When we met 12-year-old Tong, she had not been to school for two years and was working on her parents’ rice farm in rural Laos, near the Thai border. Her family of 9 is often hungry. As the 3rd oldest child, she feels it is her responsibility to help her siblings survive. So, Tong was considering going to Thailand to find work.
“I heard from friends that it is easy to earn income (in Thailand). I would like to try. Even just a little pay for any work, I will accept,” she said eagerly.
Telling a child like Tong that this would be dangerous is the first step in keeping her safe. She also needs opportunities at home to earn income safely and to get back in school.
So before she left, World Concern offered her the chance to learn sewing skills. Although she was the youngest of 14 girls in her class, she quickly learned to sew a beautiful traditional Lao skirt. Tong also learned she can sell her skirts for about $5 each. By making two or three skirts a week, she can greatly increase her income. And, since she’ll no longer have to work in the rice fields, she can go back to school.
Now, when asked if she plans to go to Thailand, she responds confidently, “For what? I can earn income here and be with my family. There is no need to go there.”
Tong’s story illustrates how teaching children and young girls about the risk of trafficking and offering them alternative ways to earn income keeps them safe.
Another girl in her village, Duangmany, wishes she had this opportunity at Tong’s age. When Duangmany was 15, she took a risk many girls her age are willing to take. She left home and travelled 12 hours to a small town outside Bangkok in search of work.
Far from home, Duangmany ended up working in a small restaurant, preparing food and serving beers to male customers.
“The work was very tiring. I had to get up early to prepare the meat,” she recalled of her experience. “I woke up early in the morning and worked late in the evening to clean and close the shop. I worked long hours and felt physically exhausted. When I requested a chance to rest, it wasn’t allowed. What I was earning was not enough for the work I did.”
Although Duangmany says she was abused by the restaurant owners, she was attracted to the freedom to buy shoes and clothes with her money. But eventually, her body gave out and she wasn’t able to go on. She returned home with $6 in her pocket.
When asked about the abuse she suffered in Thailand, Duangmany grew quiet. She refused to talk about the experience of serving beers to men, and when asked if she would ever consider going back to Thailand, she shook her head and said, “No.”
After joining the World Concern vocational skills class and learning to sew, she has hope for the first time to earn enough income and to help support her family—in a safe way. And when other young girls talk about going to Thailand for work, she can tell them about the reality of what’s waiting for them across the border.