When we first met a poor ten-year-old girl named Oraya, we didn’t know she was exceptional. She didn’t appear much different from the countless bedraggled street kids we meet every day. Oraya came from a broken home, and ended up in the care of an Aunt, a street food vendor, who could not afford to keep her niece in school.
Oraya wanted nothing more than the chance to go to school, make friends, and play with other kids her age.
There’s nothing unusual about poor kids wanting to go to school. Pretty much all of them do.
We enrolled Oraya in our education sponsorship program so she could complete first grade, and hoped that, with tutoring and outreach at Mercy Centre, she would stay in school, maybe even thrive.
And…wow! Thrive, she did.
Last week, Oraya graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree at Mahidol University with a composite 3.9 grade point average. Double wow!!
She already has a job, using her degree in biology, at the Elephant World Sanctuary in Kanjanaburi Province.
Starting in First Grade, Supattra, pictured above, received our financial support to stay in school.
Her parents, who are subsistence farmers from the rural Northeast, sent Supattra to live with her older sister in Bangkok when she was just six years old. In the city, they hoped, Supattra would at least have enough to eat.
Her sister came to us asking for financial help in sending Supattra to school. Of course we said “yes.”
Supattra proved to be a bright First Grade student. And Second Grade student. Third Grade. Fourth…and beyond. As she progressed in her education, she always got As. Even in high school and university, when she worked 20-plus hours every week to send money back home to her parents and younger siblings, she never stumbled.
At commencement ceremonies last week Supattra received her university diploma, finishing her studies with an astonishing 3.93 grade point average from Rattana Bundit University of Business Administration and Accountancy. Triple wow!!!
Supattra and Oraya’s stories are not so different from that of a girl named Ratchanok.
Ratchanok’s dad earned less than the minimum wage as a part-time house painter while her mom was in poor health and couldn’t work. Sending their daughter to school was far beyond their means.
We supported Ratchanok from First Grade onward for the next sixteen years. Last week she graduated (GPA just under 3.0) with a Bachelor of Arts degree at Pranakorn Ratjabhat University of Management Science.
Yada Salangam, Patipan Dee-Eang, and Supada Udom
In 2005, we began sponsoring the education of the poorest children whose villages and family livelihoods were devastated by the Tsunami. Three of these children, Yada, Patipan, and Supada, also graduated last week – all with grade point averages above 3.0 – from Pranakaorn Ratjabhat University with degrees specializing in tourism. And all three already have jobs back home in the hotel and tourism industry.
More Fabulous Success Stories:
We currently support the education of 550 poor children in Bangkok. Their parents, at least most of them, didn’t go to school beyond a few years. But they have dreams for their children.
Some of our sponsorship kids are the first in their families ever to learn to read and write; others, the first to finish Primary School or Secondary School or earn vocational college degrees. The children pictured in their caps and gowns above are, without exception, the first in their families to earn university degrees.
University accolades are meaningful (and we feel incredibly proud of our highest achieving students), but we also feel equal or even greater pride in the accomplishments of our own children and students whose achievements may seem far less obvious.
At our Janusz Korczak School, we have migrant Cambodian children, lacking national identity cards, who excel in every subject. At the same school, we enroll slow learning native Thais who have gained confidence in their reading skills and now spend their spare time devouring books. We also teach former street children – children who missed out in an early education – who are earning high school equivalency degrees. When they first entered our classrooms, these teenagers could barely read or write.
And in our construction camp schools, dozens of kids – the children of itinerant low-skill laborers, mostly Cambodians, Burmese, and Lao – are discovering a first-time love of learning, a love that will last a lifetime. And once they’ve gone to school – and caught the “bug” that keeps them wanting to go back to school – there’s no telling where they’ll end up.
I’ve said it so many times in the past forty years, it’s almost like a mantra: GOING TO SCHOOL IS THE ONE AND ONLY CHANCE THAT POOR KIDS EVER GET.