This is the second instalment of our series “Where are they now?” about former daughters of the Daughters Education Programme (DEP).
Pim is a young woman of Akha ethnicity, one of the hill tribes living in Myanmar, China, Laos and Thailand. Like many other non-Thai citizens in the Golden Triangle region, Pim does not have her birth certificate. Instead, her date of birth was set when she received an ID card in Thailand. Her white ID card grants her a 10-year residence permit with the option to be renewed, but Pim is ineligible of obtaining Thai citizenship and requires a travel permit each time she likes to visit places in Thailand other than her home. Next to limited freedom of movement, she also has no access to affordable healthcare under the national healthcare programme.
Pim’s parents live in Myanmar with several of her eight siblings. She does not know their exact whereabouts and it has been 1½ years since she first saw them again. Pim was only 7 years old when she had to leave home to live with her aunt to take care of two younger children. She was also responsible for taking care of her aunt’s pigs as well as her cows whom she had to lead into the woods all on her own. One year later, this aunt brought her to an uncle in Tachileik whom Pim had never seen before and who turned out to be no relative of hers. Here, she also had to work, taking care of pigs and planting rice. Her aunt received money in return for leaving Pim with this man and kept it to herself rather than giving it to Pim’s parents. After five years, her real uncle took her in to live with him and his wife in Mae Fah Luang in Thailand.
Pim entered the Daughters Education Programme at DEPDC/GMS and stayed there for 2½ years. She lived on the 3rd floor of the main building together with 18 other girls; three boys in the programme at the time were living in separate rooms downstairs. She attended school in Pamued, Mae Sai, and completed “Matayom 1, 2 and 3” (equivalent to 7th, 8th and 9th grade). At DEPDC/GMS, she received vocational training, such as arts and crafts, agriculture, computer skills, and English language. There were also many activities offered that Pim enjoyed, like nature hikes and excursions, but most importantly for Pim, DEPDC/GMS also facilitated her to be reunited with her mother who stayed with her for one week.
DEP children take responsibility to clean part of the premises, and they also cook their own meals and wash their own clothes. Eventually, Pim became the head of the DEP children, managing their activities and making sure they fulfilled their duties. Pim sometimes helped out at a local food stall and saved her earnings to call her aunt and uncle in Mae Fah Luang, because she couldn’t visit them often due to her responsibilities at DEPDC/GMS.
Pim still stays in touch with some of the DEP girls and sometimes visits the younger ones at the centre. The thing she enjoyed most during her time at DEPDC/GMS was the community of children and spending time with the volunteers. The most difficult time was her initial arrival at the centre, settling in and getting used to the new surroundings.
When Pim graduated from school, it was difficult for her to decide where to move on to. She would have liked to attend a private college in Chiang Rai but it proved too expensive. DEPDC/GMS offered her a placement for vocational trainings in Lamphun and Pan, but they both did not match her interests and were also problematic due to her travel restrictions.
Pim was then approached by Graziella Ramponi, a former volunteer at DEPDC/GMS, who asked her if she would like to work at Baan Doi, Home and Healing Center for Children. Since Pim likes to work with children and aspires to become a social worker, she gladly accepted and she also convinced Sa, another Akha girl from DEP, to join her. They are both very happy to work and live at Baan Doi. As Pim explained, at Baan Doi they think and work like adults, but sometimes they can also play like children. Pim and Sa share a room and they always get along perfectly.
In the future, Pim wants to continue to work with children, at Baan Doi or elsewhere. She said that even if she had her own family, she would still want to work with children. Pim has taken advantage of the education and opportunities available at DEPDC/GMS and through her own initiative she has started a career of her own choice that enables her to pass forward the very opportunities that empowered her.