New to Thailand, I attempt to take Bangkok’s sky train from my home into the city. Thankfully, I am successful (whew). Sehar, one of CLF’s project leaders, meets me in the park. It’s the first time we’ve met and she greets me with a hug and a warm welcome. She’s an impressive woman. Once a local participant in one of Creative Life’s programs, she is now on staff coordinating scholarships and mentoring our students.
We grab a taxi and are on our way to visit Mary* and Peter*. Their two oldest daughters are recipients of CLF’s scholarship program. It's our commitment to provide our students with positive role models and mentorship. Sehar pops in regularly to check in and offer support. I’ve tagged along with her to meet the family and get a glimpse of what CLF’s scholarship program looks like in practice.
We arrive at the family’s home. As the door opens, two elementary-aged girls tumble out greeting Sehar with hugs and rapid fire catching up. The place smells amazing. Mary has been hard at work making us a beautiful meal to share together while we chat. Sehar says a prayer and we enjoy a chicken and mushroom curry. In case the curry was too much for me, Mary had even made a simple spice free “western style” chicken and vegetable dish as a backup!
Peter, Mary, and their three children share a single room studio apartment. They are refugees from Pakistan. Peter used to work in finance. Both he and his wife were educated but things became unbearable and unsafe in their home country due to religious persecution. They left family, friends, and everything they knew to seek asylum in Bangkok. Their life in Thailand is not sustainable. It is illegal for them to formally work and yet they need an income to survive. They must be very careful to follow strict rules and avoid being reported to the authorities, put in a detention center, or deported. Peter tells me that such secrecy and caution is isolating. They spend most of their time in this one room carefully filtering who they interact with and what they share about themselves. This year, however, things have slowly started to improve.
Jana* and Nara*, their two older daughters, have been unable to attend school. The cost of education is beyond the reach of their circumstances. They have been educated at home until this last year when they received a scholarship from CLF to attend an International School. To say the whole family has been excited about this change is an understatement. When I asked Mary how the girls are doing, the proud mother pulls out report cards and assignments reflecting their high marks. Peter tells me on her first test Jana scored a 3/10, the second test 5/10, and the third, 9/10. Since that time, she consistently earns 9’s and 10’s. Jana and Nara are thriving.
I asked the girls how they like school and out came backpacks and school supplies covered in glitter. As she shows off her school treasures, Nara says she loves the science experiments and art projects. Jana says she has a lot of friends and is learning how to dance. Baby sister, age 3, pulls out her own backpack and pretends that she too has schoolwork. This is a big change from being informally educated alone in a studio apartment.
Peter and Mary tell me they have seen a dramatic increase in the girls’ confidence since they’ve started school. The girls are proud of their hard work, get to play with other kids, and are laying the base for their futures. I asked Peter why it was important to him for his girls to go to school. He simply stated, “Well, all children have the right to go to school, don’t they?” He went on to explain that their difficult circumstances were not the fault of the children. No one chooses where they are born. Children deserve to have a childhood and an opportunity for a future. He told me, “It is not just my family, but there are many refugee families that are in this same situation. They deserve to have a life. They deserve to go to school, but just because of the circumstances [they are not able to]. It has been difficult.”
Peter speaks the truth here, doesn't he? His story is the same story as many others. Many children find themselves in similar circumstances. Without education, children can grow up vulnerable to poverty and exploitation. The best way to break this cycle is to prevent it from ever happening in the first place. Scholarship programs in conjunction with mentorship from local staff would not be possible without supporters like you. Jana and Nara are building a base for their future. Let’s keep working together so that the hope that this family has received may be available to the many others who face similar challenges. Thank you for your partnership and commitment in doing this great work. Jeanene Mutchler