From Accountant to Activist

From Accountant to Activist

When La was a little girl, her village had a visit from an organization called ADRA. Her people had never had much to do with ADRA, and so knew little of the benefits that may await them. During the visit, the Country Director gathered all the children and asked them what they wanted to do when they grew older. Some wanted to be teachers, doctors; even a farmer. Yet only La stated she would become the village Chief.

She wanted to be able to come back to her people; provide children with a better education and help empower them.

Most villagers have no Thai Identification, which makes it hard for children to get into schools. Fortunately, La and three of her friends were provided scholarships from ADRA to attend school. As part of the program they each received their first bike to ride school. They attended school and were happy as the principal was understanding and helped them with many things. “I was happy because each term I was given a new uniform, new books and pencils” La said. Unfortunately, not everyone in the community was so understanding of these indigenous students.

La stands close with Project Coordinator Sunita Winitkoonchai, who has been with the KGS project since Katima was at the shelter.

Photograph by Brittanie McLean

 

It started causing lots of pressure upon the school. All these outside influences ended up causing La to leave, where she stayed at home with her family. A short time later a staff member from ADRA’s Keep Girls Safe (KGS) project came to the village and asked her if she wanted to go and live at the KGS shelter. She had trouble deciding as many  of the villagers were cautioning her not to go, and likewise telling the other girls. They had heard about scams before, and with no Thai ID her family would not be able to visit for fear of getting caught by the police. It was her father who helped her decide when he said to her ‘Go to the shelter, for every step you take in life is for your future’. La never understood that until today, but she did as he told her. She would go to the shelter.

 La was the second group of girls to be brought to the shelter in Chiang Rai and was in year nine at the time. At first she did not like the shelter at all, there was no feeling of belonging. Yet in time, and with the help of a staff member she came to call the shelter home, and the girls family. She connected to the others she shared a home with; and even felt an obligation to care for those younger than herself. Partly because she was older than many of the other girls; but also because they were now her family, and she loved them.

 Perhaps an even greater gift than having a safe place to live or going to school was her eagerness to let God into her life. The girls had the opportunity to go to church every Saturday, have communal Bibles at the shelter, and other Bible study periods throughout the week.  Many girls have come to accept Jesus into their lives through this program, and more still have this opportunity today. “I stole a Bible from the shelter” she admitted. She now walks around her house all the time singing songs from the gospel.

 La attended vocational school for 3 years in accounting and upon finishing the staff at the shelter asked if she wanted to stay or leave the shelter. Although the shelter held many memories and she would miss those there, her family wanted her closer to home. Her move to Chiang Mai would be both closer to her village and study. La found her own place and is currently living and supporting herself.  “KGS helped me to adjust myself to different types of girls and how they live, and that’s how I can live on my own and deal with many different people”  After a further two years studying an associate degree in accounting, La went on to obtain a bachelors degree at Ratchapat University in accounting; graduating in 2013. She is the only one in her family to have obtained such a level of education, and so she is looked up to by her family and others in the village. She did not particularly like accounting, KGS staff told her it would be much easier to get a job in this field than an arts degree, and so a good part of her life was taken up with all things accounting!

However, for all her studies La’s passion has been present, and now she has the chance to use her gifts to help others. There is so much she is involved in right now that we can hardly begin to understand what a brave and compassionate woman she is.  Currently, she is a committee member for the Indigenous Woman Network in Thailand in which she represents the Lisu people. This committee gives projects to those on the committee to work with communities.

They discuss how to manage natural resources by involving men and women. La had noticed when she was younger many disputes were about who owned what land in the village and so for the committee produced a village map.  This map showed all the different plots of land and who owns them, a document that is now presented in court to settle disputes. She makes a point of telling women whenever she has the chance that women’s rights are equal to men, and for them to stand up for themselves.  La is also a member of the Forestry Restoration Committee. She acts as a translator in court and is contacted about any issues on the forest surrounding her home. Unfortunately, in ten years time the government wants to take back the land the indigenous people live on so they can regenerate the forest. This will displace all the people living there, and La hopes with hard work and determination they will come to a compromise. “So essentially you are still living up to being chief of the van ADRA staff member remarked during a recent interview.

This is a small part of the work La currently is doing. Her good deeds have been captured on film, even receiving a ‘Good Samaritan’ award for what she has accomplished.  La doesn’t know where she would be without this project that helps girls out of unsafe situations. It provides pathways to a brighter future. Every chance she has she asks if she may visit the shelter and would like to share her story with the other girls.

The Life of Best

The Life of Best

The Ngow River flows through the Yao and Pha Mon mountains of the Wiang Kaen district, with a story of a girl that washes them in darkness and sorrow.

Best comes from the Kamu hill tribe. A young impressionable girl who would be fated to lose everything when first her father; and then mother succumbed to HIV/AIDS. Luckily, the Keep Girls Safe project administered by ADRA Thailand would take her away from such heartache.
Under the protection of KGS since 2006 when she was a grade 2 student, things have improved dramatically. She is now even able to go home in the school breaks. At the shelter she performs many house chores such as cooking rice, washing clothes, planting vegetables and more; perhaps a way to erase unpleasant memories and plant fresh ones.
The tale of her past begins with her father; a Laotian; who after marrying her stateless mother, died of HIVAIDS. After her father’s death, Best lived with her mother, who re-married, a Thai man. The husband had a previous child, “Pha”, younger than Beer by three years. It was soon obvious where favour lay and she faced heavy discrimination while living with her mother’s new family. Such hardships only increased with time and when her mother passed away; she was left alone and unwanted in a family who did little to acknowledge her existence. She did not understand why this was happening; and was left yearning for a loving embrace.

Best (right) and a fellow KGS shelter member.

Photograph by Rodolfo Mansalve

If things were tough until this point, they soon became worse. For her stepfather remarried a woman from Laos; packaged with four children of her own. An utterly mystified Best watched on; there was no longer a place for her in this home. She was not a biological child; she was nothing but an eyesore to them. They physically and verbally assaulted her with little reasoning. The scars became much deeper than skin level.
Today, Best is with the KGS project, a warm-hearted foster home that takes care of 27 girls from remote areas who are at high risk of human trafficking. These girls have been through unrelentingly harsh circumstances, often orphaned or homeless. The KGS shelter provides that warm embrace Best was seeking; for all the girls who find their way to them. Best is currently a third year student at a vocational school, majoring in design and she hopes to study Fine Arts at Chiang Mai University or Lanna Rajabhat University. Her talent is to design. She helps design the workshop’s stages including leading a reaction session of a workshop. She sings and plays the guitar and piano with her peers and at church as well. These activities are an inspiration for her to seek a better life for the future.

This summer, she is a volunteer with the Stateless Project. She is enthusiastic to learn and help people who are negatively impacted by being stateless; this is her story as well. Best owns an ID card where the number starts with “0”; the code for a stateless person. She understands the difficulties of being stateless first hand; she is willing to help as much as she possibly can.
Best also takes very good care of the girls who recently moved into the foster home because she knows what it is like being unwanted and depressed; she never wants anyone to feel like this when she can help them.
Best’s life is slowly but surely turning for the better. The Ngow River continues to run through the Yao and Pha Mon mountains. Best, who was once a miserable little girl, has become a strong support to her new family in this imperfect society.
Kindly join us to support Best who has successfully conquered her miserable life.

ADRA Connections Visits KGS

ADRA Connections Visits KGS

The Keep Girls Safe project has gone through some major improvements this past month, and it’s all thanks to Sanitarium and their crew flying over from Australia! The team of highly capable individuals arrived on Sunday the 15th and got stuck right into business discussing what needed to be done.

Already having some ideas, they talked to the staff to see what improvements would be needed the most and divided it into three project areas; excluding odd jobs around the place. As the plans evolved the team decided upon erecting an area for drying clothes, storing rice, and planting vegetables; as this would be the greatest benefit to the shelter. “The expectations of what we could do changed a bit, as we spent time with the staff to assess needs” Team Leader Julie Praestiin mentioned whilst showing us what was happening at KGS. The team has come as an executive group working at Sanitarium Factory in Australia in varying leadership positions. They work with Mission Health Foods in Asia in manufacturing and distributing food to Thailand, Australia and New Zealand. Due to this the staff at Sanitarium decided to base the next company volunteer trip in Thailand to give back to the community.

Sanitarium provided 18,000 AUD for the project, a great amount to make some much needed changes around KGS. The group helped setup an area for the girls to dry their clothes, which meant laying concrete, extending the veranda and stringing the clotheslines. The end product looks fantastic! Now the girls are able to have dry clothes even in the wet season when rain is constant. Another building was built in the corner of the KGS property to store large quantities of rice. Soil was spread across a designated area that will be used for planting larger crops later on, which will help keep down food costs and will be a good project for the girls to engage in.

Julie planting in the newly made raised garden bed.

Photograph by  Brittanie McLean

Daniel preparing wood for the raised garden bed.

Photograph by  Brittanie McLean

The last aspect of the project included creating raised garden beds so that the girls can grow vegetables for the kitchen and learn about gardening. It also includes a compost heap which comes in pretty handy for the garden and reducing waste! Apart from this, the team conducted improvements in other areas as well, including painting the kitchen. Dominique and Sharon even brushed up on their cooking skills, helping the staff to prepare lunch everyday.

 “Essentially the project is about Sanitariums work with Mission Health Foods in Asia and giving back to the community” voiced Cyravil, the groups ADRA Connections staff member earlier. The group were met with loads of enthusiasm from the girls, who just loved having visitors to play with and share meals with. Some of the girls are learning English, but most find it difficult to understand so it was interesting to see how the group interacted with them. Team member Sharon Green found it  “surprising how much people can communicate with body language once language is taken away”. The team were sad to say their goodbyes to everyone at KGS, but left on a high note and have already conducted their own needs assessment of improvements they can make on the next trip! They even contracted someone to take a look at the KGS water waste management system, and proposed a semi-permanent fix which should be put in place in the near future. So it would seem that the team are already thinking of the possibilities further down the road, which is good news for us!

 The Team has been a wonderful help to the KGS shelter; and we are grateful for everything they have accomplished in their short time here. A special thanks to Lynden Rochford for organising the trip and Daniel Bernhardt for representing Mission Health Foods here in Thailand. We hope everyone got just as much out of the trip as they put in; which is no small amount. We are excited about what the future holds for KGS.