“Bee” is taking a different path than most girls in her village. As a nineteen-year-old who has just finished her first year of college, she has big plans for her future. She wants to be a teacher back in her remote area and earn enough money to help out her family’s subsistence farm. She occasionally takes an arduous motorbike ride from the big city and travels back home during school breaks. Back in her village, she is reminded of just how different her life could be. While she is having new experiences in the city, meeting new people, getting an education, and taking steps towards a career, her friends back home are married. Some, for a few years already, with children of their own and responsibilities around their homes and farms.
“Bee’s” family has lived in Thailand for generations, but they are not Thai. They are Karen- a minority people group who have their own customs and cultures. Many do not have documented citizenship and miss out on many of the essential rights that come with that. They live in small villages in the mountains and make a living farming. Profit margins are extremely slim. Every set of hands makes a difference. The more children you have, the more help you have at the farm. It is for this reason, their daughters marry young. They are hopeful that a potential husband will take care of their daughters; that she will have children and continue the generational cycle of subsistence farming.
“Bee” does not want to continue this cycle. She imagines a different life for herself, but it is hard to walk away from the only life you know. Pursuing an education is a risk. Your family gives up your much-needed help on the farm, not to mention the financial cost of living outside your home. What if you fail? What if you can’t get a job? What if you can not get married later in life? How can you take such unsure steps on your own?
Yadfon, our Northern Thailand Project Leader, met “Bee” in 2016. She had just finished primary school and was at the age most families choose to have their girls drop out of school and commit to domestic life. Yadfon met with “Bee” and her parents. They discussed how their daughter did not wish to be married yet. Yadfon encouraged their family’s commitment to help “Bee”. She enrolled her in secondary school through our scholarship program and meets with her regularly. “Bee” was able to complete high school and is well into her first year of college. She is still close with Yadfon.
“Bee” is not alone. Her mentor, Yadfon, walks alongside her offering support. When her parents are struggling with this counter-cultural choice, they have someone to reach out to. This is why we know holistic care is essential. So no one walks alone, and hurdles seem less daunting while they are breaking generational cycles of poverty.