Mentorship is about more than being someone children look up to. It’s about creating the relationships with children where knowledge is shared both ways. In a recent CNN article about the need to include children as allies in the anti-trafficking effort, author Jonathan Todres writes,
“…ignoring children means missing out on important insights that can help advance prevention efforts. Interviews with child trafficking survivors have shed light on such things as where children sought out resources or help before they were trafficked, changes in their lives that left them more vulnerable, and more.
“In addition, recruitment of children into trafficking sometimes occurs by peers, away from adults who want to protect children. By involving and listening to children, we can learn more about pathways into trafficking and opportunities for positive interventions.”
The Role of Mentorship
At The Freedom Story, we seek to mentor children in order to help guide them when they need to make difficult choices, to help keep them on a safer and more prosperous path. But the relationship, and flow of information, is not one-way. By building their trust, we’re creating a safe space for children to share with us when they feel lost, lonely, or afraid – situations that help us track when children become more vulnerable, whether to online exploitation or pressures from traffickers they know in person, and they help give us insight into when interventions are needed. We wouldn’t know when to step in, if our students didn’t trust us enough to tell us what’s really going on in their lives.
In a recent informal survey of our students, among those who responded, almost 80% said they had 3 or fewer people in their lives (outside The Freedom Story) who they felt they could turn to when they need help. That figure includes 10% who said they had no one outside The Freedom Story to turn to. When asked what kind of parental support they could expect in case of pregnancy, a full 60% said they didn’t know.
What this shows is a high degree of uncertainty in these students’ lives, and vulnerability if anything were to go wrong. When staff at The Freedom Story can help mitigate that uncertainty and vulnerability by showing up, listening, and being there for guidance and support, we become one more barrier
between children and those who seek to exploit them.
Mentorship is only possible when we build trust. So what might look like merely fun activities: movie nights, playing games, joking around and laughing, many times becomes a lot more than that. It becomes the doorway into the kids’ lives, by which we can support them when they feel like dropping out of school, when they don’t know where they’re experiencing disruption in their lives, or when they wonder if they’re doing the right thing when they come across porn or a relationship with a stranger online. None of that support could happen if we hadn’t earned the right to give it first.