In 2009 Free To Shine’s founder, Nicky Mih, spent a month in Cambodia volunteering with more than 200 survivors of sex trafficking. These girls dreamed of attending university and becoming teachers, doctors and lawyers as they believed that these professions were key in ending sex trafficking. With the end of her Cambodian time fast approaching, Nicky asked the question that would change her life.
“I asked survivors who had been rescued how I could help, and I was hardly prepared for their answer. I thought they’d want something straight-forward and easy to provide, like university tuition fees, but they didn’t want anything for themselves. Instead they wanted for no other girl to go through the horrors they’d been through. They asked me to go out into the rural villages, find the girls who weren’t in school, and protect them. They told me that if these young girls were in school they would not be trafficked.” –Nicky Mih, Founder & Managing Director, Free To Shine.
The survivors explained that when a girl is rescued from a brothel, the traffickers do not go without; instead they simply go out to the villages and take a new girl to take her place. They told Nicky that none of them had been in school when they were taken, and that they knew that if they had been attending school regularly, they would have had a layer of protection. By idly staying home or working in low paid and unskilled labor, they believed that they had been easy targets.
After researching, it became clear that there were organisations investigating and collaborating with police to rescue girls, working in aftercare and reintegration, and to improve the justice system, but none specifically working to prevent the trafficking of the most at-risk, vulnerable girls.
The survivors had identified a gap, and so Free To Shine was born.