A Path Begins Anew
At first glance, Nong Jeab* might come across as a quiet teenager, a little rough around the edges, but given a bit of time, one quickly sees she’s not quiet at all. She observes carefully, thoughtful about the world around her, and she’s quick to make a sharp quip or jest, getting those around her to laugh easily.
When we first met Nong Jeab, about 5 years ago, she was on the verge of dropping out of school. Her parents had died of HIV; her mother had been a prostitute. With only a step-grandfather, an uncle, and a half-brother to claim as family, she had very little guidance and very few people to watch out for her needs. The resources she could draw on for support in crisis were few, and as it turns out, insufficient when one of the teachers at her school began to physically abuse her.
At this time, The SOLD Project was only just starting to get off the ground, and by the time we were able to start getting scholarship money for students, she had already left school and followed her boyfriend on to Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and we’re unsure where else. She was an example of one we could not reach in time.
We didn’t hear from her for over two years. When she came back home, she admitted that she had learned that the path of life she had chosen in the big cities was much harder than she had imagined it would be, and she had come to realize how critical education was to gaining any kind of a foothold in the world.
Her contrition was more than just talk. Of her own volition, she started going to informal schooling provided by one of the local temples. When The SOLD Project saw her commitment and demonstration of personal responsibility, we offered her an internship at SOLD, where she could be an aide to one of our managers, learn some job skills, and help take care of the Resource Center. It was at this point that the circumstances of her leaving school (namely, the abuse) started to come to light, and slowly, we’re starting to hear a little bit about where she had been and what she had gone through when she was away. It seems the woman in the city who is trying to recruit some of our other students may have been involved in trafficking her, though we don’t know this for certain. Nong Jeab still remains quiet about that time, letting us know only that it was difficult. Perhaps as our relationship of trust with her continues to develop, we hope she might open up even more.
In the meantime, when we saw that her desire to learn had not wavered, we began again to encourage her to go back to high school and to help her get a scholarship. Last month, we were able to get her back into a formal high school, starting in grade 10, with our Thailand Director, Tawee Donchai and his wife, Beth, helping to serve as guardians vis a vis anything related to her schooling. She is getting tutoring as well, as she needs help getting up to speed with the rest of her class, but all signs suggest that she is really getting a fresh start, and that she is taking advantage of every bit of it.
Sometimes a second chance is all it takes.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.