“When I was eleven, my mom died in a motorbike accident… that was a huge change in my life,” says Phikun.* “Before then, my parents had separated. We lived with my mom, but a few months after my mom died, my dad came and we moved in to live with him.” Unfortunately, he was not a reliable source of support.
“Growing up with my dad, things were bad,” she continues. “My dad wasn’t responsible. He didn’t like to work. We never had any money.” Phikun’s father has struggled with substance abuse for years, and as a result the family never had reliable income, leaving them in dire poverty. When he was able to work, the $100 per month he brought in was often spent on his addiction.
Left to fend for themselves, Phikun and her younger brother often went without food. With no other choice, the children would go to their aunt or other relatives for food. They hated having to bother others.
“My situation helped me grow up quickly. I had to take care of myself. My brother and I would take care of ourselves. We would make our own breakfasts if we had food. At least at school, we always had lunch,” she says.
They were incredibly self-sufficient. But, there were also many times when their father refused to pay the electric bill. When their power got cut off, they turned to the only source of support and security they had: The Freedom Story.
How Phikun Connected With The Freedom Story
Phikun comes from the same village where our Resource Center is located. She had already been joining in activities there, so around the same time that her mother passed away, she began receiving a scholarship. We had seen how Phikun’s background, which beyond the instability of her father also includes a family history in sex work, a personal history of abuse, and her family’s considerable debts, put her at extreme risk of trafficking.
The scholarship helped a lot with the family finances, but the connection to The Freedom Story offered something even more. Phikun feels she has gained a lot of experiences she would otherwise never have had because of The Freedom Story. This includes being a member of the youth leadership program, teaching other children her age about their rights. She lists off the workshops she’s joined as part of The Freedom Story; anti-drugs, sex education, leadership, how to safely use social media, many of which she uses in her day to day life. “I’m careful [on social media] I don’t send… or do anything to make myself at risk,” she says.
There were other struggles too. Her mental health has been a source of concern in recent years, and she credits The Freedom Story staff with helping her get diagnosed and the treatment she needs. When her father had a bad motorbike accident and suffered brain damage, Freedom Story staff mentors stepped in to support her and her brother. “They were a source of advice, when I didn’t know what to do, they helped me… I had never experienced anything like this,” she says. The Freedom Story also provided them with the basic necessities they needed including food.
What Support is Helping Her Achieve
Despite all these challenges, Phikun has exhibited enormous resilience and determination. She recently graduated from a three month vocational beautician course. With her certificate she can work and study at the same time. She is continuing to pursue her high school diploma through the Thai government’s informal education program, similar to a GED. We have no doubt she has what it takes to continue to rise above her circumstances.
Children like Phikun show that while instability can lead to dire circumstances, having a baseline of security makes a marked difference in their ability to pursue their dreams. She knows how fragile her opportunities at education were before, and what the consequences of that might have been. “Without The Freedom Story, my life would be worse than this,” she says. “I wouldn’t have continued studying. I probably would have ended up trafficked. I would have ended up in child labor of some kind.”
Instead, Phikun has more freedom to choose the trajectory of her life. If she can continue her education, she will have more opportunities than she would without that degree. Please help us support her as she completes her education, to secure a life free from exploitation.
There are many other students like Phikun and her brother. We saw how stability is what secured Mai’s freedom, and the freedom of her sisters too. It can do the same for Phikun and children like her as well. Will you help us continue to secure freedom for children in 2021? Please give by midnight on Thursday to protect vulnerable children and keep them safe through next year!