It isn’t always enough to offer financial donations to communities in need, as Rebecca Eu discovered during a volunteer stint in the Philippines. This is especially true when it comes to women and children being trafficked into the country for its sex and child labour industries.
Referring to findings from the International Monetary Fund that revealed that these women and children are from impoverished communities, Eu says: “They need a job quickly, otherwise all effort and time invested into rescuing them might come undone. Poverty and a broken sense of self can drive them to trade their body for money, even after being rescued.”
So, in 2015, she launched Love, Mei, to educate and provide skills training to sex trafficking survivors, mostly between the ages of 14 and 17. The name was inspired by the Chinese term for “younger sister” or “mei mei”, which the youngest of four siblings goes by at home. “Mei mei” is also Eu’s term of endearment for her young charges.
Under Love, Mei, beneficiaries learn to make apparel and accessories. But Eu wanted to do more. So after graduating from college, she moved to Manila.
“Being there for them, believing in them, and equipping them with tools to work towards financial independence can help remove the risk of their engaging in the sex trade,” she says.
Eu also changed the organisation’s name to Mei’s Own to signify both her personal growth and the company coming into its own. One key initiative is working with woodcarvers in the municipality of Paete to co-create homeware and lifestyle items. Proceeds from the sale of these products in Singapore will support Mei’s Own’s beneficiaries and the artisans. This year, she hopes to build two classrooms and a workshop space for 72 students at a shelter for sex trafficking survivors in the Philippines.
This approach of sustaining the livelihood of homegrown artisans, who in turn teach Mei’s Own beneficiaries their skills, is a model Eu hopes to replicate in other communities in Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia.
This story first appeared in the August 2019 issue of A.