Friday, 9 May 2014

Dreaming beyond the rainbow

‘Every child has the right to a good education. Every child has the right to an education that develops his or her personality, talents and abilities to their fullest; an education that prepares him or her for an active adult life; an education that fosters respect for his or her own family, cultural identity, language, country, and the natural environment; and an education in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance and equality.’ (The United Nations Convention on the rights of the child, simplified version: article 28 and 29).

 According to the United Nations this is something that should be the right of every child – until they are 18 years old. However, we have met many children that have been denied that right for various reasons. As we have gotten to know the Burmese children that live in our area in Thailand, we have learned so much about the plight that they face. Most never study beyond 6th Grade. Once they are not in school, they usually begin working in construction. Six years ago, we began to fight for the right to an education for 2 young ladies – we fought for them, not only for them, but for their entire community. They were to be the first, but certainly not the last. They were to be the example of what every child in their community should have the right to.

Wanlee and Tuway, six years ago had reached the end of their 6th grade year at school. They confided in us that they desired to attend high school. Nobody in their entire community had ever attended high school. Did they have the right to attend school as Burmese migrants in Thailand? Although it is not without challenges, it is possible.  The right to an education was being withheld not by the Thai government, but rather by their own community. It was their own family - who did not understand the desires that these girls had to continue their education. It was their own parents who because of the extreme poverty that they were faced with would rather have had their daughters find a job at the age of 12, than continue their education. To some in the developed world, this story may seem unreal. However, Wanlee and Tuway’s story was not unique. In fact in the developing world, it is an all too common story of how extreme poverty takes away your right to choose your own future – all when you are only 12 years old.

What is unique about Wanlee and Tuway is their desire and exceptional courage to fight for their dreams. When they approached their parents with us to ask if they would be allowed to attend high school, we knew that it was the beginning of a difficult journey for them. Amazingly, their parents agreed to allow them to begin 7th grade – and each year they agreed to allow them to continue on. There were times when there were threats of sending them back to work in Myanmar. We stood strong with them and cried many tears with them each time that their parents threatened to not allow them to continue what they had started.

In February 2014, Wanlee and Tuway graduated from high school. We are so proud of them and feel privileged to have walked this journey with them so far. However, the journey is not yet done. From the start, we have encouraged them to dream bigger. Last week, they left Ratchaburi to attend university in Bangkok. What seemed like a dream that was way beyond the rainbow for two young girls six years ago is finally becoming a reality. There is much work ahead and there are many struggles still to come – but Wanlee and Tuway have already beaten the odds in their own community. When Wanlee and Tuway were 12 years old, they dreamed dreams of having the right to an education. We hope that they will be the future advocates for the next generation. That when the time comes, they will stand up and speak for those who do not yet have a voice in their community.

Wanlee and Tuway would not be where they are today had it not been for the people that have encouraged, prayed for and helped to support them over the years. If you are one of those people – thank you for the part that you have played. To some, it may appear that two lives have been changed –  but we know that it is the beginning of so much more, for so many more children like them.

If you would like to send an encouraging note to Wanlee and Tuway, or if you would like to help support them in their dreams in some small way – please contact us:

‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy’.Proverbs 31:8-9

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