Kru Ball (a nickname that sounds like “Kru Bon” when said by Thais) is our Activity and Scholarship Manager, and having been with us for seven years, five of them full time, he is one of our longest serving staff members. With an infectious laugh and the closely held belief that to get along with children “you have to make yourself a child,” he is much beloved by the students, community, and other staff at The Freedom Story. He’s seen much of our growth, and experienced a lot himself over the past seven years. I sat down with him to hear more, in his own words.
Coming to work with us at aged 25, Kru (meaning teacher) Ball was originally working at the local school and running our after-school program part-time. The Freedom Story (then The SOLD Project) had only been operating for one year, and had just one other activities-focused staff.
“At first, we didn’t have any kids coming to the center. So we started asking why the kids aren’t coming. Why aren’t they joining our afterschool program? It started from 3-5 kids who came in the evening. At that point, we were really stressed. I was here in the evenings, so I kept thinking, ‘Why aren’t the kids coming? Is it that the activities we are running aren’t ok for the kids, or maybe the kids don’t like them?” he says.
He went on to explain that at that time the after-school program focused mostly on academic activities, like tutoring, which appealed to only a small group of kids, since they had already spent all day in school.
Another challenge was that the students were all different ages, both girls and boys. It was difficult to find activities that they would all enjoy. “I wanted to come work here because I wanted to do activities that kids would like, so the kids would want to come here, they would feel like when they came here they had friends, that they were happy. That was the first reason why I wanted to come work here, as full time staff,” says Ball.
“I wanted to come here to be a part of something that would help the students. I saw that here [at The Freedom Story] was a chance for a community similar to my community where I grew up, because the likelihood or opportunity to continue education was so small because their families are so poor. So we give them a chance to study, a chance to have a mentor, a chance to get advice.”
Kru Ball and His Impact
It was his vision that has really grown our student interest to where we are today, with over 200 students coming to our two resource centers every month. When asked about how he has brought about this success, he says, “we understand the kids. We undertand their situations and experiences. They don’t need perfect things, but they need fun, they need support, they need a friend to talk to.” Having staff close by, mixing with students, has been essential as well. In addition, working holistically with families has provided us a chance to build relationships and trust, and we intentionally organize many activities so that parents and students can spend positive time together.
“The kids want to come here, the activities are interesting to them. They want to join in, and they smile, which is so much better than forcing students to come to things that aren’t interesting, and they sit in the back and are bored,” he explains.
This last year, Kru Ball took on managing the scholarship program as well, including the mentorship and home visits. He says it wasn’t easy. “If you asked, have I liked it from the beginning? No, I haven’t,” he laughs, “But the more time I spend with the kids, their guardians, the staff, I’ve learned that the scholarships are so important.” Visiting students at home and supporting them and their families is a large part of our scholarship program, and an essential one. “I can see the students’ lives, each student is different. Each student, their situations, their lives, aren’t the same. If you asked me, when I visit them, do I cry? Are there tears? Yes. But it helps me to know that even if these students face challenges, they can pass through them.”
The Deeper Relationships
By combining the scholarship and activity teams, the staff are able to get a very clear situation of the child’s needs, from home visits, school visits, and talking to family. Kru Ball says it’s very important to hear about issues directly from the family, so you can get a clear sense of what is happening. This information helps them support a child better at home, at the resource center, and at school. “Our encouragement pushes them to keep pushing through their issues. [Working on] the scholarships makes me feel like I like this work so much. It’s about going in and helping. We can’t solve all [of a student’s] problems, but we can give advice, we can be their mentors in some issues. For some issues they need to have friends more than someone solving their problems.”
In reflecting how the students and the community have changed over the past seven years, Kru Ball says, “I’ve really seen that scholarships are so important. And beyond that, the kids need to come away from trafficking and everything related to it. The kids have better lives, they have good relationships, the families have better relationships.” We’ve seen that a lot of trafficking is happening online, and that can put our children at-risk. Many parents don’t understand the internet or social media. We’ve adjusted many programs as a result, “so now at The Freedom Story, we are a place where kids can be protected [through learning about safe online practices]. We’re also a place where students can imagine a bigger dream for themselves, and where they can get to those dreams.”
Kru Ball explains that in the past, when a poor family couldn’t send a child to school, they’d want their child to work in a ‘good job’ one that didn’t involve manual labor. They didn’t realize that many of those hotel, restaurant or job opportunities abroad were exploitative. They only saw the financial benefits that could be reaped. Now they realize that a better education leads to better, safer work, and that will help students much more in the future. With the support of The Freedom Story, Kru Ball explains, students are graduating, getting good jobs, and giving back to their communities and protecting other children.
When asked about his dream, he smiled and said that he looks forward to the day when some of the students we work with come back to work at The Freedom Story or similar organizations. He adds, this has already happened with a previous staff person: Win.
“Thank you, thank you that I could be part of The Freedom Story. That I could work here, that I could be a part of helping the community and the kids. From nothing, to now. TFS isn’t building just kids, or staff, but is building everything in this community, so that those we are giving to will give back in the future,” he says smiling. “Working here has made me learn about life of one person, for example the kids, they have different stories. Like us. Our stories are different, many different kinds. But we know that receiving and giving, and helping the community isn’t about just money. It’s about your heart.”
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Lucy is a dual US and UK citizen, splitting her time between the two countries as both a child and an adult. She heard about trafficking issues for the first time in 2008 and was deeply moved. Since then she has been involved in various anti-trafficking groups and efforts. This helped her realize she wanted to pursue a career in development and human rights. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and History at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Her desire to help others caused her to go on to get a Master’s in Development Studies from the London School of Economics. She moved to Chiang Mai to work with International Justice Mission as a Communications Fellow in October 2015. As a Communications Fellow she facilitated communications with the office in the US, wrote reports and stories on casework in Thailand. In her spare time she enjoys running, yoga, reading, travelling, baking, and spending time with friends trying to find the best coffee shops.