J was one of the first students connected to the foundation. Founders Amy & Tim met 7-year old J whose siblings, just a year or two older than him, were selling flowers late into the night in Bangkok’s red light district. Nearly a decade later, you can find J commuting to school to one of the city’s best international schools. It’s a trajectory one would not have expected considering he came from an undocumented immigrant family. It’s been an uphill and winding journey, but one that has been supported by the relational scholarship, mentorship, and advocacy of Creative Life Foundation.
I asked J if he remembered how he got connected to CLF in the first place. He shared, “Tim and Amy came and knocked on my door and were like, hey do you want to come learn or not? It’s good for your life”. J’s summary of the memory made Tim, who was joining our zoom interview, laugh at the characterization. Tim shares,
My first memory of meeting J is during the days we would go and round up the kids who sold flowers at night to come to school from 3:00 - 5:00. I would head over to their single-room apartments knocking on their doors, waking the kids up as whole families slept from working the night before. I would always see J outside on his own playing with the other children who lived in the neighborhood.
It was after we registered CLF, and when Amy and I made the commitment to homeschool our girls, that the parents and CLF entered into an agreement; we would educate their children and they would stop the children from selling flowers for a weekly stipend that covered the loss of the kids no longer earning an income for their family.
J was always a curious student who liked to understand how things worked. J would love to take things apart or try to fix broken toys that we would receive as donations
One time he dug out a broken train set. He asked me for new batteries; he was convinced that was the problem with the train set. When the batteries didn't work, he asked me for a screwdriver. I had no idea what he was doing, but I let him use one. Shortly after, I saw J with a big smile and a train making its way around the tracks he had set up. That weekend I went to the store and put together a tool box for him.
J did come learn and it has indeed been “good for his life”. J comes from a family that cannot read or write in their native Cambodian language, let alone in Thai-the language of work and life in their adopted home. J remembers it was easy for him to become literate in Thai through the play based learning and games at the foundation’s home school. Thai was easy, but English and math were very challenging. I asked him if he ever wanted to give up. He says yes, but he didn’t because of Amy and Tim. J recollects Amy telling him, “It’s okay to cry, but try to think about your future and your life- how are you going to be?” This development of grit is something J carries with him still at his international school.
The commute alone to school is a feat -a walk, bus, motorbike ride to classes in Bangkok’s traffic and muggy weather. He walked into his first day of classes very nervous about his English abilities. He found it exhausting and wanted to leave early. He could not understand what his teachers or classmates were saying. He kept at it. The full English immersion was painful, but he handled it with determination. I used to be one of J's regular tutors. It’s been a year since we have spoken and I was blown away by his improvement. He is fluent, confident, and able to handle complex ideas in his third language. He learned grit as a child in the foundation’s homeschool and he is supported through difficulties by his mentors and tutors that still work with him after school.
Creative Life’s mission statement says,
We connect people to critical resources that create a path to freedom and prevents human trafficking.
CLF does this work through a 3 pronged approach: (1) access to education, (2) providing a path to citizenship, and (3) through holistic care.
How did J, a kid whos' trajectory was to sell flowers in the red light district like his older siblings , end up in one of the city's best schools? Because of CLF’s 3 pronged approach. J was illiterate and had no formal education but had access to CLF’s homeschool. When he outgrew the little school, his mentors advocated for him to have a scholarship at an elite school. After he received the scholarship, the foundation learned he could not keep his spot if he did not have any legal documentation. Our staff jumped through bureaucratic hoops and raised funds to help their family finally have ID cards, passports, and legal status in Thailand. J does not just have a scholarship from some faceless non profit. He describes CLF as his family. He has shared countless meals and holidays with us. He meets with a mentor who walks with him through both the academic and personal challenges of being in an international school. He has been able to play on a soccer team and other extracurriculars. His care is holistic.
I asked J what impact CLF has had on him. How is his life different because of the foundation? He was quiet for a while and had trouble putting it into words. He proudly said, “I can do things for myself. I can read. I can do almost anything on my own”. J watched his parents struggle with this. He saw and experienced the barriers and limitations his parents went through because of not having an education or the ability to read or write. For J to say this is really significant.
It’s our mission to help people be on a path to freedom. J can do almost anything on his own. A path to freedom, for sure.