Reflections on a Thai Isan Child
Mara’s Volunteer Story
One of the first friends I made in Isaan was a lovely child, she was very shy, eleven years old, and was in grade 6 in a very poor Thai school. She was very affectionate towards me when I first arrived as a volunteer at the small rural Thai school. Almost everyday she had gifts like flower necklaces, self drawn Hello Kitty’s or Barbie stickers to shower me with. Although not speaking much, she enjoyed being around me and simply holding my hand. I later asked a teacher about the girl’s background and was quite shocked of the brief overview I got.
I was told that this young girl’s mother had been sexually assaulted almost a year prior to her birth. Nong’s mother neither had the money to bring up a child nor the will after what she had been through. Her first thoughts were to abort the unborn child as it seemed the easiest solution. To achieve this end, she swallowed several types of medication and washed them down with alcohol. Although the fetus was not harmed, the mother is said to have gone a bit crazy after this occasion. She abandoned her child after she was born and left her to live with her 60 year old Thai grandmother.
During an English class the children were taught to introduce their relatives in English. When it was my young friends’s turn to describe her father, she broke into tears and was not able to speak a word. Everyone apparently knows of her situation but no one seems to know how to talk with her and help her deal with her past. That’s why she is left fatherless, confused and alone. There is a beautiful close-knit community throughout Isaan, it’s just that talking about someone else’s issues is seen as rude – as is bringing up personal issues. Whilst I respect that difference of culture I do stand by my resolve that my young friend should be able to get proper guidance on this matter before she reaches adulthood – Mara
Many children around the world have similar backgrounds as Mara’s friend. As educational and community development volunteers we can show empathy towards these young people and help them see that we care about them greatly through utilising informal and progressive teaching techniques, being open to cultures and problems that we do not understand and listening to the young person try to find the means to reach out to us. Whilst these are great skills to already posses before venturing out into the big wide world of international volunteering we do have short courses where we can supply some useful techniques for success in helping people understand how questioning, active listening and tolerance as part of our culture induction if need be. An exchange of cultures is just that – an exchange. We keep bias out of our process but equality in our mandate. Everyone learns, if only a little sometimes.
Mundo Exchange director, Joan Williams, has assisted children and adults throughout the world who are experiencing feeling of neglect, abandonment, and post traumatic stress disorders. If you would like to correspond with her and exchange ideas as a mental health specialist or volunteer feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. We thank our intern and volunteer for writing this story regarding perceived social problems in Thailand.
The child’s name has been changed or omitted to secure their privacy.