“It feels so warm to be here, and I am happy. It is simple to live here as a family.”
Those are the words of Churai,* a resident at Freedom Home, which is The Exodus Road’s first aftercare home in Thailand.
When you walk in the front doors of Freedom Home, the bright walls and comfortable furnishing feel like a family’s home. In many ways, that’s exactly what Freedom Home is. Residents and staff share the kind of bond that happens when you live, heal, and grow together. The sounds of children playing resounds through the house. A flourishing garden in the small yard offers wordless proof: life grows well here.
The moment in December when Freedom Home opened its doors to an adult woman survivor of human trafficking was the realization of a long-held dream — and a lot of careful planning. Led by Regional Aftercare Coordinator and International Advisory Board member Sola Long, The Exodus Road spent 2021 developing programming, cultivating relationships, and finding the perfect staff members to offer compassionate, trauma-informed care to the adult female survivors who will be spending time in Freedom Home.
“It’s very important for Freedom Home to exist and to respond to their needs,” Long shared. “We allow clients to dream big, to identify what they really want. Our team is there to help them find a way to achieve it.”
Sola Long, our Regional Aftercare Coordinator
Meeting survivors of human trafficking where they are
Freedom Home is located in an area of great need, a part of Thailand where the sex industry is rampant. Many of the women exploited in that industry feel that they have no other choice. One of the survivors entered Freedom Home after being trafficked since she was just 13 years old. Now she’s the mother of 4 children herself, each one from different fathers of different nationalities.
Another resident had become trapped in sexual exploitation when she tried to escape an abusive home. Sola Long can recall the day that this survivor arrived, the way she began to cry when asked about her dreams for the future.
“No one has ever asked me that before,” the survivor said. “I have a dream, but I don’t know how to reach it.”
Long and the other staff of Freedom Home hope to build the bridge between these survivor’s current realities and the futures they hope for. In addition to offering short-term aid in the form of shelter and care for women in crisis, the program offers a long-term mentorship program aimed at helping survivors of exploitation build stable, healthy lives.
Trauma-informed therapy and case management provide another key pillar of aftercare with a lasting impact. Without that support, many survivors are re-exploited as they return to the only life they’ve ever known.
“They really cannot find a way out,” Sola explained. “There is a high tendency for them to go back. They have a pattern. It doesn’t mean a survivor really wants that, but in her mind, she doesn’t have any hope that she can do anything else beyond sex work. There are lies in their heads: ‘I have been like this for 10 years. I cannot do anything else.'”
Combatting those lies can take the form of career and life skills training. But far more importantly, it looks like clearing the way for the strength, compassion, and power that these women already possess.
Long and Freedom Home social worker Khun Bam go through Freedom Home’s trauma-informed curriculum together
Trauma-informed care requires autonomy
Part of what makes being trafficked so deeply traumatic is the loss of control. Individuals who are trafficked are robbed of the fundamental human right of choice. This means that rigid, rules-centered aftercare models that have historically been common might unintentionally re-traumatize survivors by becoming yet another controlling presence. Freedom Home intentionally allows survivors as much independence as possible, providing a healing counter-experience to the harshly controlled realities they have known. This is one key element of trauma-informed care.
As Freedom Home’s social worker describes it, “We take care of education and a job, and we allow personal agency. They can cook, clean, and go outside.”
That agency might be foreign at first. In the early weeks, Freedom Home staff gently invite residents into activities like gardening in order to practice their own autonomy and creativity. Quickly, those small steps become strides towards independence and entrepreneurship.
“They provide our basic needs and things that are necessary for me to change my life,” one woman shared after several weeks in the aftercare home. “They offer support that we need like education, an allowance, and job training. What I like is that I can choose my life on my own. There is no pressure from anyone, just encouragement from the staff.”
Part of that encouragement takes a very practical form: childcare. When the first resident came to Freedom Home, she was hesitant because she had a young child and feared the staff could not accommodate them both. This was a reasonable fear: many aftercare shelters lack the resources necessary to take in young children. But Freedom Home immediately provided the necessary resources to care for both the mother and the child.
As of May 2022, the house is home to 6 women and 3 of their children, which adds to the feeling of family that permeates the space. Parenting classes are a regular part of the care Freedom Home offers.
“When they come to the program, they have a big heart and love their children, but they haven’t been exposed to parenting skills or how to attach,” Sola Long said. “It’s important for our team to address every angle in their lives, to empower them and push them to fight through their obstacles.”
Sarah Ray, The Exodus Road Board Member and Founder of Neema Development who created the Freedom Home’s curriculum, and Sola Long, Regional Aftercare Coordinator
Freedom Home Short-term Program:
- Temporary housing, meals, and living essentials
- Comprehensive health evaluation
- Trauma therapy
- Business and financial management training
- Life skills classes
- Limited legal support
- Case management
- English classes
Freedom Home Long-term Program:
- In-depth life skills training
- Business and career education
- Skills training and/or integrated internship program
- Savings match
- Repatriation/reintegration support
A survivor and her child garden together at Freedom Home
Ongoing survivor support
Although each survivor is still in the early days of their process, the Freedom Home team has committed to the long-term. Two years of follow-up care is offered to each woman, including integrated internships, repatriation and reintegration support, case management, and some limited legal assistance.
The foundation for that long-term trajectory is being laid now as the Freedom Home staff operate in accordance with the truth that every one of these women deserves a safe place to think about her own needs. At the end of the day, every aspect of Freedom Home’s operating is centered around the women who live there.
“We’ve blocked the negative factors for them to let them live easily,” Freedom Home’s administrator reflected. “They have time to think about themselves more. Before they came here, they were doing what they had to because of necessity. Now they are concerned about themselves more than before. All I want is for them to have a bright future. That’s the reason I stay late, why I do everything that I do.”
The Exodus Road is so grateful to the staff of Freedom Home, who have poured so much passion and expertise into developing this safe haven, and for our supporters, who are continually empowering survivors as they walk into freedom. For Churai, that free future is looking bright.
“I dream of being a chef in a hotel or cafe,” Churai shared with staff. “I dream of my children studying in a normal education, to grow up to serve God and to help others who need it. Freedom Home provides the support to change my life.”
Learn more about The Exodus Road’s Beyond Rescue program.