This post comes from an activist vision trip attendee, Christine Rose, sharing her reflections on her time spent with us at The SOLD Project. Thank you Christine!
“We become 3-dimensional to one another when we realize that our struggles are the same, even as they look different.” – Darling Magazine, Anthropology
When I speak with young people in the most rural areas of Thailand, it is clear that there are more similarities than differences between our cultures. They long for safety, security, education and opportunity, just as we long for these items for our own children. Perhaps in their situation the contrast between what is and what could be is more severe, but the end-goal is no different.
Is it too audacious to say that these kids are blessed because their choices are very clear? Either they succumb to what [their local sub-culture] says is the norm – quit school at 6th grade and become a laborer for low wages or go to the city and work in a karaoke bar – or they defy the odds and aspire to become educated and live out their full potential. There is no middle-ground [for certain segments of society] in rural Northern Thailand – it’s all or nothing.
When I think of my own kids at home in the States, their choices don’t result directly in life or death, freedom or slavery, security or poverty. It’s easy for all of us to be lulled into a sense of entitlement and false security. I don’t wish the harshness of the rural Thai life for my kids or any of us, yet I also see a strength, resilience, and joy in the eyes of these young Thai students who are choosing to own their journey and their future.
These are the kids that The SOLD Project is all about – the ones who want more than to repeat the life of their parents, to do more than work as laborers or in a karaoke bar, and who have a vision of what their country can become given education and opportunity. The SOLD Project cannot instill dreams into kids [who] don’t have them – none of us can do that – but they can provide a pathway to success for those who dream.
During my visit, I was able to get a snapshot into the spectrum of SOLD and how the team works within the community and with young people in every stage of their development.
Imagine an environment where for the most part parents don’t encourage their kids to go to school past the 6th grade. Imagine a place where parents don’t show emotion to their children, other than anger. Imagine a place where school is cancelled for days on end, so that the parents can have a “drinking fest” on school grounds, with no regard for the students. Imagine this place where alcoholism and broken families are rampant. Of course there are beautiful exceptions to these examples, but those are not the norm.
No wonder young people easily succumb to the temptation of making poor decisions for short-term gain, as they believe they have no options; no wonder they have little concept of dreaming for a better future, when they have no good role models. Without instilling a strong self-esteem and sense of worthiness in these kids, there is little hope for a different future.
Enter SOLD….unable to change the culture (nor seeking to), SOLD and generous sponsors can impact individual kids and families within the community. Many will not be interested – they have no concept for the future and don’t have an interest or dream to make a change to their very predictable and challenging life. But there is that rare young person who has a dream and passion to live differently – to live with the future in mind. So, what happens to this rare young person who has these desires, and no pathway? This is where SOLD comes into play. Not only can SOLD and the scholarship program fuel the fundamental need for education in order to purse options and dreams, but SOLD is also a place where these young people can find encouragement and support as they take the path less followed.
When I think of Pim*, the 11-year-old girl who is so young and frightened and alone. Her mother was recently killed in a motorcycle accident, and she has no father present in her life. SOLD is stepping in to ensure that she can continue her education and have a community of support around her. Pim says she wants to be a nurse, but what do you really know at age 11? Maybe she will follow that dream relentlessly, or maybe she will take the path of least resistance like so many of her peers. It’s not ours to judge, but to give her the opportunity for a better life if she is willing to do the hard work.
Lek* is 15 years old, lives with her grandparents, and has been in the SOLD program for the past 2 years. She lives in a remote Akha hill-tribe village, and is committed to getting to school every day. Lek is focusing on her English studies, and wants to be a tour guide someday. When asked why she is resolved to keep going to school and not take the easy road of her peers, Lek said “because I am special.” SOLD, with the partnership of Lek’s grandparents, has helped to instill that sense of self-worth into this young woman.
Fah* was the very first young woman sponsored by The SOLD Project. She was orphaned at the age of 10, and now at the age of 15 is a beautiful, poised, and doing well in school. She shared that The SOLD Project has been much more to her than just the sponsorship of her education; The SOLD Project is her family and community. Fah is a great example to the younger kids who access the SOLD Resource Center, sharing her experiences and mature perspective.
To meet Chai*, is to see his strength, determination, and passion to make a better life for himself and those around him. Chai is 23 years old, and recently graduated from university with a law degree, through the help of a sponsorship through The SOLD Project. Chai hopes to use his legal knowledge to help young people in his tribal Akha community to gain a better understanding of their opportunities. Currently Chai is trying his hand at pineapple farming as he waits to take the bar exam. Chai had the personal rigor and focus to get to the place where he is today, but shared that the key ingredient was the opportunity for education. Chai is amazed that people who didn’t even know him cared enough to sponsor his education. He said that he would not be where he is today without that “push” of help and the dedication from the local SOLD team to be his advocate and encourager over the years.
The ultimate dream is that these rare young people will not be so rare in the next generation – that they will begin to change the culture and fabric of these villages – that they will come back home with education, proven success, and a vision for the future.
*Names have been changed to protect the anonymity of the SOLD scholarship students.