Servantworks Thailand currently assists 8 students in public universities and one in Bible college. A gift of $300 covers the full-time tuition cost of one student for one term.
Eleven years old, illiterate, and wearied from dodging the punches of drug-dealing parents, he was on the fast track toward dropping out of school. He now finds refuge within the walls of Breakthrough. Here he finds peace, a meal, opportunities to learn and positive distractions from the chaos of home. Breakthrough and the soccer field are his safe places, and they are paving his path toward literacy and hope.
He has grown up as the village “fat kid”; his identity scarred by the unwittingly harsh labels from family, neighbors and teachers. He is often excluded from activities, if not for his size then for his timidity and perceived lack of intelligence. Soccer has given him a chance to be accepted, included and expected to work as hard as everyone else. He’s getting healthy, learning to read and experiencing the joy of belonging to a community.
Raised by his hard-working grandmother, he’s got the grit and independence of a street kid. He first came through the door more than three years ago with a gaping wound on his knee, still full of gravel and dirt after several days of inattention. I’ll never forget him gritting his teeth as I scrubbed, cleaned and bandaged it. Nor will I forget his shy gratitude making its way through his light-up-the-world grin. He’s a head shorter than his soccer teammates and about half the size of most of his opponents, but his smiling determination is his secret weapon. He can out-run, out-work and out-grin anyone he’s up against. And, boy, can he work miracles with a soccer ball.
Having been berated for unruly behavior most of his childhood by frustrated parents, teachers and his community, he dropped out of school partway through seventh grade. But he knew deep down that his small stature wouldn’t serve him well in a life of construction. Given a second chance at school in a new environment with Breakthrough, it wasn’t long before his musical, linguistic and athletic genius became apparent. Unruly behavior (read: boredom) is being replaced by daily household responsibilities, music and soccer. As the soccer team’s captain and leading scorer, he is discovering his own personal genius.
These are just snapshots – small windows into the faces of the boys that bring life, joy and hope to the Breakthrough community. And they are quickly becoming the pride of the village.
Parents, guardians and community leaders are now recognizing the potential of their young boys. Perhaps, after all, they’re not destined to the same fate as their siblings and predecessors. Perhaps they can stay in school and get an education. Perhaps they can resist the societal pressures of drugs and alcohol.
Perhaps they can be strong fathers and community leaders. And perhaps they can break the cycles of poverty and brokenness that mar these beautiful landscapes of Isaan.
Breakthrough recognizes the need to invest in young men just as much as young women in breaking cycles of poverty, brokenness and exploitation in Thai society.
We are grateful for the leadership of Breakthrough staff Anusorn (“Ad”) Kotchakreng in investing in the potential of these boys. For his hours spent teaching and mentoring them both on and off the soccer field, and for the seeds of life and hope he is sowing into this village.
Want to invest??
If you’d like to make a one-time or recurring donation to Breakthrough’s education and mentorship programs for village youth, click here and select “Breakthrough Village Outreach.”
In an effort to generate some local income and give the teenagers an opportunity to invest in their long-term education, the Breakthrough team decided to tackle a new agriculture endeavor: sugarcane.
After a messy process of planting, fertilizing, irrigating and weeding by a group of novice agriculturalists (Breakthrough staff and teens) and with a good deal of coaching and help from village neighbors, the first crop was a success.
The initial project investment (land preparation, sugarcane stock, labor, etc) was made through local contributions, allowing the income from the sugarcane harvest to remain in the community. A portion of the gross income was retained for investment in the second year crop and the remainder was distributed in the form of dividends to residential teens (deposited directly in their college savings accounts). The teens were required to complete a “record book” project including working out the accounting of the sugarcane project and reflecting on the year’s worth of labor before receiving the dividend. It was also decided by the community/teens that a contribution would be made to the local church to purchase a keyboard for the community.
Dividends from this project should continue to grow in future years and will be a significant source of college savings for residential teens – generated through their own labor.
During the end-of-term reflections, a majority of the teens remarked that the sugarcane project was a highlight of their year. Despite the groans and complaints, and the blood, sweat and tears expended over the hot fields, they felt a sense of accomplishment in the project and reflected that they were proud to see the fruit of their labor.
In the words of 17-year-old Muyong, “It was my favorite because is was tough, but we did it. And I know now that nothing is impossible.”
Part of the joy of living in rural Thailand is having an immediate connection to the source of our food. The rice we eat for every meal has far more meaning and value when we invest our own sweat (and prayers!) into its production.
The Breakthrough teens and others in the community started planting jasmine rice and sticky rice for consumption beginning in 2012. The opportunity was made possible through the generosity of Jub (co-founder and co-director of Breakthrough) and her family who allowed us to use a plot of their land at no cost.
November 2013 marked the second harvest since Breakthrough began, with teens, staff and village neighbors busting out hats, gloves and sickles to harvest the rice by hand in the hot fields.
Not only has the rice project reduced Breakthrough’s food costs considerably, it has provided countless valuable lessons to the teens (and staff as well!) Patience, hard work, faith (praying for rain!) and sufficiency living… these are only a few.
Several of the teens have also reflected that they now understand how hard their grandparents and/or parents had to work to send them to school, helping them to value their education even more. As a farm girl that learned those hard lessons growing up in Idaho, it was a treasure to see the girls grow and change in their attitudes toward the value of hard work and sacrifice.
Young Isaan moms and dads often don’t have the means to stay in their home villages and raise their children. Facing financial pressure and a lack of economic options in the village, they resort to leaving their young ones with family members and migrating to urban centers to find adequate employment, sending money back home to support their family and their young ones.
Through a partnership with Step Ahead Integrated Community Development, the Breakthrough community is beginning to explore ways to create new income opportunities for individuals and families in the community. Our hope is that these locally-driven income opportunities will enable individuals with young children to remain in the village rather than migrate to urban centers in search of employment.
The goal of the Step Ahead partnership is to train and ultimately employ a number of individuals in the community to create leather purses, handbags and other items which can be sold locally and internationally. Funds generated from these sales return to employ more workers or support additional economic development projects in the community. In addition, we are taking advantage of opportunities to train community members with usable skills that can be applied in the community.
The first week-long training program took place in January, as men and women of all ages joined to learn the prized skill of weaving sticky rice baskets — an item well-used and well-loved by Isaan communities. These weaving skills can be applied further to handbags and other items, or can be used by individuals to continue weaving baskets for personal use or sale locally.
Though each personal story of the fourteen trainees is important, there were two young women that brought particularly special stories to the community. One young woman returned from Bangkok for the training, holding on to the hope that she might be able to return to the village to care for her aging grandparents while still being able to generate some income for her family. The second young woman, eight months pregnant, is hoping to find employment that can keep her with her young one.
Grateful for the birth of this new hope, and a small but significant breakthrough in Isaan economic development.
We are excited to share the stories of the breakthroughs happening in and through our community. We hope these stories of hope will inspire and encourage you to share your stories as well.