Dec 17, 2019

The Freedom to Hope- Somying's Story

Somying graduated earlier this year.
Somying graduated earlier this year.

Somying is a confident, relaxed young woman with a warm smile and inviting eyes. She has worked extremely hard to reach her dreams, and her pride is clear in her demeanor.

        Growing up, Somying lived with her younger sister and mother. Her mother, a single parent, supported all three of them on the $5 per day she made working at a drinking water factory. “When I was in 6th grade, my mom told herself that if I could finish 9th grade, that would be enough. In my village, everyone has only finished 9th grade. They think if you can listen, speak, read, and write Thai, then that is enough education.” As the oldest daughter, Somying would traditionally be expected to sacrifice her own education to work and support her younger sister and family. She’s also a member of an ethnic minority group that faces discrimination, which increases the odds of dropping out. All these factors put her at-risk of becoming trafficked or otherwise exploited.

        When she was 15, in grade 10, she applied for a scholarship with The Freedom Story. A determined student, she had chosen the academic track at the best high school in Chiang Rai, focusing on Chinese language. While this opens up many opportunities, it makes it difficult to study and work at the same time. At that time “[the cost of my education] was so expensive, I didn’t think I would finish. I wasn’t worried that I couldn’t do the academics,” she says, “I was just worried about the money.”

        The Freedom Story’s scholarships helped provide the support Somying needed to stay in school. Somying began to dream for the first time, and decided she would like to go to university in China. Her mother, while supportive, did not understand and wanted her to study close to home in Chiang Rai. The Freedom Story mentors were able to allay her mother’s concerns, and Somying was allowed to go.

        Mentorship has been essential for Somying. “This is a very good place for advice,” she says. “I had ideas, but I needed to talk to people about whether my choices and ideas were good. I wanted someone to listen and counsel me, so that I could be confident that my choices were right. I had roadblocks along the way, but everyone here would encourage me by saying, ‘You’re so close to success, Can you see it? It’s just around the corner.’ It made me think, ‘Yes! Others are confident I can do it, why aren’t I confident? And it would make me get up and keep going.’” For many of our students, having older friends who can encourage them is life changing. They are able to relate to their experience because they themselves went to university–something many of the guardians of our students were unable to do.

        Somying says her first year in China was a huge challenge, especially with the language. But she embraced it. “Experience is so important. It is more than just the classroom or books. There were so many challenges: going to the movies, going to the bank, practicing speaking. I would think, ‘What will I learn today?’ In the classroom they would have us practice role-playing, but that was nothing compared to going outside, using my words and having others actually understand me. When native speakers could understand me, I got so excited.” She talked to her mom every day, reassuring her that she was okay, helping her feel more at ease with her daughter’s new life. 

        Somying was so successful, she has been able to help one student every year get accepted to her university in China. She played a huge role in orienting those students into life in a different country by taking them to the supermarket, to open bank accounts, and more. She says that “I had others supporting me, so I wanted to pay that forward and help the younger students.”

        Somying has now graduated and found a job in China. When asked about the impact of The Freedom Story, she explains, “Since joining The Freedom Story, my life has hope. In the past, I only had dreams. But they weren’t possible. They were like the wind. But if you have hope, you can do it. The Freedom Story has given me hope. It has helped me take hold of my dreams, so I can walk in the way that I wanted. I knew I could do it, but when I came to The Freedom Story, it became possible. The Freedom Story gave me confidence, it helped me know that if I had an issue, I had people who would support me. If I fall down, I’d have people to pick me back up and walk this path with me.”

       Thank you for joining us in preventing child trafficking and giving students like Somying the chance to hope and dream.

Somying shared her experience with younger student
Somying shared her experience with younger student
Somying joined The Freedom Story at 15
Somying joined The Freedom Story at 15
Nov 27, 2019

Giving Surachai a Chance

Surachai was 13 when he first met us.
Surachai was 13 when he first met us.

“Because I was a mountain child, my opportunities were little because they thought my abilities were little. But my grades were good. In June, I will get my degree in auto mechanics,” Surachai says, smiling shyly. He has every right to feel proud of his accomplishments, and to reflect on how much he has changed and grown since he first became part of The Freedom Story’s programs. 

When Surachai was a baby, his parents separated, putting his family in a difficult financial situation. As a member of an ethnic minority group which faces discrimination, and coming from a rural mountain village, he says, “My life has always been difficult. We never had any money.” Neither of his parents had ever gone to school. As soon as he was old enough, aged 8, his mother could not support him and sent him to a local children’s home.

He struggled as a child, admitting that, “I was very disobedient. I thought I wouldn’t finish 9th grade. I wouldn't stay at the home. I’d go out at night. They almost kicked me out of the home because I was so naughty.” He carries this self-image so modestly, perhaps not realizing the impact being sent to a children’s home at age 8 might have on a young child’s behavior.

Given A Chance

It was around age 13, in seventh grade, that Surachai first came to participate in The Freedom Story’s activities. He had just begun school in the city 30 minutes away from the children's home. “I had to study more. I had to work hard to keep up with the other students. That first year in the city, I felt like everyone’s education in the city was better. I didn’t know any of the things everyone else already knew. Some of the teachers don’t care about children from the countryside. In my class there were two of us from the villages, and one dropped out, so it was just me. The teachers would take care of the other students but not me. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to finish,” he explains. 

At the time Surachai was accepted into our Education Program, he lacked confidence about whether he would even finish 9th grade, so he was paired with a mentor and provided with the financial support needed to stay in school. He also said he had a great teacher who told him, “Those who have the chance to get an education should take it because many don’t have that chance.” This support was particularly important when he did finish 9th grade and his parents told him it was time to drop out to work.

“My parents didn’t give me any money. After 9th grade my mom said, ‘You don’t need to study anymore. You can go work now.’ They didn’t have any money to continue to send me to school. But I told them, ‘I want to study, and I’ll find a way to study myself and send myself to school,’” Surachai explains. 

“When you only finish 9th grade you don’t have many choices for work, and so I chose to go to vocational school so I could work and study at the same time,” Surachai says. His parents continued to question his choices, but he supported himself through school working as a waiter for $2 per day, then later at a car dealership, along with the support of The Freedom Story. 

His vocational program was a huge challenge, but support from The Freedom Story’s mentors helped him understand how to navigate teenage life safely. He says, “Many kids drop out at this age. Those who finish 9th grade need a lot of support to finish high school. They can’t think clearly. They are still confused about how to behave. Many people get into bad situations because they don’t have anyone to talk to. Advice is important. Other people’s advice helps us see different points of view and to go forward. With The Freedom Story I had a lot of good advice givers who followed up with me.”

Because of The Freedom Story’s support, Surachai was able to navigate high school successfully despite his challenges in early life. Particularly at the end of his vocational school degree, when he was considering studying further, he was completely out of money, and The Freedom Story was able to assist with his expenses, to help him get his degree off to a good start. 

“Look How Far I Have Come!”

“After I finished my vocational school degree, I thought I wouldn’t study any more. But my friend had just completed their Associate’s Degree, so that inspired me to pursue that degree. From there, I decided to do my Bachelor’s. Now, my mom says, “Keep studying! You are so close to graduating.” In the past, I thought of dropping out, I was so tired. I had to work and study at the same time and was exhausted, but now I am so proud of myself. Look how far I have come! I never thought I could come this far,” he says, smiling shyly. 

We continued to support Surachai through his Bachelor’s degree with finances and mentorship. “My mentor has had these same experiences, so he knows what it is like. I feel like I can talk really easily with him. Once, when I had a financial problem, he advocated for me.” 

Surachai finishes his degree in a few months. He is extremely proud of himself, while also being aware of how his life might have been without The Freedom Story. “Preventing trafficking is important. It is very easy to be trafficked. In the evenings now, we see them all the time. Near where I live, you see kids working the streets. They’re younger than 18 and very at risk. Money is very enticing,” he says. 

Surachai is thriving. He supports his mother and his younger siblings, who have graduated high school, and he will be able to move up at the car dealership when he graduates. Because of your support, we have been able to walk with Surachai for the last 10 years. 

We are thankful for you and your support. This Giving Tuesday, our goal is to raise $15,000 to keep our programs running in 2020. Will you join us in giving students like Surachai a chance at freedom, opportunity and choice? 

Surachai will graduate with his Bachelors in June
Surachai will graduate with his Bachelors in June

Links:

Oct 14, 2019

Human Rights Awareness

Two of our youth leaders leading ice breakers
Two of our youth leaders leading ice breakers

Dear Friends,

 

Because of you, this quarter we taught 1,061 people in Chiang Rai province about their rights, human trafficking, and child protection. Children who have experienced family violence or abuse are much more likely to be trafficked. Within the communities we work in, villagers often do not know that abuse is illegal, or how it contributes to their child’s risk.

Last month, we did a training on child protection in a remote village that is part of a program with Compassion International. During the training we provided examples of child abuse in Thailand, and two staff acted in a skit about child protection with two of our youth leaders.

After the training, a grandmother approached our staff. A member of an ethnic minority group that faces considerable stigma and discrimination, she cried while sharing a story of physical and verbal child abuse that happened in her family. She takes care of three of her grandchildren after their parents separated, and struggles to know how to discipline or protect them.

After the training she shared “I understand more- thank you so much for sharing this information and teaching me. Children have changed so much, and you cannot take care of them like in the past, we have to find new ways to raising our children” Our staff referred this case to the Compassion staff and asked them to follow up and support the family more closely.

Our staff recently followed up with the Compassion staff to ask how the community is doing. They reported multiple families in the village have stopped using physical violence as punishment within their families.

Because of you, we were able to provide this training and support to this remote, vulnerable community. Because of you these families have better knwoledge of their rights, and are changing their behavior, and their students have a lower risk of trafficking. With your continued support we can reach more people in Chiang Rai and provide opportunity and choice for more communities.

Thank you for continuing to protect children and prevent trafficking with us!

With Hope,

The Freedom Story Team

The training was attended by 89 community members
The training was attended by 89 community members
Real examples helped people connect to the issue
Real examples helped people connect to the issue
 
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