Last week, we shared a highlight on Ketsara Thutsunti, an amazing local leader who has had an immeasurable impact on our students. Today, we’d like to spotlight one of the students who has been positively affected by Ketsara’s dedication to growing the next generation of leaders. In partnership with ECPAT, Ketsara has chosen a select number of scholarship kids who have demonstrated leadership potential, and she has invited them to participate in a year-long Youth Leadership Program (YPP). One of those students is Gung.
Gung is from a small village just down the road from the Resource Center and she has been involved with The SOLD Project almost since its inception 8 years ago. She’s now 17. When she was first asked to join YPP, she hesitated. She feared being a leader meant responsibility she might not be able to handle and she was afraid that she wouldn’t know or be able to command the respect of the other kids. Where she comes from, leaders have always been chosen because of their family name or influence and power. In her experience, leadership was something bestowed only upon those who had a reputable name. She didn’t realize that being a leader was something she could do.
Gung shared a story about an experience she had as a child. The temple in her village was hosting a northern dance and the small kids were all invited to practice and perform. However, because she lived in the southern part of the village, she was not allowed to participate. Growing up with exclusionary experiences like that limited her concept of what could be possible.
Though she was shy and balked at first, Ketsara encouraged her to try. Then, when she went to the first camp, she quickly learned that leadership was not only something she could do, but that she honestly enjoyed and benefited from it. She learned games and activities she could teach to the younger kids. She made new friends and learned new skills. She said she loved learning about the skits because it was 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.
Now when asked what leadership means to her, she responds,
“It is an opportunity to give advice to others––not only younger kids, but everyone. Leaders have the power to open opportunities for people.”
That’s one reason why the Youth Partnership Program is so important for kids like her. Ketsara’s mentorship has allowed Gung to see her own potential. It has allowed her opportunities to become a mentor herself. She can share advice with others and grow in self-confidence and her own ability to handle daily problems.
“I now know how to start conversations with others and how to talk to others. Being in YPP has improved my relationships and helped me understand and talk about my feelings.”
When reflecting on when she was younger, Gung described herself as having a “weak” mind.
“When I had a small problem, I would cry, but now I am stronger and have experience to solve problems.”
With this new confidence she has been able to step up into a leadership role in her community of peers. She has many experiences she can now share with others, including choices about education. She said she would tell other kids to listen to other’s opinions, help them find the best path, and to follow their heart and dreams for whatever they want to do in life.
Gung is completing her last year of vocational school, where she is following her dream of learning English so she might one day work in the tourism industry. She hope to eventually live in a bigger city and work as a tour guide for foreigners. She may even want to 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 SOLD Project has made it possible for Gung to achieve these dreams.
Lisa Winterfeldt is our International Liason, helping to bridge communication between our U.S. and Thai offices. She has experience teaching children with needs at various schools in the U.S., and in teaching with an international school in Bangkok.