More than two years ago, a bright-eyed, slender nine-year-old girl named Malee* was offered refuge at Keep Girls Safe (KGS), a shelter in Chiang Rai, Thailand, that partners with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).
“Her mom didn’t want her, and local villagers couldn’t keep her,” said Sunita, KGS project coordinator.
Since 2004, KGS has served as a temporary means of protection for females ages 8 to 18 who have been abused, orphaned, or abandoned, or are at risk for human trafficking.
During their stay, the girls are assigned household chores, given fun projects to work on, and encouraged to attend school. Malee keeps busy sweeping floors, washing dishes, and gardening. She also goes to school and especially enjoys its Japanese club.
Before coming to KGS, Malee’s life was difficult and unsettling. Her mother had no money and no home in which to live. To ensure her daughter’s survival, she resorted to prostitution until she eventually moved in with a boyfriend.
“When Malee and her mother moved in with the man, he was disgusted by Malee and demanded she be kicked out,” said Titi, a KGS social worker. “The mother would leave Malee outside, even in the rain. Malee had developed a habit of wetting the bed and was beaten for something she had no control over.”
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is the global humanitarian organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Through an international network, ADRA delivers relief and development assistance to individuals in more than 130 countries—regardless of their ethnicity, political affiliation, or religious association. By partnering with communities, organizations, and governments, ADRA can improve the quality of life of millions through nine impact areas: social justice; disaster response; economic growth; children’s needs; gender equity; community health; water, sanitation, and hygiene issues; hunger and nutrition; and livelihoods and agriculture.
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When Malee’s mother became pregnant, she asked an older couple in a local village to take care of Malee. She promised to send them money, but she was never heard from again. The couple had seven children and didn’t have enough food to feed Malee, so she often resorted to digging for food in trash cans, stealing food from temple sacrifices, and begging.
During this time, Malee became friends with a boy whose father was an alcoholic and drug addict. “The more time she spent with the boy, the more bad habits she picked up,” said Titi. “She often looked dirty and smelled, and after living with four families in a few short months, no one wanted to keep her.”
Realizing Malee’s misfortune, the village leaders pleaded with KGS to take her in. KGS gave her a home, but initially she was very unhappy to be there. “When Malee first arrived, she hit the staff and other girls, wouldn’t take baths, refused to clean her room, and kept dead bugs in her drawers until they rotted and smelled,” recalled Sunita.
KGS staff worked tirelessly to understand Malee and show her love. “After months of counseling, doing chores at the shelter, attending school, and going to church, Malee has improved,” Titi shared. The once disheveled girl whom no one wanted now sings, draws, and reads. She also practices playing the violin.
Today, Malee is well-behaved, has grown attached to KGS, and looks up to her school teachers. Missing from her life, however, is her mom. “While many of the other girls receive visits from their family, Malee remains alone,” said Titi. “Her mother has never visited nor called.”
The people at the shelter, the school, and the local Adventist church make sure that Malee receives a good education, care, and love. “For all the girls at KGS, the destructive cycle they are caught in changes for the better because their new environment is safe, and their upbringing is wholesome,” remarked Sunita.
ADRA Thailand is training caregivers at KGS to help meet the physiological needs of girls such as Malee. Additionally, plans are under development for KGS to establish educational scholarships so that more at-risk youth can receive an education.
“Like Malee, there are many children who are exposed to disrupted and unsafe households, putting them at risk of being trafficked, which is a growing concern in the country,” said Sunita. “ADRA Thailand is considering anti-trafficking training sessions at girls’ clubs and community youth activities to address human trafficking, but funds are really needed to help keep KGS operating.”
Much work needs to be done, but, for now, KGS continues to provide a safe environment for vulnerable children and has proven to be a strong shoulder for girls like Malee to lean on. “I really thank my project coordinator and social worker,” Malee acknowledged. “They are like my favorite song,” she says before humming the tune to “You Raise Me Up.”