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Thia

Thia

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“You must be strong now. You must be brave,” my mother whispered as she held me tight. “I know you’re scared. I am too, but you have to grow up right now to survive.”

I looked into my mother’s kind face and nodded. My parents had told me what to do if it ever came to this. Be brave. We will come for you.

If the money lenders ever got tired of waiting for repayment of my parents’ debt, they would send agents to settle it. And I would be the settlement. I would need to obey, keep my head down, and never draw attention to myself. Stay alive.

So, I swiped my tear-brimmed eyes with a grimy hand and buried my fear and emotions deep down inside of me.

I’d imagined being freed from that horrible pit every moment of every day, but when I saw my rescuers crest the jagged edge of the rock quarry, I was devastated. My parents weren’t with them. The men were kind and gentle as they hoisted me out of the quarry, but I couldn’t stop wishing they were my parents instead.

When I came to The Children’s Home, I knew I was safe, but I couldn’t let my guard down. I’d never envisioned being free without my parents beside me. So, I stayed quiet, watching my back while the other kids giggled and played.

A whole world of opportunities stood before me, but I couldn’t enjoy them. Allowing myself to feel again was too terrifying.

But then Sasha pulled me aside. She was a widow I’d noticed working at The Children’s Home, but I’d never spoken with her before. “I see you holding yourself back from enjoying your childhood,”

she told me. “There’s still so much time for you to grow up. You’re safe to enjoy this f reedom now. We’re all looking out for you.”

Those simple words broke down a great barrier inside me that day.

Three years later, Sasha and I still talk every week. She’s a great listener and helps me work through what I experienced in the rock quarry. I’ve made a great group of friends, and I

don’t feel like I’m on my own anymore.

Being here at The Children’s Home gives me the space and time to learn who I am and what I enjoy.

So far, I’ve discovered I love making things, telling stories, and learning in school, but I’m not a big fan of washing dishes. I thought being grown-up meant not being afraid or showing feelings, but now I know it’s about embracing

them.

Soon, I want to enroll in vocational training to be a tailor. Some of my friends have

already started, and they can’t stop talking about how much they love it.