A Musselburgh minister is bound for a mercy mission to Laos in the New Year to see first-hand the work a charity is doing to help girls at risk of falling prey to traffickers.

The Rev Janice Andrews, of Musselburgh Congregational Church, will learn more about the Dignity Project, which provides training for young women, in her first trip to the South East Asian country, during which she will be based in the city of Luang Prabang.

Musselburgh Congregational Church has been fundraising and providing goods for Laos for the past seven years in support of Empathy International, which manages a number of projects.

The Rev Andrews said: “Our outreach group support the children with knitted blankets, clothes and soft toys. Gifts of wool and knitted items come in from the good folks of Musselburgh – it’s a real team effort.”

The Rev Andrews helps with fundraising for the charity and recently made a successful bid to the Gloag Foundation and Angela McDonald Trust, which together donated £7,500. The church has also established a child sponsorship campaign, with many church members covering the cost of a child’s education.

“I aim to visit the schools when I’m in Laos and hopefully may meet some of the children we support,” said the Rev Andrews, who is also planning to meet another “poverty alleviation” team from the Philippines to share ideas.

She added: “The main focus of my trip is to learn more about the Dignity Project.

“By upskilling these young ladies, they have more self-worth and become valuable contributors to their village communities and less likely to fall into the hands of traffickers, which is a major problem in Laos.

“I fly to Bangkok at the beginning to January and then on to Laos for a three-week trip. I am very privileged to be involved with Empathy International, it is a superb organisation with a real heart for the poor, and is truly making a difference and bringing hope to people who have very little.

“There are many projects in Laos and they are all aimed at poverty alleviation. Where there is extreme poverty, sadly there will always be corruption.

“Young girls are especially at risk of being trafficked.

“One child’s family were so poor that they gave their wee girl to a family in exchange for a bag of rice.

“Empathy International managed to find the child and find an adoptive home for her – thankfully she’s had a good life but, had it not been for this intervention, it doesn’t bear thinking about what her life may have been.

“Another case is of a girl being married at 14 in exchange for a dowry. Her family were so poor they reluctantly gave her to the man. Her husband immediately forced her into prostitution and, when she contracted AIDS, he abandoned her.

“Empathy cared for her, providing her with food and shelter and supporting her to attend various training programmes. She now represents Empathy and goes round schools warning young girls of the dangers lurking in the big cities.

“Empathy international gives hope and dignity to the poor through education, training, and ongoing support.

“The projects are all managed by Laos people. No handouts are given – everything has to be sustainable.

“Projects include training in various types of farming, motorbike mechanics, sewing, hair, beauty, English and music.”

Through grants and donations, the Rev Andrews has raised £2,185 to fund her trip and was “amazed” to find out that her costs were £2,180.