These are the children of Detroit Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd:
One of the girls was working as a sex worker at a bar when she was saved. Another was sold into marriage when she was 9 and her husband forced her into prostitution.
And a third girl was abandoned by her mother after delivery and left on a road.
Matt and his wife, Ashley, have essentially adopted 36 girls in Uganda, trying to protect them from the sex slave industry. The Boyds buy the girls food and clothing, and rent for their home, and get them sandals, and pray for them, and worry about them, and make sure they are safe.
The mission is massive and jaw-dropping in its scope and goal. This isn’t just another professional athlete slapping his name on a charity. The Boyds are in the process of creating their own nonprofit, Kingdom Home, going through all the steps with lawyers. It is exhausting, time-consuming work.
The Boyds are raising money to buy land to expand in Uganda. Over the next three years, they want to build four new homes, so they can bring in more girls because the need is so great.
“You know what?” Matt says. “We can end child sex trafficking in Uganda. The bad guys aren’t smarter than us. We can end this. We can outsmart them. We can beat them to the kids. We can protect them.”
To do that, they have to raise money. Because this mission has grown bigger than they ever imagined.
And that is why Matt is here, strolling through the concourse at Joker Marchant Stadium, still wearing his cleats, looking out of place in his uniform, mingling with the fans, like he got lost on his way to the dugout before the start of an exhibition game in Lakeland, Florida, the spring training home of the Tigers.
Heads turn. Is that Matt Boyd? What’s he doing up here?
“Are you allowed to do this?” Ashley asks.
“I asked Gardy and he said I could,” Matt says, of Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire.
The Tigers organization has been extremely supportive of the Boyds’ passion to help these girls, giving them support, advice and assistance.
“OK,” she says. “If Gardy says so, then you are good.”
It is early March and a crowd begins to swell, as the Boyds start selling tickets to a March 16 fundraiser at Topgolf in Tampa, Florida, trying to raise money for Kingdom Home. They will hold another fundraiser May 20 at Topgolf in Auburn Hills.
“We are hoping to raise $50,000 at this event (in Tampa) — we are shooting for the stars here,” Ashley says. “The whole (Tigers) team is coming.”
The Boyds have jumped headfirst into a complicated, global issue that made headlines recently when a sex trafficking ring was discovered in Jupiter, Florida, that allegedly had been servicing high-profile names like Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots. Kraft pleaded not guilty to charges of soliciting prostitution.
An estimated 3.6 million adults and 1 million children were victims of forced sexual exploitation in 2016, according to a study from the United Nations’ International Labor Organization.
But the Boyds are trying to fight this issue from the other side, trying to protect the kids who are most vulnerable.
‘What are we supposed to do?’
It started one year ago during spring training.
Ashley and Matt were sitting shoulder to shoulder on a couch, in a rented house in Lakeland, talking to Carl Ralston, the director of Remember Nhu, a nonprofit that works to prevent child sex slavery around the world by sponsoring 108 homes in 16 countries.
“We were on Skype, or maybe, it was FaceTime,” Ashley Boyd said.
Ralston told the Boyds about Dorothy Stella Alue, a woman in Uganda, who was giving shelter to 36 girls but she fell into a financial crisis after her husband died. She lost her home and desperately needed help. Ralston gets requests like this constantly. Upon further screening, nine times out of 10, red flags pop up and Ralston declines to help.
But Ralston said that Dorothy’s situation checked out perfectly.
“He just laid out her story,” Ashley said. “We didn’t know where he was going with it. Maybe, he’s just going to ask for money, I don’t know. But then he actually asked if we would wanted to start our own organization to support them. We were shocked. It wasn’t something we expected.”
There was something appealing about it — Matt and Ashley have a deep Christian faith and were searching for a way to serve.
But it was tantalizing, confusing and frightening.
“We said we want to think about it, pray about it,” Ashley said. “We are trying to figure out how to run our own lives, let alone a nonprofit organization. We didn’t immediately jump on it. It was also very daunting. We just brought our first child into the world and now, here, we are going to be responsible for 36 children in Uganda?”
At the time, Matt was entering his third season with the Tigers, a team on the rebuild. He is not a superstar but he’s got a massive heart and wanted to use his platform for something good.
Ashley had always felt a calling to help others, like there was a fire burning deep inside her. She had worked for Remember Nhu out of college.
But they just had a girl, Meira, who is now 1½.
“Ashley and Matt are a great young couple,” Ralston said. “When they heard that Dorothy’s husband unexpectedly passed away and that the children literally were struggling to have food to eat, their hearts went out to the children and Dorothy. Ashley and Matt listened very intently and asked great questions about the situation and how they could help.”
The more the Boyds thought about it, the more they prayed about it, they came to a realization. “This is what we were supposed to do,” Ashley said. “That was the start of something way bigger than we ever would have known.”
That started a whirlwind of phone calls, emails and conference calls. Who exactly was Dorothy? Who were these girls? How much danger were they in? What do they need?
And how does somebody set up a nonprofit?
“How does this even work?” Ashley Boyd said. “It was so quick.”
Life in Uganda
Dorothy, a 29-year-old mother of three children, said she started the home seven years ago with her husband after they rescued 25 girls who were being ferried to a city to work as commercial sex workers.
“She kept finding all of these girls, who had been rescued out of situations, who had nowhere to go,” Ashley said. “So she and her husband took them in. Just decided to let this be their mission.” Some of the girls were rescued from the sex trade, others from female genital mutilation and forced early marriages. Others were abandoned or orphaned.
Dorothy had lost her house after her husband died in July 2017.
“My in-laws became wild and turned against me,” Dorothy wrote in an email to the Free Press. “I just lost everything including my academic credentials. They burnt down my house with everything that belonged to me, even my ID card, I just had to apply for a new one. This was because they knew I would inherit my husband’s portion of land which they did not want. I moved to a nearby small town and rented a house where I was staying with the girls.”
The rented house didn’t have running water. The girls had to walk 2 kilometers, or about 1.25 miles, every day to a river to get fresh water. Dorothy had no source of income to feed, clothe, pay school fees or pay for medical bills for the girls. She was thinking about abandoning the girls until she reached out in desperation to Remember Nhu and passed the screening process.
“Dorothy is amazing,” Ashley said. “She has a heart for rescuing girls. It kind of stems back to her personal history. She was going to be sold as a childhood bride to her neighbor. She was a little girl.”
Dorothy was a victim of female genital mutilation when she was 10. Before she had healed from the process, her parents received cows and goats from a 55-year-old man. “Which were meant to be my bride price,” Dorothy said.
She ran away from home and found refuge at a Catholic church. “At the church I found a kindhearted and loving nun who upon hearing my story had compassion over me,” Dorothy said. “She took me to live with her friend in Kampala (Uganda’s capital city).”
Dorothy has made it her life mission to help children. And her mission became the Boyds’ mission.
“They loved the girls from the first time they read our story,” Dorothy said. “They devoted themselves to helping us by offering us shelter, food, education by paying the girls’ school fees and even spiritual nurture.”
Ashley has a methodical brain like a lawyer but a heart for social issues. She went into hyper-speed, working to create an organization, raising money, going on conference calls, doing research and getting supplies, trying to help in the short term while creating a long-term plan.
“Matt and Ashley have brought a very big difference to me and the girls too,” Dorothy said. “Initially we didn’t have a good home, but now we have a home, though rented, but it’s a good place. I could not afford buying clothes for the girls but through these wonderful couple, the girls have clothes and even sandals under their feet.
“We now have three meals every day because of Matt and Ashley. We have water running on our tap, we no longer walk the long journey we used to walk in search for water. The girls have good beds and beddings to sleep on. They have balls to play with, which were brought by Matt and Ashley. They go to school in uniform just like the other children. We just feel at home all courtesy of Matt and Ashley. There is a lot Matt and Ashley are planning to do for us and we just thank them so much and pray for them.”
Dorothy calls Matt and Ashley “God sent.”
Ashley calls Dorothy “amazing.”
“She has devoted her life to helping others,” Ashley said. “She chooses joy for the children. She knows she must be a mother to them all and show them the love every child deserves. Being a mother myself I know this can be exhausting to give so much of yourself. But she does it with a constant smile. She is also a beacon of light to her community. People come to her daily to take on more children or for help in other ways because they know what kind of person she is.”
The Boyds’ visit
After the Tigers’ 2018 season, Ashley and Matt traveled to Uganda to visit the girls.
But Matt wasn’t exactly comfortable.
“You are going through areas where it looks like a Jason Bourne movie,” he said. “That’s the best way to describe it. It’s scary. For the safety of the girls, we don’t want to say where the home is. It’s special. You come back and it puts things in perspective.”
Ashley laughed when she heard Matt’s description of Uganda.
“It’s so funny,” Ashley said. “He was on edge the whole time. He was Jason Bourne the whole time. Meanwhile, I feel at home. It was wonderful. I felt at peace. Uganda is beautiful. It’s very lush, green rolling hills, super fertile ground, lots of beautiful wild flowers, nothing you would see anywhere else. It’s just incredible.”
The L-shaped house is surrounded by a security fence. Several bedrooms have bunk beds.
When Matt and Ashley arrived, the girls burst out singing.
“It was a long-awaited visit that the girls really yearned for,” Dorothy said. “They were so happy to see them. Some of them could not control their tears as they burst into songs of prayer and thanksgiving. To the girls, Matt and Ashley are their dad and mom.”
The Boyds gave every girl a backpack, a new pair of shoes and school supplies. A church donated homemade dresses for every girl.
“It was Christmas on steroids,” Ashley said. “It was so fun. But they were so respectful. We would hand it to them and they would like, curtsy. Like, thank you. They would walk away and show their friends, all giddy — ah! You know? It was really cute. We came the next day and they were in their new dresses and shoes and they made a song for us.”
The Boyds also brought along letters from the girls’ sponsors. Anyone can sponsor a girl with a $120-a-month donation. About a quarter of the girls are fully sponsored, half are partially sponsored.
“The girls loved the letters,” Ashley said. “They loved seeing the pictures and reading about their families that are supporting them.”
And yes, Matt gave out some baseballs.
“It was amazing being there, seeing the girls be so happy, just like any other kid should,” Matt said.
Every day that the Boyds visited the home, the girls would sing and dance.
“Like we were their honored guest, which is so humbling,” Ashley said. “But just to get to know the girls. I knew their stories and I felt like I knew them, but to meet them and spend time with them and talk to them and see them interact with each other, it was really cool to see each of their different personalities. They live a world away and they have been through things that I could never relate to. But at the end of the day, we are all human. There are the girls who are the natural leaders. There are the girls who are the natural caregivers, who looked after the younger ones. The girls who loved sports. The other ones who love crafts. It was cool to see their different personalities.
“We care for them like they are our own. They are part of our family.”
‘We love them … like our own family’
Ashley, as Matt says, is the “brains” of the operation.
“Dorothy and I are constantly talking back and forth on emails — we’ll talk about everything,” Ashley said.
“We sent the wire today.”
“How are the girls doing on their winter vacation?”
“Hey, is so and so feeling better? I remember she had the flu.”
“Will you fill out the budget?”
“We hold her accountable to fill out spreadsheets, how she uses the funds,” Ashley said.
“We are pretty involved in knowing what is going on in their day-to-day lives. You gotta be thankful for technology in that regard.”
They plan to go back to Uganda next fall after the Tigers’ season.
“We are hoping to bring a group this time, whether it’s sponsors or donors,” Ashley said.
The Boyds are giving these girls more than a safe place to live. They
are trying to prepare them for life. The girls do chores, washing clothes or washing dishes.
The Boyds plan to implement a vocational training program and will pay for each child to attend a university, if they choose that route.
“Our goal is for them to no longer be at risk for child sex slavery,” Ashley said. “If we give them a skill and a value beyond selling their bodies, they will be successful and we will reach our goal.”
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SOURCE: USA Today, by Jeff Seidel