Mayuree* just wanted to study and spend time with her friends, but as the second oldest child in a family of six, she was responsible for taking care of her younger siblings and helping to harvest tea. Her parents were day laborers on a tea farm. Money was tight, and they needed every bit of income they can get. Like many of our scholarship students, Mayuree was being pushed to drop out of school after junior high school to work and help support her family.
In their hill tribe culture, girls’ education is not valued. Though some families are more progressive, many, like Mayuree’s family, believe that women shouldn’t pursue higher education because they will eventually get married and “belong” to another family – thus, investing in a daughter’s education isn’t considered a wise investment.
One of her biggest challenges, however, was that her father liked to drink, and when he drank, he would abuse her mother. Mayuree, too, was sometimes subjected to his abuse, and she was fearful of speaking up against him, fearful of being hit. It was a stressful environment to grow up in.
Mayuree had seen The Freedom Story staff visiting another scholarship student nearby, and she jumped at the chance to apply to our programs. When The Freedom Story staff heard about her case, they were concerned. Poverty, dropping out of school early, and a history of abuse are already strong factors that put a child at risk of trafficking here. However, they were especially concerned about a neighbor who was working in a massage parlor and trying to convince Mayuree’s father to send her there to work. Massage parlors are highly inappropriate and unsafe environments for underage girls to work in – the potential for abuse is high, and in many cases, they are known sites of sex trafficking. Her father also frequently had drinking buddies around their house, and TFS staff feared Mayuree would be at risk of sexual abuse.
The Change We See in Mayuree
Being accepted into the scholarship program changed her life. She never wanted to go to her parents for advice, her staff mentor was the only person she felt safe to turn to. As Mayuree says, “After receiving the scholarship, my life has been better. I had opportunities and a good future. I could set a goal for my life. I could do what I would like to do. I felt more positive. If I had a chance, I would pay you back.”
After graduating from grade 9, our staff advised her to continue with her education by pursuing a hairstylist course at the vocational school, with the hopes that one day she could be self-employed. She hopes to one day finish her high school diploma, but in the meantime, she is working in a beauty salon, earning her own money.
Having her own income drastically changed the power dynamics in her home. She began to have a say in things and felt empowered to speak up against her father and his abuse. Our staff helped her find a dormitory and a room for her to live in so she could move out. After moving into her own space, she never wanted to go back home again to see her alcoholic father. She only goes to visit her mother and other relatives. In the meantime, at age 19, she finally feels safe and secure, confident that she can look after herself and her family.
Due to her reduced risk, this year she will graduate from our prevention programs, though, like with most of our students, our staff mentors will still stay in touch with her and continue to advise her on her career and educational goals, as she navigates the possibility of applying for citizenship so she can own her own salon, or pursue other career opportunities.
In the meantime, Mayuree isn’t the only person we’ve seen change. We’re supporting her other siblings as well, and our staff have been working closely with her family. We’ve been encouraging her father to quit alcohol, guiding him step by step to slowly wean himself off drinking. We provided lots of positive encouragement at the Family Camp and witnessed major changes. Her father doesn’t drink so much nowadays.
Mayuree says, “Thank you for the scholarship. It helped me to study in the program. I might have to stop school because my parents could not afford that. Thank you for receiving me into The Freedom Story. I promise that I would study hard and make my dream become true.”
*Name changed to protect her privacy.