When Boonta was in sixth grade, she was the only one in her class who managed to meet the requirements to pass on to secondary school—a common occurrence in small Thai villages where emphasis is placed on finding work as soon as possible, rather than on completing education.
Even as a young girl, Boonta saw that this pattern caused great problems for the children in her village. Many were involved in drugs and crime. Some ended up in jail, while others were caught in the trafficking trap. Something began to stir within her heart. She knew she needed to leave her family and go to Chiang Rai city to get an education. Her goal was to return to her village as a teacher so she could help the children receive the education they needed to have a better life.
She did not realize at the time just how much dedication and sacrifice this would require. Her only thought was, “I have to give the children a chance.”
Because Boonta’s parents had only achieved a second grade education, it was hard for them to understand her decision to pursue education. Nevertheless, she explained to them how determined she was to do this. Boonta’s father told her they didn’t have much money, but that they would support her as much as they could. She had never spent much time in Chiang Rai before, so she reached out to her local pastor, who helped her find an organization that could help with housing.
At the young age of 12, Boonta left her family and her village and traveled alone on a bus to Chiang Rai. As she traveled, she looked out the window and watched as everything familiar faded away. In her mind she replayed the conversations she had had with her parents. “I must go,” she had told them, “because I have a dream.” And so they let her go, so she could pursue her dream. She was alone, and afraid—but excited too.
Overcome by exhaustion, she fell asleep on the bus. When she woke up, she realized that she had missed her stop. She had no idea what to do, alone, and in a strange environment. She stopped a moment and prayed. Then she told the bus driver what had happened. Amazingly, the bus driver drove her all the way back to Chiang Rai.
Boonta recalls the moment when she arrived in Chiang Rai. It was a much bigger, busier city than she was used to. She had to find the organization that would help her, but she had no address; only the name of the organization. She asked one person, then another and finally the next person knew of it and told her how to get there.
This organization helped her for a while, but they could only assist with housing. Then, someone told her about The Freedom Story. Not only would they help her with housing, but they would also cover her schooling and other expenses. They would even help her earn her coveted teaching degree!
Over the years The Freedom Story has provided her with what she needed to persevere through high school and college. Boonta has taken part in the afterschool program and counseling program. Boonta also has been given a mentor, who gives her both guidance and friendship during this time that she has been away from her family, supporting her to pursue her dream and offering advice from their own experience of going to university—an experience her family couldn’t related to.
Two years ago, Boonta took part in a homestay with an American family in Chiang Mai, organized through The Freedom Story. This was a great opportunity for Boonta to practice English while also participating in a cultural exchange with a western family.
“Thinking of her, this compassionate, hard working, intelligent young woman with the purest heart, in any kind of exploitive situation, guts me as if I were thinking of my own daughters….The Freedom Story provided the necessary scholarships and mentoring, but she has worked very hard, against all odds, to finish her education in a world where girls often don’t make it past 9th grade. I am very proud of Boonta and I think we are not finished being proud of her accomplishments.” – Carrie Lange, homestay host
Eleven years have passed since that brave 12 year old left her home and family to follow her heart. You can find her today doing her internship, teaching English to fourth graders in the local school in Chiang Rai. She is on the road to fulfilling her dream!
With the help of The Freedom Story, Boonta has greater freedom to do the things she loves, like meeting up with friends, watching movies, and going camping. Most of all, she is able to pursue this dream that is in her heart. And if you ask her how she came to this point in her life, she will look at you in the eyes and confidently tell you, “It is because I had a dream. I must give the children a chance.” May this dream that compelled this young child to do extraordinary things continue to burn in her heart and lead her to do great things for the children of her village!
The Freedom Story works with children who are at high risk of exploitation by providing financial resources to pursue education as well as mentoring and emotional support. Children living in poverty with one or both parents unable to provide basic needs are at the highest risk. Each year, The Freedom Story works with the local communities in Northern Thailand to identify children at the highest risk and works to get them involved in the scholarship program through sponsorship.
Join us on the 10-year anniversary of The Freedom Story as we celebrate a decade of child trafficking prevention. Help us achieve child trafficking prevention by teaching human rights, raising awareness and understanding, and facilitating healing in the Chiang Rai region of Thailand. Please consider donating your support today!
Photos by: Angela Forker
Article by: Angela Forker and Lucy McCray