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A Moment that Mattered

January 5, 2011

From the Field

Last month, friends of SOLD hosted a big Christmas party for the kids on the lawn of the Resource Center.  They set up a tent with lots of chairs, a makeshift stage, and even a Christmas tree that was quickly climbed by one of the resident Resource Center kittens.  Nearly all the kids came; their parents tagged along too, probably more out of sheer curiosity at the foreigners’ strange traditions than anything.  They cooked a traditional Thai dish that set our mouths on fire and even had some fellow Thais choking on the spiciness.  Then they hung in the back of the crowd and watched the festivities unfold.

It’s no secret that a lot of Thai people, especially men, drink alcohol.  Sometimes a lot.  It’s not unusual to hear stories of girls in the Red Light Districts (or anywhere, really) that have come from homes with a parent (or both) who are alcoholics, maybe even abusive. We heard recently that one of the girls who comes to the Resource Center often has a father who is infamous in the village for his drinking.  We’ve never seen him drunk or violent; in fact, he works around the Center often and is always kind and quiet. It’s entirely hearsay, though it seems to simply be common knowledge in the village.  So, who knows?

At the Christmas party, his youngest daughter–the smallest, sweetest little girl you can imagine–was performing a traditional Thai dance on our makeshift stage.  She and her friends were wearing pink costumes and elaborate make-up, and they spent the entire night floating a bit, the way young girls do when they know they are dressed up and everyone tells them how pretty they are.  She concentrated so hard on the moves, weaving her scarf in and out of her fingers with a fluid motion.  As she shuffled and swirled a half-step behind her older friends, I looked to the back of the room where the parents were watching.

There was her father, standing with his wife.  His hand was on her back for the briefest moment–a rare public display of affection–and they were staring at the stage, hardly blinking.  The wife was bearing a proud smile, the father just the slightest hint of a grin. I thought nothing else in the world would have grabbed his attention in that moment, but, suddenly, he moved away and out of my line of sight.  Later, I saw that he had sneaked to the front of the crowd and, in a move that is apparently universal, knelt in front of the stage with his camera and snapped a million photos.

For the last five months, we have seen many moments that have taught us about this people, this culture, this country.  The nature of our work lends itself so often to hearing the negative side of these things.  Even our prevention strategy is not a dramatic one that makes the headlines but it works.  One by one, we are educating at-risk children and giving them hope for a better future.  At the Christmas party, watching a moment between a father and daughter that seemed to rise above all the risk factors and rumors, I saw a glimpse at the significance of what The SOLD Project is doing here in a little village outside of Chiang Rai.  And I was immensely grateful to be a part of it.

–Heather

Heather and Michael Colletto, SOLD’s Communication Directors, recently moved back to the U.S. after living in SOLD’s Resource Center for six months.  Michael will continue working for SOLD from the States full-time, while Heather works part-time and writes this blog.  She just wrote a paragraph about herself in the third person.

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