1.2 million children are trafficked for sex each year. That’s 3,040 children every single day— one child every 26 seconds.
These children, most of whom are between the ages of 3 and 16, are often kept in locked rooms and forced to serve 10-15 adults per night. The vast majority are girls, and many of them don’t last longer than three years, due to the industry’s high death rate.
Ashley and Matt Boyd are on a mission to end it. The young couple has founded a new nonprofit, Kingdom Home, that is providing 36 girls in Uganda with a safe place to grow up, and they want every at-risk child in Uganda to have the same thing.
“The bad guys aren’t smarter than we are,” Matt said. “We can beat them to the kids.”
Together, he and Ashley are charging forward with their goal to completely eradicate sex slavery in Uganda.
A seed is planted
The couple are college sweethearts from Oregon State University. After they graduated in 2013, they had their first real exposure to the horrors of human trafficking when Ashley began working for Remember Nhu, an organization dedicated to ending child sex slavery through prevention.
She says that even though it’s a heart-wrenching issue, this was her dream job. Not only could she be part of the organization’s mission and work toward providing safe places for children to live (Remember Nhu has over 100 homes in more than 15 countries), she was able to do so remotely.
This was crucial because Matt was a minor league baseball player, and as is typical for the league, he was promoted, demoted, and traded to teams all over the country when he first started out.
The Boyds lived in nine cities during their first year of marriage. Matt would fly with the baseball team, and Ashley would pack up the truck and follow with their belongings.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the world of baseball,” Ashley said, “but I was thankful to have that job and to be able to contribute to something I was so passionate about.”
But it wasn’t just Ashley’s project — Matt was committed too. “He always said little things, you know how you daydream with your spouse,” Ashley told Everyday Mamas, “like what if we started our own nonprofit doing this work some day? It’s funny, because looking back you can really see how God was planting that seed in us.”
In 2015, Matt was promoted to the Major Leagues and soon began pitching for the Detroit Tigers, and in 2017 the couple welcomed their first child, Meira. At that point, Ashley decided to take a step back from her role at Remember Nhu.
But the problem of human trafficking was a burden that continued to weigh heavily on both Matt and Ashley’s hearts.
Looking back you can really see how God was planting that seed in us.
So when Ashley’s former boss Remember Nhu Founder Carl Ralston approached them in late 2017 with an idea, “obviously the Lord’s hand was in it,” Ashley said.
Ralston talked honestly with Matt and Ashley, admitting that while he was completely committed to seeing the end of child sex trafficking, he wasn’t naive enough to think he, or Remember Nhu, could do it alone. “For this to happen in our lifetime,” he said, “we need other people to step up. We need new nonprofits who are dedicated to this same mission.”
He asked them to consider how they could participate. Matt and Ashley shared a glance, thinking of their old daydreams about starting a nonprofit.
They were honored and intrigued, and they felt called to help, but it also felt like something far off—a vision that would come to fruition at some point in the future. Right now, they were focused on being parents for the first time.
But it was just a few months later, in early 2018, when Ralston called back. And it was urgent.
Her greatest fear was for their safety
Ralston had been contacted by a woman in Uganda named Dorothy. She and her husband had taken 36 girls into their home, rescuing them from all kinds of nightmarish fates. According to the Detroit Free Press, one of them had been abandoned at the side of the road, another sold into marriage at the age of 9, and another had been a sex worker at a bar.
Ralston gets calls about situations like this constantly, he told the Detroit Free Press. Nine times out of 10, there are red flags and he really can’t do anything to help. But his team had vetted her and her story and knew it was the real deal.
The girls were still safe, but Dorothy needed help. Her husband had passed away, and in their culture in Uganda, that meant his family had the right to take everything if they wanted. And they did. As she wrote to the Detroit Free Press, “My in-laws became wild and turned against me.”
“They took everything, from her home even down to her drivers license. So the only thing Dorothy had left were the clothes on her back and these 36 girls,” Ashley said.
Dorothy knew the danger for unprotected young girls in Uganda all too well; she herself had been a victim of violence and had almost been sold as a child bride before she ran away and found refuge in a church.
She had then made it her mission in life to save other children from this fate and had found each of the girls personally through her connections as a former parole officer and via word of mouth. Her greatest fear was for their safety.
“Will you take this on?”
As Ralston relayed this story to Matt and Ashley that day, his question was, simply put: “Will you take this on?”
Ashley told Everyday Mamas that her initial response was, “WHAT?!” It was so daunting, she said. “We had just had our own daughter and we were trying to figure out how to manage that, let alone take on a whole home of children!”
They told Ralston they would pray about it.
“Our faith, and our mission statement and marriage values have really been the bedrock of our marriage,” Ashley said, “and they have really helped us go back to why are we doing this, should we be doing this, how are we doing this.”
In the end the Boyds decided that yes, they would take this on. They had no idea where to start — Ashley had worked for a nonprofit, but starting one was going to be a whole different ball game.
“What’s so amazing, and encouraging, and exciting, is that God has provided all the resources—not just financially, but in support from mentors, other organizations, and nitty-gritty details like drafting our bylaws. These are the things that will help us grow and truly end this issue,” Ashley believes.
It’s not over
Today, Ashley is the executive director of their new nonprofit, Kingdom Home. Thanks to generous donors to the organization, most of whom heard about this work via grassroots networking and word of mouth, these 36 girls have running water, school uniforms, shoes, three meals a day, and other basic necessities. Most importantly, they have a safe place to grow up, and all of their needs are met in a loving way.
But it’s not over.
“One of the hardest things about this is that we are constantly turning people away,” Ashley said. She and Dorothy get requests constantly from people who are seeking help for children at risk, but she said that Dorothy’s home is currently “at capacity, and then some.”
Through Kingdom Home, the Boyds have immediate plans to open four other homes for at-risk children, and soon others to follow — more Dorothys, more girls, and, ultimately, a support network so strong that they can end sex slavery altogether in Uganda.
That’s a massive goal, because in some areas of Uganda up to 10% of children have been trafficked.
Ashley told Everyday Mamas that sometimes she will lie awake at night thinking about how big this issue is, and how small she feels in comparison. “It’s hard to imagine that we can truly end this,” she said, “but we can with the Lord. He is already blessing us so much with the most amazing resources, and I know that with His help, we can. ”
As Matt says: “The bad guys aren’t smarter than we are. We can beat them to the kids. We can protect them.”
“This is family”
The Boyds went to Uganda together to visit Dorothy and the girls for the first time in November 2018.
“You would never guess what they had been through,” Ashley said. “They’re still so joyful. They are just like any other group of girls ages 8-14 — there are introverts and extroverts, girls who love to play sports, natural leaders, girls who love to talk and tell stories and make you laugh.”
Ashley and Matt loved spending time with each of the girls and getting to know their individual personalities. On the last day before they left, they all held hands and sang in their native language and in English. “It was so beautiful,” Ashley said,”and we were all crying, and that’s when it hit me: this is family. We’re never going to be the same again.”
Balancing a 2-year-old daughter and a baby boy on the way, the travel schedule of a professional athlete, a nonprofit, and 36 children on the other side of the world certainly has its challenges, but according to the Boyds, it is also incredibly rewarding. Matt and Ashley say that these girls have taught them more than they could have ever imagined:
“A lot of times people can become embittered by their past, and carry it with them even if they’ve been through a healing process. They can still wear it, either as a badge, or if they haven’t gone through the healing process, they are truly still scarred. There are so many ways to be affected by the past, but these girls are so full of joy and hope for the future.
“They say you can’t regain your purity and your innocence, and that’s why we want to focus on prevention, because we agree. But none of these girls are letting that define them, and they are truly looking forward rather than back.”
If you’re in the Detroit area, attend their upcoming fundraiser on May 20, 2019!