Searching for Faifah
by Jay Milbrandt (JD/MBA '08),
With Faifah and Jupee almost one year ago.
My first endeavor is to head to the border to search for a 15-year-old girl—Faifah. Faifah, a migrant street child I met in Chiang Mai, was nearly trafficked last year. Her story is heartbreaking, but I will share it below. She has gone on and off the radar the last six months. We think we know the general area she's in, but her condition and safety are unknown. My goal is to find her, document her powerful story, and secure any necessary services or legal assistance.
Let me begin by sharing how we met. Faifah was one of the street children I got to know—she referred to me as her brother. In her raspy, beautiful voice, she would sing songs to me in her native tongue. Sadly, Faifah has never been to school and remains illiterate. She did have a strong desire to learn though. I have the distinct honor of possessing the first letter she had ever written. She had to copy it from someone else who wrote, but it was her goal to learn to read, write, and speak English.
Last spring, I got a call that Faifah was arrested. The police had rounded up the kids into a fenced truck and thrown her in jail. Friends brought her food and water while she waited. She sat in jail for a few days before being deported to Burma.
Faifah in jail.
When she got back to Burma, her mother tried to sell her. Most likely, her mom wanted to sell her for drug money. Many of the tribal people in Burma are addicted to amphetamines. They're easily made in the area and they take the edge off the suffering there. Further, there's really no drug education in Burma, so most probably don't know what they're even getting into. You'll walk along the border checkpoint in Burma and you'll see a lot of kids huffing glue out of plastic bags. It's sad.
What's even sadder is that a young girl will sell for $1,000 for their first night. Chinese businessmen are often the purchasers. There is a superstition that this brings good luck. Then, there is residual value to the girls over the first few days. Faifah's mother saw her daughter as merely a product for sale. When you think that these people survive on less than $1 per day, having a daughter is probably like winning the lottery.
Faifah escaped her mom, living with relatives for a couple weeks. She snuck back across the border into Thailand, trying to return to Chiang Mai. However, Faifah was caught by border patrol and thrown back in jail. The guards wanted to take advantage of the situation. But, by the grace of God, one guard was a member of Faifah's hilltribe and took it upon himself to protect her.
After a few days in jail, she was once again deported to Burma. She has since been on and off the radar. I hope we can find her and that she's safe.