- Ashlee Heiligman – Keep Our Eyes Open for People in Need and Do Something About it! Global Director of Global Child Advocates and Sojourn Studio
When did your passion bloom?
She had an incredible family. Her Dad was a professional golfer, her Mom a powerhouse. They never shielded her. She believed she could solve the problems of the world.
At 9 years old, she saw a expose on orphanages and she wanted to change the world.
Her ability to speak up began after college. She worked as a volunteer in Thailand. She was exposed to all horrible things but her heart came alive. She found where she was supposed to work. It was her life’s purpose.
Myanmar and the refugee and squatter communities. She was running a center for helping kids. She was 25 at the time and she had judgment for her parents.
One day a boy’s Mom wanted to thank us. They went to his house. It was made of scrap metal and a complete shanty. They were so welcoming and gracious. They were so humbled. They had nothing but everything had a place. The love between the Mom and the kids was so impactful. She cried. She was ashamed of her judgment.
It is not that they don’t love their children, it is because they are trying to survive. She shifted to help families to help them stay together. To avoid trafficking. This is how she got to where she got. Help me with my kids so I can keep them.
What programs were developed to lift these families up? She started the drop in center. Thai people were going into the field. These families could care for their kids. There was a need for reunification. And preventing kids for entering care. It can adapt and shift. As they knew better, they could do better. Recruit, train and equip! They help families that are near breakdown. Early childhood education, nutrition support. It changes the trajectory for the kids.
2009 they are doing social enterprise, it connects them to a job and get through the hardest part of their life. And they can own their own story!
They have an apprentice program and the girls come to them and need a life skills program. They develop their own ability to thrive. They make ornaments. They sell their products but they need to get up to the skill. They make ceramic jewelry. For example, painting gold is a high skill level.
What does it take monetarily to run a household? It is $40 per family per month.
She lived in a boarding school and she speaks Burmese or Thia. They like to hire local people. There are 30 people on the border and 5 people in the states.
Where are the roots for the social enterprise? The factory jobs are hard to find good paying jobs that help them support and care for their children.
Quinn Smith helped them help fight human trafficking. She is the inspiration for the design. She gives her money away. Then Noonday helped them get to a place where they were operating as a business.
Their whole purpose was to help Moms thrive in the developing world. Noonday was pivotal. Their first order was $30,000! It was a great partnership!
Trafficking….tell us more about that?They have no news about what is happening. They tell the parents one thing….meals, warm bed… they may relinquish kids for a better life. And it doesn’t happen.
Lines are blurred between what is real and what is a farce.
Parents are trained that they are the best route for their child. Whether they have no money or not.
They teach the kids to learn about trafficking.
How do you find the remote areas are they open to having you there? Trusted relationships are important. Oppressive military is an issue. Thai child protection policy is a big deal. They don’t feel safe going to the police. They are trying to get refugee status. They have become the middleman. She plays games and is building trusted relationships.
How did you build the trust? Her first Burmese team was trained to NOT pull out a clipboard. They don’t want to be seen as money. It is sitting with people and eating with people and hanging out at the local dump and building empathy.
Ashlee came to the states and she started working as the director and let the locals do the work locally. She is helping other organizations adapt to a new model.
She got her masters in social work to understand the process. She is better utilized here in the states.
Policy. How much does her company take on the policy?The world doesn’t need to understand what is happening in Myanmar. The advocacy is helping more than policy. They don’t know what is happening on the ground. They are pro working for the government. Child welfare has more money than the government.
Have the traffickers been threatening? Not as a westerner. It is more about the communities and you just don’t know.
Is the social enterprise tap into the male?Their focus is on women. There are furniture makers and they collaborate with NGOS. There is a need for men and their partners.
Is part of the money they make go back to the family? They have a savings and education fund. The money that is earned pays dignified wages and pays for scholarship and savings programs. Because they are a community culture, if someone brings money home, they share their money. They give fare wages, and profit sharing. They try not to over give in their community.
The biggest challenge is they cannot undo the injustice. There are issues of marginalization. We cannot fix all the kids and it is rewarding to help the people they are helping and it is transforming their lives.
What are your favorite stories? There were two sisters that had been trafficked. Their Mom died. Their Dad abused them. They were passed on and abused again. Ages 4-9 years old. They ended up with Ashlee’s team. Their story unraveled. They began to heal. They came to work in Sojourn studios and then they progressed from broken to thriving! She got to meet them and they are so full of life! They have been placed in a family! The full progression is amazing to see. The program is working!
It is a blessing to be here!
“Instead of closing our eyes and bowing our heads, sometimes God wants us to keep our eyes open for people in need, do something about it, and bow our whole lives to Him instead.”– Bob Goff
Struggling in comparing myself to others. My purpose helps my heart come alive. And there is no comparison. It keeps people from living the life that there are here to do.
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