DEPDC/GMS would like to share what we learned from Alinda Suya, the organization’s Director of Projects and Half Day School teacher, who was recently interviewed by our International Volunteer Coordinator, Julie M. Please read on to find out more about Ms. Suya’s life experiences and her perspective on the critical work that DEPDC/GMS does to protect the rights of vulnerable ethnic minority children and youth in Northern Thailand.
1.) Please tell us how you first became involved with DEPDC/GMS.
In 1989, when I was in eleventh grade, I met Sompop Jantraka (Founder of DEPDC/GMS) through a recommendation of my school’s guidance counselor. My family wasn’t the very poorest, but my mother had struggled to raise me and my six older siblings alone since my father passed away when I was seven. At that time, Mr. Jantraka worked to provide vocational training and viable jobs for girls and young women who lacked opportunities for mainstream education. He found me a job in a rice mill factory, where I worked to deliver and sell bags of raw rice.
The work was hard, but it was a valuable experience for me. I didn’t know anything about the world and I was painfully shy. I wouldn’t dare to speak and I didn’t like to have my picture taken or to take pictures of others. I had no idea about the commercial sex industry or any other industries that exploit children and adults in this region. Where I came from, no one had ever said that treating children this way was wrong. They talked and acted as if these situations were normal, so that’s what I believed too.
2.) How did education and vocational trainings improve your life?
Mr. Jantraka helped us to get work experience and to open our minds to different perspectives. He told us that we have to study, we have to stay in school, and we have to find jobs that are safe and healthy. I learned from him that I had the right to choose the kind of work and life that I wanted to have, that I didn’t have to follow the belief that children can be lured and sold into exploitative labor conditions.
After I graduated from secondary school, I went on to study at the Rachaphat Institute in Chiang Rai. I first attained an Associate’s degree in Business Administration and then I completed a Bachelor’s degree in Human Resources Management. This formal education was important for me, but more critical was the life experience I gained from the “outside classroom.” I realized that it is quite challenging to work with and to manage people, and so I learned much more from my direct work experience than I did from abstract classroom study.
3.) What has it meant to you to be an administrator at DEPDC/GMS and a teacher at the Half Day School?
I’ve seen and learned a lot throughout the years of my work here. What I’ve enjoyed the most is direct contact with the children we help and to see the successful results of our work for the children’s lives. The role of a DEPDC/GMS administrator is somewhat removed from the work of the teachers, staff, and children, and this aspect is something I haven’t always liked. I like most to teach and to conduct activities and workshops that I know are valuable to the children’s lives.
It is critical for the Half Day School (HDS) students and for all the children at DEPDC/GMS to develop the skills not only in Thai language, math, and other academic subjects, but the life skills necessary to recognize dangerous situations and to make the right choices about work, relationships, and self-care. I feel the most satisfaction with my work to observe the maturity and personal development of our students over the years they are with us and to know that our programs and activities greatly increase their chances of success in the future.
I wish all people in Thai society and around the world would see children as their equal, no matter where they come from. If everyone believed that children should have the opportunity to go to school and to get a decent job, the future of the world would be so much better. If children don’t have adequate opportunities from the beginning, there are big problems later on, not only for those disadvantaged children but for society as a whole. I want that people can see what my eyes have been opened to, to see the whole picture, and to see all the ways that DEPDC/GMS has been working to improve the lives of children.
4.) What do you wish for Half Day School students to learn and to be able to do after they graduate?
Compared to students in mainstream schools, the Half Day School (HDS) children learn and know more about the issues which have an impact on their environment and their everyday lives. We teach them about the realities of human trafficking, child labor exploitation, and family problems, and about children’s rights and safe sex practices. Through frequent and intensive workshops, the HDS children learn about themselves and their family, and they can analyze precarious situations insightfully. They learn all of these skills, which are practical and essential in their daily lives, but each individual has to make the right choice for herself and himself. These children, like others who are socio-politically marginalized in this region, are faced with these difficult choices every day.
DEPDC/GMS is working very hard to register the Half Day School as an alternative school that can grant sixth grade graduate certificates on par with government registered non-formal education centers. Many HDS graduates can already go on to further education, complete the 9th grade or higher, and go to work in decent, safe jobs. We hope that in the near future all HDS graduates will be able to attain this official certification, which will increase their opportunities for continued education and future job prospects.
The International Department would like to introduce Genevieve, who joined our organization in February. Genevieve is an international affairs and political science student from the United States and has an interest in applying her non-profit and teaching experiences to help develop DEPDC/GMS in a way which supports our mission statement and vision. Genevieve brings with her the enthusiasm for youth development and human rights and wishes to contribute to several aspects of the organization such as grant writing, teaching English, fundraising, among others. Over the last four weeks, Genevieve has started an after school yoga program, worked on fundraising, and has contributed to social media. She is elated to have the opportunity to support the DEPDC/GMS mission.
My academic career has been characterized by a fascination with human rights and social justice issues. Throughout my studies I have explored issues of human trafficking and exploitation as well as methods of prevention. As a student of Northeastern University I have had the privilege to develop skills in education, research, and writing through my classes as well as the University’s cooperative education program. Through the coop program, I had previously worked in an education and outreach position at a small San Francisco based public health NGO as well as a public school in Massachusetts. Through these experiences, I have become increasingly engaged in issues stemming from income disparities and global inequities. For my final coop, I was given the option to apply to volunteer at DEPDC/GMS and was immediately intrigued.
As soon as I began researching DEPDC/GMS, I knew that it was a good fit for my interests and experience. After years of engaging in “arm-chair” speculation, I was excited by the prospect of volunteering at an organization that has played a significant role in preventing sex-trafficking and other forms of exploitative labor. The staff and directors at DEPDC/GMS are clearly very passionate and very knowledgeable about these issues. I agree strongly with the emphasis that DEPDC/GMS places on prevention and education. Throughout my own work, volunteer, and personal experiences, I have seen first hand the transformative power of education.
I am very excited to have the opportunity to contribute to the mission of DEPDC/GMS and learn from the collective knowledge of the organization. I love working with the students and I am truly enjoying my experience here thus far. I feel that working in the field to support such an effective organization is truly a life-altering experience.
Graduation day at the Half Day School in Mae Sai is a celebration of our students’ achievements and marks the beginning of a new journey for many of them. Since 1989, DEPDC/GMS has focused on prevention against human trafficking by providing free education to children at-risk of being trafficked or children whose families cannot afford school fees. For all the teachers and volunteers at the Half Day School (HDS), it means a lot to see these students complete 7 years education with us. They now have the necessary resources to become more independent and to stay safe in the future.
DEPDC/GMS wants to congratulate our fairly small but incredibly intelligent class of 2014! The school year ended last Friday for all students, and yesterday we were proud to honour nine graduates from our Half Day School (HDS) program. The graduates were very happy to complete their education at the Half Day School, though they also felt a little sad to leave their friends.
This year for graduation day, parents of all the G6 class students were invited to spend the morning celebrating their children’s success. Some of the other HDS students performed traditional dances for the graduating students, while gifts and snacks were distributed among all the children who were cheering for their peers.
The graduation ceremony took place in the main hall, where the stage had been decorated with balloons and festive banners. A speech was given by some of the HDS teachers to congratulate and encourage all students who worked hard at school this past year. After many kind words, all HDS teachers and volunteers as well as the parents came up on stage and sat in a circle around the students. Teachers and parents tied up a bracelet around each student’s wrist while congratulating them and wishing them the best of luck in the future.
Our G6 students were then covered in small gifts, such as necklaces, sweets, flowers, snacks, drawings, cards… And everyone hugged each other as we said good bye. We are proud of all of our students and recent graduates at the Half Day School, and we cannot wait for the return of our students in May! From all of the staff and volunteers at DEPDC/GMS in Mae Sai, we wish the best of luck to our graduating class of 2014 – “chok dii na kha!”
Yesterday, our newest International Volunteer, Genevieve, introduced the children to their first yoga class at our Half Day School (HDS) in Mae Sai! The aim of yoga for children is the stimulation of their physical, mental, and emotional abilities.
Genevieve, who recently arrived from the United States, has been doing yoga for years and plans to become certified as a yoga instructor through a professional course in Bali, Indonesia, after her volunteer commitment with DEPDC in Mae Sai. She says, “Yoga has many physical and mental benefits. Regular practice increases flexibility, strength, and coordination. It also helps improve concentration, provides relaxation, and, most importantly, it’s a lot of fun. I know I have benefited from all of these since integrating yoga practice into my life. I am hoping that the students at the centre will enjoy all of these benefits as well.”
Genevieve’s class adapted the traditional yoga postures and routines so that our students could do them safely and have fun! It was a great exercise for the children to practise physical self-control. It was also a good opportunity for them to review their English vocabulary as Genevieve called out the different yoga posture names, such as ‘elephant’, ‘happy baby’ and ‘mountain,’ etc.
The class lasted for 45 minutes and ended with relaxation, which helped the children to calm down, gather their thoughts, and rest from the exercise they had just done. It is fair to say that our first yoga class was a success! The students left the main hall feeling happy and had a large (relaxed!) smile on their face. We heard a lot of ‘sanuk maak!’ (‘very fun!’), so DEPDC is planning to have more yoga classes in the coming weeks.
The last Friday of January was a big success for students and staff at the Mae Sai centre. Everyone was able to participate in a DEPDC/GMS tradition – Annual Sports Day! It is an event that happens once a year, and it is a day where the HDS students are broken up into teams and are given the chance to partake in some friendly competition.
This year’s Sports Day included the usual activities such as chair ball and relay races, as well as some unconventional ones, like a race to put on makeup blindfolded (such a laugh!). Students had a great time playing outdoors and cheering for each other. On this occasion, children learned actively about self-esteem, teamwork and the importance of sports in life and staying healthy. They also got to play fun games in the sun all day!
The day began with a ceremony which included the raising of the Thai and royal flags and the flags of the different teams partaking in the activities. This year we had three competing teams (Red, Blue and White, the colours of the Thai flag!). DEPDC/GMS staff and volunteers were allocated a team as well. There was a speech and kind words from Khun Alinda Suya, the director of HDS, to inform and encourage the students about Sports Day.
After that, the games started and all the students cheered on their classmates as they ran, hopped, and occasionally ate their way across the finish line. Games included relay races, superman relay races (the students put on a few clothing items and a cape), three-legged races and more. Snacks were distributed to all the participants after each event and again at the closing ceremony.
Students prepared cheers ahead of time and shouted them all day to support their team mates. Prizes were awarded to students throughout the day, and each participant was recognized and cheered for his or her efforts. At the end of the day, we recognised our winning team, had closing ceremonies, and sent the kids off happy from their day’s exertions and fun. Sports day was full of energy, enthusiasm and cohesive efforts. Overall, it was a very fun day for all of us here, and it is fair to say that the students had a fantastic day!
Thailand celebrates Wan Dek, or Children’s Day (literally “day children” in Thai), on the second Saturday of January every year. This holiday is widely celebrated throughout Thailand, with many activities for children to have fun. On Friday, January 10th 2014, we celebrated Children’s Day at the DEPDC centre in Mae Sai. The day included many fun games, great performances by the students, and gifts for everyone!
Here at our centre in Mae Sai, children from our Half Day School and other surrounding villages came together to celebrate this special day with games, toys, and a lot of food! Everyone brought a small present in the morning, and each of these was numbered for a gift exchange ceremony later in the afternoon.
Monks, soldiers, and other visitors also participated throughout the day and offered treats and prizes to the students. At lunch time, everyone gathered around the main hall to eat together and share fruits and drinks. Students played all sorts of games, such as darts, relay races, 3-legged races, and ball games. They also drew numbers in order to win prizes, and ate lots of snacks and sweets.
All of us here at DEPDC had a great time, especially our students, as you can see in the pictures! From all of us here in Mae Sai, we wish all children across the world a Happy Children’s Day. We hope that your days are filled with as much joy and laughter as ours!
Motto for Children’s Day 2014: “Be good and grateful, know your duty, have discipline, and help build the nation”
The International Department would like to introduce Aaron, who joined our organization in November and has shown a keen interest in applying his experiences to help develop DEPDC/GMS in a way which supports our mission statement and vision. Aaron brings with him the enthusiasm to work in several aspects of the organization such as grant writing, research and updating social media, among others. Over the last four weeks, Aaron has taken over the ‘Child Voice Radio’ show; an essential platform for disseminating information about human rights, health and the rest of the work undertaken here at DEPDC/GMS. He is also currently investigating how to generate podcasts of the show in order to reach a wider, global audience.
“My interest in human trafficking started during my role as a special constable in the Thames Valley Police force. I was always surrounded by vulnerable individuals but knew that I wouldn’t be able to identify a trafficked person if I had encountered one. So I took a few of the e-learning courses provided by the department and became familiar with the process in which the trade is conducted, those who are perpetrating the criminal act, the identification of potential victims and methods of prevention.
“I continued researching the topic in my spare time to include how criminal organizations were exploiting every possible avenue to traffic individuals. More surprisingly, to me at least, was how much of a growing health issue human trafficking has become. Having spent the last four years both studying and practicing Applied Biomedical Science; I thought that a hospital laboratory was about as far removed from the world of human trafficking as possible. I was wrong. Health care professionals are on the front line in the identification of potential victims and far too many trafficked individuals fall through the cracks in clinics worldwide.
“Apart from the identification of potential victims; health care professionals need to regard the trafficking of humans as a global health issue in respect to disease epidemiology. Communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Hepatitis, to name a few, are endemic among trafficked persons, especially those involved in sex trafficking. Individuals who go unmonitored and untreated not only aid in the proliferation of these diseases but, a potential co-infection, for example with two different strains of HIV, provides a situation in which the virus can mutate. These issues therefore directly increase the health risk to the general public, but don’t even begin to cover the social impact of non-communicable disease, psychological distress or the escalation of organ harvesting.
“With so many aspects of my life being involved with potential cases of human trafficking, I figured it was time to have more direct involvement and was determined to volunteer with DEPDC/GMS. How better to tackle any problem than by working on the ground with those at risk, helping to prevent young individuals from becoming lost in the cycle, and even the possibility to help expand the work already undertaken here in Mae Sai and the other locations in which DEPDC/GMS operates.”