LEELEE: My Story of Hope

“I met LeeLee through her aunt Mae, who had come to Starfish Project with her daughter after they had both been working in a brothel for several years. Mae had never been to school before coming to Starfish Project, but now she has learned to read and write and makes bracelets and necklaces faster than anyone else.

About six months ago, Mae came to me and told me that her relatives where going to sell her 19-year-old niece, LeeLee, and asked if we could help. LeeLee’s mother had abandoned her when she was very young and her father remarried a couple of years later. His new wife didn’t want LeeLee around, so they sent her to live with her grandmother. The two of them lived out in the deep countryside where they farmed. LeeLee was never allowed to go out, make friends, or go to school. She only stayed on the farm and helped her grandmother.

She is 20 years old now and her grandmother recently passed away. When this happened, Mae was the only relative willing to help LeeLee, because her own father wanted to sell her. Mae asked me if we could offer her a job and I agreed.

LeeLee had to travel by train for 30 hours to get to Starfish Project. It was a huge adjustment for her. The first time she went to a grocery store near our shelter, she broke down and cried because she had no idea how to buy groceries on her own. She didn’t know how to interact with others and would barely speak. But she has been a hard worker, and was so proud when she finished her first necklace. Six months later, she has slowly started to come out of her shell, and she is starting to talk much more.

LeeLee’s counselor recommended that she be in a place where she can be around other young people and begin to expand her mind. So for the first time in her life, Starfish Project will send LeeLee to school. She is going to live in the dormitory with other young people and learn skills in math, literacy, English, and computers, and can explore vocations like baking, sculpting, sewing, filming, and martial arts. LeeLee is so excited for this opportunity and we are very thankful that Mae stepped in to keep her niece from being sold.

This is how it happens: together we help one, and then she helps one, and someday LeeLee will be able to help one.”

– Jenny, Founder & CEO

Check out LeeLee’s favorite jewelry that she helped create!