Her parents picked recyclable trash for a living, mostly plastic bottles and newspapers, near their shack in the slum by Bangkok’s port.
Wannit, age 5, tagged along, helping her parents as best she could.
But five-year-olds tend to stray, and Wannit would often sneak away from her parents to peak inside a new slum kindergarten. – the biggest shack she had ever seen, filled with children her own age singing, dancing, drawing, counting, and learning their Thai abc’s.
She tried to be secretive and discreet as best as she could, so nobody would catch her spying, not her parents or the teachers or any of the students who, she feared, might laugh at her.
A few times, she was seen by the teachers, but slipped away quickly. Then, one day while peaking in, she felt a tap on her shoulder and turned around. It was Sister Maria.
Wannit wanted to run away.
“What’s your name, child?”
“Nong Wannit, would you like to go to school?” Sister Maria asked.
That was the moment Kru Wannit’s destiny was set in motion.
Sister Maria and Fr. Joe visited Wannit’s parents in their shack to assess the family situation and formally ask the parents if their daughter could attend our kindergarten. Wannit’s parents, illiterate and destitute, joyfully agreed. Sister Maria also arranged that dry food and sacks of rice be given to the family every month as there was no food in the shack and no child can learn on an empty stomach. The one-baht-per-day school fee was also waived.
Wannit’s joy was beyond measure. She says, on the first day of class she was the happiest child in the whole world. And two years later, still overjoyed, she became a member of the first graduating class at our Lock 6 Mercy Preschool. That was in 1974.
We continued sponsoring Wannit’s education through primary and secondary school; and at age sixteen she began interning as a teacher at one of our kindergartens while taking night classes to complete her high school diploma.
Today Kru Wannit is a teacher at our Yenakart Preschool. She has been teaching in our kindergartens for 28 years and has no plans to retire soon.
That’s a photo of young Kru Wannit above, which was sent to us a few weeks back from our first foreign volunteer teacher, Ms. Suzanne Leonard. Kru Wannit was delighted when we presented the photo to her, telling us she has no photos of herself as a child.
We asked her how many slum kids she has taught to read and write and count.
“Over a thousand,” she said.
Photos above. Kru Wannit as a kindergarten student - photo by Suzanne Leonard 1974. Photos below: Kru Wannit with her kindergarten students - photo by Ian Taylor, 2012. Class photo by Suzanne Leonard, Lock 6 Kindergarten, 1974.