as they get older. If she becomes too old and frail to work, there would be no one left to rely on.
Children in Thailand are often expected to care for aging parents, which can put immense pressure on them. Manee’s parents are in their 50s, but working manual labor their whole lives has left them with various ailments. Her step-father is unable to work most of the time.
Manee herself is only 11 years old. She’s shy but soon warms and is curious and lively. She likes art and drawing, especially drawing nature. When she has free time, she likes to go to a nearby pond with her friends to try to catch fish. She likes playing games like Solitaire and Snake on her phone. She also likes playing games on Facebook and has trouble distinguishing what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior online.
Her mother brought Manee to Thailand when she was three years old. Manee’s biological father struggled with substance abuse, so her mother made the difficult decision to flee for her and Manee’s lives, leaving behind ten other children in Burma. Carrying Manee, her smallest child who was very sick at the time, on her back, she walked across the border to Thailand. She had worked in Thailand previously, coming for a month at a time to scrape together enough money to support their family. But Manee’s biological father used the money to feed his addiction, so Manee’s mother left, knowing that there was no future for her in Burma.
Manee is now functionally an only child, living with her mother and step-father in a mountainous area of Chiang Rai. The road to their house is windy, much of it dirt, barely wide enough for one car. The village is full of ethnic minorities like themselves, living in the mountains, surviving mostly on income from the coffee harvest that happens from October to February each year. When there is work, Manee’s mother makes $6 per day, which she uses to support their basic needs.
Manee’s stepfather built the bamboo and grass house that they live in himself. They have electricity from one lightbulb and a small refrigerator, but no fans or air conditioners to help with the heat or insulation to protect from the cold. Rainwater comes in through the grass roof. Most concerning, the bathroom, also made from bamboo and full of holes in the walls, is separate from the house. Her mother stands guard every time Manee goes there, knowing Manee is open to the risk of abuse.
Manee’s mother and stepfather had no chance to go to school themselves. They cannot read, write, or do basic math. They don’t speak Thai, only their native minority language. They know that, due to discrimination against minorities, they are sometimes ripped off at the market where they buy products based on weight, or when harvesting coffee and are paid based on the kilograms they have harvested each day.
Manee’s mother wants her daughter to have a better life than she has, but she cannot afford to send her to school in the city once Manee finishes middle school. She says she “stays up every night worrying about Manee’s future.” With only a 9th grade education, Manee would be left to work the same manual labor farming jobs as her parents have, with little hope of improving her circumstances. Instead of two people carrying a household of three, as her parents age, increasingly the demand will fall on Manee to support them all. With so few choices, her circumstances put her at great risk of being trafficked or exploited.
How We’re Supporting Her
When The Freedom Story expanded our scholarship program into Manee’s village last year, her risk was apparent. While the bathroom situation is already unsafe, there are deeper problems for a family suffering from discrimination and barely scraping by. Dropping out early would condemn her to a hard future with very limited options for survival in anything other than the sex trade or exploitative labor. Before we met them, they didn’t even know what trafficking was, let alone how to protect themselves from it.
Our hope in giving her a scholarship is to, first and foremost, keep her safe in school and on a path to graduating, which could open up other career opportunities. We also are working to find options for sustainable sources of income to provide relief now—not just the material resources, but also to expand their connections to other ethnic minority communities and other networks who won’t treat them with such discrimination, and instead will share knowledge and skills that can put them on a path to thrive.
Staff mentors are working with her to help her understand appropriate behavior online so she would be less prone to solicitations via social media.
And we are even planning to help them rebuild their bathroom so it can be attached to the house.
Her mentors say that she has already grown a great deal in a year. She is more confident, more engaged, and even takes better care of herself physically. It is clear that the care and encouragement of her mentors are already making a difference in her life.
If you believe in stopping trafficking before it starts, please consider helping to make these life-changing scholarships possible. Become a Freedom Chapter member today and know that you’re helping a cohort of children-at-risk like Manee choose education and freedom over the risk of exploitation. If you are already a Freedom Chapter member, please consider increasing your monthly contribution. Every new or increased membership we get between now and April 29 will have the first six months of the new gift matched, as will any one-time gifts, up to $10,000!
*Name changed for privacy.