“I felt like I was a dog,” Diana, age 19, recalls of her childhood. Her family of eight moved often with no house of their own. She endured years of quarreling between her parents until they separated when she was 11 years old.
Despite the turmoil in her family, Diana managed to complete her elementary education and proceeded to high school. Her mother went overseas to work as a domestic helper but Diana’s grandmother would intercept the money she sent for Diana and her siblings. She enrolled in high school but had to stop and start four times due to financial strain. She had to find a way to help her family.
Upon seeing Diana’s desperate state, her cousin invited her to clean her house for money when she was 13 years old. At first it was harmless. But after cleaning, the cousin asked her to pose in front of a camera which was inside one of the bedrooms. Diana obeyed the simple request. Her cousin then asked Diana to remove her clothes and in return she would receive about $6. Diana needed the money and agreed to do it. Soon her cousin began locking the bedroom door while Diana was inside. This continued for three years.
In 2013 government agencies in partnership with International Justice Mission rescued Diana and 11 other minors who were victims of online childhood exploitation in her cousin’s house. Diana testified against her perpetrators in court and is hopeful that the rampant problem of online sexual exploitation of children will go away in her home area. Her perpetrators are in prison while the case is ongoing.
After the rescue, Diana stayed in a government shelter for 19 months where she took high school equivalency classes and passed the national exam for high school graduation. Since she was vulnerable to further exploitation if she returned home, her social worker referred her to Solid Ground International.
When asked how SGI has helped Diana, she replies, “It made me mature. Before I can’t handle my problems. Every time I had a conflict, I didn’t talk to anyone. Here we can share our problems.”
Diana’s mother is once again working overseas as a domestic helper and her father passed away in June 2015. Diana’s extended and immediate family depend on her mother’s modest salary, leaving Diana with the challenge of finding a way to pursue her college dream of becoming a social worker to help people who have been abused.
With support from a government scholarship program, SGI, and her family, Diana is a second year college student with a major in Social Work. She says, “I am a good student and responsible. I will always show those persons who trusted in me that they can be proud of me. I promise to pursue my course and am willing to work through any problems I encounter.“
The stories are real, but the names of the residents have been changed to protect their identities.