More than a year ago, a bright-eyed and slender nine-year-old girl named Malee* was offered refuge at Keep Girls Safe (KGS), a shelter in the rural district of Chiang Rai, run by ADRA in Thailand.
“Her mom didn’t want her and local villagers couldn’t keep her,” said Sunita, KGS project coordinator who recalled Malee’s first day.
Prior to KGS, Malee’s life was hard and unsettling. Her mother had no money and a home in which to live. To ensure her survival, Maleeʼs mother resorted to prostitution. Malee was born and grew up with her mother living back and forth between the slums of Phuket and Chiang Rai.
“When Malee and her mother moved in with a guy, he was disgusted by Malee and demanded she be kicked out. Maleeʼs mother would leave her daughter outside, even in the rain. She developed a habit of wetting the bed and was beaten and scolded for something she had no control over,” said Titi, the social worker.
When Maleeʼs mother was pregnant again, she asked an older couple in a local village to take care of Malee. She promised to send them money to care for Malee but was not heard from again. The older couple had seven children and did not have enough food to feed everyone. At times, Malee was left to fend for food in trash cans, steal food from the temple sacrifices, or beg.
Realizing Malee’s misfortune, the village leaders tried to find foster families for her. Meanwhile, she became friends with a boy whose father was an alcoholic and drug addict.
“The more times she spent with the boy the more bad habits she picked up,” said the social worker. “She often looked dirty and smelled and after living with four families in a few short months, no one wanted to keep her.”
“The village leaders got in touch with KGS and pleaded for Malee to be taken,” Sunita recalled.
When she first arrived, Malee acted out, would hit staff and other girls at the shelter. She wouldn’t take baths and refused to clean her room. She also kept dead bugs in her drawers and allowed them to rot and smell. When it rained heavily, Malee would scream and cry because of what her mother did to her.
While Malee may have found shelter with the Keep Girls Safe staff, her journey to healing is far from over.
No girl deserves to go through what Malee has. Malee deserves to know that her future will be better than her past. You can give Malee a safe and successful future.
Malee’s life is still uncertain and far from easy. While many of the other girls in the shelter receive visits from their family, Malee remains alone. Her mother never visits or even calls
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*Malee’s name has been changed for her protection
From within her office, 22-year-old Lin sees all the girls who come through the front door of the shelter. Some are just children, cowering in the doorway. Many are on their own, without family to protect them. All are vulnerable to the devastating sex trade that is rampant in Thailand.
The office in which Lin works is housed within the Keep Girls Safe compound, an ADRA program designed to identify, support, and educate young girls vulnerable to sexual exploitation. At the age of 13, Lin was one of those girls.
As a member of the Akha hill tribe in Thailand’s rural Chiang Rai district, Lin was oblivious to the crime and violence of the big cities. She was very poor, spoke no Tai, and had only a kindergarten education, but her community was peaceful and she was happy.
Then one day, just before her 14th birthday, an old friend returned to the village with new clothes and beautiful makeup. She had been working in the city for several months at a large karaoke bar and said she had lots of money to buy nice things.
Lin wanted to buy nice things also, but more than anything, she wanted to help provide for her family. They were all living on less than $2 per day, and she was desperate to give them financial security. She agreed to join her friend in the city, working in the position her friend only vaguely described as “the service industry.”
When she spoke to her family about moving to the city, her father rejected the idea, and instead enrolled her in an educational center for rural girls such as herself. Lin was dismayed that instead of alleviating her family’s financial stress, she was contributing to it. She felt like a burden to her family.
As the weeks passed, however, she began to respond to the education. The center provided language courses and vocational training. Lin especially enjoyed accounting, and began to advance herself through class work and independent study.
When Lin finished the program, she immediately found a job working as an accountant for ADRA. Not only is she able to provide money to her family, but also she has the opportunity to work with girls who are fleeing the same fate her father helped her avoid.
“This ADRA center is so important for these girls,” said Lin. “Thanks to ADRA, they now have an education and a future.”
Lin has a future now too. With ADRA’s assistance, she will soon finish her degree in accounting, which will help her give back even more to her family and to ADRA.
“Working with ADRA is special, because I don’t just earn money for my family—I can help girls like me,” Lin said. “And that is very important to me.”