When Tipsuda first joined The Freedom Story at its inception 10 years ago, she needed support not only for the educational scholarship, but also for the treatment of an eye condition. Moreover, at the tender age of 11, she appeared to be so insecure and crave affection so much, she would sometimes seek it from people who were almost total strangers, so perhaps the emotional support was as critical as the financial and medical ones. Yet her transformation over the last decade, though difficult at times, has been nothing short of stunning.
In the early years, Tipsuda struggled in her schooling. Her teachers weren’t always supportive of her. She also recalls experiences of being excluded from the activities that other kids participated in at her village’s local temple. However, through all the years, Tipsuda has dreamed of working in the tourism industry, and her natural exuberance lends itself well to her dream of becoming a tour guide. With the help and encouragement of staff at The Freedom Story, Tipsuda was able to switch from high school to a vocational school that was a much better fit for her and her dreams.
At the same time, staff counselor, Ketsara also encouraged Tipsuda to join our youth leadership program (YPP) which facilitates the leadership of young adults through training and opportunities to lead activities for younger students on issues of human trafficking and exploitation. Though Tipsuda was shy and balked at first, she quickly discovered that leadership was not only something she could do well, it was something she honestly enjoyed and benefitted from. She learned games and activities she could teach to the younger kids. She made new friends and learned new skills. The play acting skits were her favorite because they gave her a way to express emotions safely and appropriately––a skill that has been both a personal and cultural challenge––and it taught her to be more open and comfortable speaking in front of others.
When asked what leadership means, she said,
“It is an opportunity to give advice to others––not only younger kids, but everyone. Leaders have the power to open opportunities for people.”
MORE THAN THAT
Tipsuda takes pride in her leadership role and uses her experience and knowledge to help educate and inspire younger kids, especially about anti-trafficking issues. She has even been called to put her knowledge into practice when she discovered one of the young students at Freedom Story was offered money from an older foreigner in exchange for performing a sex act over Facebook. Tipsuda acted quickly to disrupt the dangerous situation. She spoke to the man on the phone, and told him never to call again. She then explained to the student the dangers of accepting friend requests from strangers.
Armed with knowledge and the courage to speak out, Tipsuda has blossomed into a strong protector and leader among her peers in her community. That’s one reason why the Youth Partnership Program is so important for kids like her: it has enabled Tipsuda to see her own potential by providing opportunities in which she can act as a mentor, sharing advice, growing in self-confidence and in her ability to handle daily problems. She has a lot to offer. She is eager to help other kids as they try to find the best path for themselves, and encourages them to follow their heart and dreams for whatever they want to do in life.
PURSING HER OWN DREAMS
Meanwhile, Tipsuda continues steadfast on her journey toward her own dreams. She currently works the at an inn, where she not only prepares rooms for guests but also leads tours, just like she always dreamed. She is still passionate about learning English, and practices with guests and her roommates. She has applied to University this year, but until it begins, she is happy working at her job. She hopes to eventually live in a bigger city, and continue working as a tour guide for foreigners. She may even eventually spend time abroad working as an au pair. Having mentors like Ketsara, and gaining experience through YPP, along with having a community of support at The Freedom Story has made it possible for her to achieve these dreams.
Fierce, strong, resilient and adaptable, she empowers others to be the same. Tipsuda has taken the opportunity offered through the Freedom Story and used it to blossom into a hard-working and successful young woman equipped for a promising future.
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!
KJ Hellis, Lisa Winterfeldt, and Jade Keller contributed to this article.
Photos by: KJ Hellis