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.