A guest post by Lisa Winterfeldt
Can you imagine if you didn’t have documentation for the country where you were born? Imagine if you didn’t have citizenship and therefore you were limited in where you could travel, what you could study, what job you could pursue. You are a child with dreams to study to become a doctor or lawyer, but your family doesn’t understand why you want an education because it’s more practical for you to stay and work on the farm. What would you do?
Meet Win – this is his story and the story of many kids from rural northern Thailand born into a world between countries with no citizenship. But when Win was encouraged to give up school for farm work, he said no. He chose to work hard anyway and pursue an education. He didn’t want to give up his dreams and work on a farm. He didn’t want to accept the limitations that his lack of citizenship placed on him. So he didn’t.
Win pursued further education while living at the Akha center in Chiang Rai, where he met a staff member from Freedom Story who encouraged him to apply for a scholarship. With the scholarship money helping ease the burden of the cost of education, Win was able to dream even bigger and applied to study law at Rajabhat University. His persistence paid off and he was eventually able to apply and gain citizenship from the Thai government. As a citizen of Thailand, he moved forward, received his diploma, and continued his education to become a lawyer.
As an official lawyer, Win returned to The Freedom Story, where he started a Human Rights Program. The program includes the Basic Law for youth initiative, where Win goes into local villages and hosts trainings at our resource centers to teach youth about the law.
As I sit down with Win to learn more, he gives me a shy smile and a nervous giggle as his English skills and my Thai skills are barely enough for a conversation. I asked him what he teaches the kids at his trainings. At a loss for the right word, Win holds up his finger as a sign for me to wait one moment and runs to his computer. He shows me the screen after his translation “juvenile law”. Ahh, I see! With the help of someone to translate, he explains that he teaches youth what the law is because in the hill tribes and rural villages, they don’t have access to that information. They don’t know what is legal or illegal, what they can and can’t do, or what their rights are. Often times, villagers aren’t sure how to handle basic situations like getting married, having a baby, or dealing with an accident, and Win feels it is important for them be educated so they can make responsible choices and avoid being taken advantage of by others. More importantly, if children and families know their rights, they can be more confident and prepared to protect themselves.
Win also provides legal advice to scholarship students and their families. Win mentors many of our students who don’t have citizenship yet, speaking out and encouraging them to never give up and dream big too. He knows when the laws change and can advocate for children and family and help them with the legal procedures of applying for citizenship. And he does it all with a never ending smile on his face. Win is positive and optimistic and his cheerful nature shines through in everything he does. Our scholarship students are drawn to him, as he is a natural mentor who genuinely cares about each and every one them, which puts him in the unique place to really make a difference in their lives!
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.