May. It’s the start of term for most of our scholarship students, where they either continue to a higher class or new level of education. Everyone is happy and excited to start fresh and our staff gets a bit of relief after working hard to help our students find new schools and, for some, get the courage to go back to school.
It may seem easy to go to school if you have been in it since you were little with no gap or break between school years, but it’s incredibly hard if you have dropped out for a year or two. When you try to go back, you end up in the same class as students who are younger than you. They may tease you or take your story as an excuse to also drop out or behave badly. Families may tell their children not to be like you or not allow them to play with you.
Rin is a girl we met in 2007 while we were filming the documentary “SOLD.” We knew right away that she was at RISK. Her mother was a former prostitute (a victim of human trafficking at a young age) who died from AIDS, as did her father, leaving Rin to the care of her grandmother and step-grandfather, who also had to deal with a drug-addicted son. We told Rin to apply for a scholarship and stay in school to pursue her dream. But everything became too difficult for the 13-year-old to handle. She left school and the village before she finished her exam in grade 8, never completing the semester like her peers. In May 2008, Rin ran away.
When we started the first group of applications, Rin had already left and we didn’t know where she was or how to contact her. We only heard rumors that she ran away with a boyfriend and was working in Chiang Mai. Sometimes we would hear she was in Bangkok. Who knows what would happen to a girl with a 7th-grade education in a big city like Bangkok?
After a couple years passed by, Rin came back to the village. She looked and seemed much more mature than her age. She seemed sad and would rarely make eye contact when we talked to her. We told her about the program we had at the Resource Center, and we said it’s still possible for her to attend school again. I told her my own story of being 2 years older than all my classmates from grade 2 through university. We told her it would be hard but possible if she really wanted it for herself and we would be alongside if she wanted us to be too. She said, “Maybe,” “I’m not sure,” and, “I am too old for high school.”
At first, Rin did not respond to our request for her scholarship application. But she came back a few months later and told us that she had attended informal school for the previous few months, hoping to finish 8th and 9th grade so that she could take the entrance exam for high school.
Having witnessed her willingness to pursue a second chance, we offered her an apprentice position where she would help out in afterschool programs and learn how we run programs at the Resource Center. During this time, villagers and neighbors still questioned her intentions, warning our staff that Rin still hangs out with other troubled kids, or that she may cause more trouble for our programs, and that we should reconsider offering her a scholarship. We listened carefully but we also believed that this second chance could change Rin’s life and give hope to other troubled kids as well. The year of hard work and intense scrutiny paid off when Rin passed the exam to enter high school, and it was such an honor when Rin asked me to be her guardian on her first day in high school.
Now Rin is in grade 12 and her GPA is 3.78. Her dream is to be in the army and she wants to attend university before she applies to join the army. She has already been attending pre-army classes since Grade 10. For Rin, this May is bright and shiny after all.
May always reminds me of the beginning of school year, and especially of how it is a new beginning for kids like Rin. At The SOLD Project, this is what we try to protect and fight for: children’s chances for new beginnings.
— Tawee Donchai