In her early 20’s, Yadfon went on a visitation trip to the mountain villages outside Chaing Mai. It takes hours by bus, followed by a motorbike ride, and then a long hike to reach some of these remote places. The people she came to know have been in Thailand for generations but are not considered Thai. They are known as the Karen people and have a language and culture of their own. Among hill tribes in Northern Thailand, Karen people are in Thailand but are not considered part of it. It was shocking for Yadfon to discover that she had neighbors who led lives so drastically different from her own.
Many Karen people are considered stateless. Imagine you have zero documentation: no social security number, id card, birth certificate- nothing to prove who you are. How would you rent or buy a home, enroll in school, travel, drive, access insurance, vote, or get a job? Without documentation, it’s as if you do not officially exist. Living in this uncertainty makes you vulnerable, which Yadfon witnessed firsthand.
Getting to know families in the village, Yadfon met girl after girl with babies on their hips. She met children, 14 years old or younger, who had children of their own. Why was this happening? The girls get married young to continue the family farming business. Yadfon had been working with CLF in Bangkok and witnessed how life-changing an education could be. CLF had a scholarship program in the city; Yadfon imagined what could happen if these Karen girls had access to education. What if CLF could expand the scholarship program to Northern Thailand?
This dream took root in Yadfon’s heart and began to grow. She spent more and more time with the Karen people, learning their culture and language. She made friends and developed relationships within the villages and with like-minded colleagues and organizations. She worked with CLF to slowly begin offering scholarships, English camps, and mentorship to children in the villages. She eventually left her home in Bangkok to relocate to Chaing Mai in order to be closer to the students and families she mentored. The program that began by providing 11 scholarships is providing 35 scholarships today.
The scholarship program, which Yadfon named "Phalang Jai" meaning “Strong Heart”, has made a measurable change. Girls in the program go on to further their education past the 8th grade. They are not getting married young and have other options for employment other than farming. Yadfon is dreaming with some of the mentees in her program about expansion. Some of her students want to become teachers and teach reading and writing to mothers in the villages through a literacy program. Creative Life Foundation is in the beginning stages of developing a path to citizenship program that will provide the life-changing documentation so needed by the Karen people. Yadfon’s pioneer program born of her dream has grown and is growing still.
On this International Women's Day, Yadfon shares her advice on how to make a dream a reality. She writes, “We all have a dream in our hearts born out of love. You just need to catch it. Hold it. Put that dream to the test. Then you make that dream into real life.”
Over the last 5 years, we have seen real outcomes through Phalang Jai. If we want to continue growing, we will need to increase our monthly supporters.
$30 a month provides a student with a scholarship for 1 year
$50 a month provides a scholarship for 1 year and contributes to the additional costs of providing students with mentorship and additional resources.
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