Child sponsorship helps Thai family rise from adversity
As soon as the orange sun rises above the horizon, the birds in the surrounding mountains start to sing. Rujira, 12, sleepily notices the warm light piercing through the cracks of the old concrete wall of her home. It's time to get up. She rolls out of her sleeping net and marches into the kitchen, rushing to light the fire to cook rice. Rujira makes sure her chores are finished before the bus takes her to school in Mae Sarieng, 30 minutes away.
The journey reminds Rujira of her grandmother. "When I was little, I would sit behind my grandma while she drove her truck from one village to another. We would stop at the best spot in the market to help Grandma sell our goods to the village folks— it's the best memory I have," she says.
Ruijra lives with her grandmother and 13-year-old stepbrother. Being taller and stronger than her older brother means Rujira has taken charge of many responsibilities in the house. The young teenager is not shy, but she struggles to find the words to match her experiences, especially the more painful ones. Sadly, there have been many.
She has said more goodbyes in her lifetime than most. Her mother died from cancer when Rujira was just 11 months old. Afterwards, her father re-married and wasn’t involved in Rujira’s life. She came to find security in the love of her grandparents.
"I took care of Rujira since her mother passed. When she was about six years old, some people who claimed to be her relatives from her mother's side wanted to take her. I hid her behind a big tree a little away from my house," says Khumtieng, her grandmother. “I was so scared they would take her and sell her.”
Thailand is a major source, transit and destination country for the sex trafficking of children through Southeast Asia. According to the Global Slavery Index, Thailand is home to an estimated 401,000 slaves. Girls living in poverty are especially vulnerable.
Learn more about how you can protect a girl just like Rujira.
Rujira sitting next to her grandmother Khumtieng. Photo: Compassion
Khumtieng would do anything to protect Rujira and ensure she has a safe future. But Rujira's grandparents are elderly. Her grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. When they could no longer sell groceries at the market, Rujira's father returned to help. However, his arrival only made the situation worse. Before too long, he sold the family’s truck, land, and anything else of value to fuel his drug addiction. He was eventually jailed for drug use.
"We didn't have anything left,” says Khumtieng of the desperate time. “My husband was very ill, and I couldn't work and take care of everyone at the same time.”
When Rujira was seven, Khumtieng heard the exciting news. Compassion’s local partner, who had been working in the community since 2005, was registering children into the Child Sponsorship Programme.
"When I heard that Compassion had a registration day, I grabbed Rujira's hand and walked to the centre, hoping she could get some help."
In their small community, everyone knows everyone. Even before she arrived at the centre, the staff were concerned about her, knowing her vulnerable situation put her at risk of trafficking and other forms of abuse. They immediately registered her.
"We knew Rujira's story and what she had been through. It is emotionally complex for a young child like her to feel hope, safety, and even smile," says Yordruen Wareeniyom, the project director.
Rujira holding up her school uniform, which was a gift from her sponsor. Photo: Compassion
Khumtieng noticed a difference in her granddaughter after she began attending programme activities—she began to smile. "I'm very grateful that Rujira is in a sponsorship programme. Since she has attended, she seemed to smile more and have some close friends,” she says. “And when we are struggling, the project staff visit us and help us to get through hard times.”
Khumtieng says, "I'm so thankful I heard how many children in my community are receiving good care and good development by attending the programme at the Compassion Centre. I have hope for my Rujira. I believe that through the sponsorship programme, Rujira will have a better future and be safe.”
This support was vital because the family’s challenges were far from over. In 2018, her grandfather passed away. Khumtieng was the sole caregiver of the two young children. Shortly after, she suffered a stroke and was diagnosed with diabetes. To support her family, Khumtieng runs a small grocery stall from their home. However, her health makes it difficult to care for Rujira and her sibling, and Rujira shoulders a much heavier burden at home than most girls her age.
“Although Rujira has her grandmother, she's ill, and it's not safe for a young girl to be alone and doing everything by herself in this community where drug problems such as amphetamine use continue to rise every day,” says Yordruen, the project director.
Rujira with her grandmother Khumtieng, standing in front of the snacks she sells. Photo: Compassion
The centre’s support helped ease the family’s burden. "My family used to be okay financially, but now my grandmother cannot take care of everything," says Rujira.
“I don't feel I'm alone because the project staff always come visit and sometimes, they bring food and gifts from my sponsor.”
Then came another brutal challenge. The Covid-19 pandemic forced her grandmother to shut down her store. Two months of lockdown meant the family would not have any income, so Compassion’s partner stepped in to help provide them with food. However, when the lockdown lifted, the family’s situation remained dire. Khumtieng was earning just over $1 a day and somehow had to feed three people.
"I was worried about how we would have enough food each day and what my future would look like,” says Rujira. “But the project staff came and talked to my grandmother, and they told us about the fund that will help us with food and things that I need for school. I felt so relieved,” says Rujira.
Compassion gave Rujira extra support for almost a year. It covered food, extra education expenses, and transport costs. A weight has been lifted off Khumtieng’s shoulders and Rujira has been able to experience peace and joy again.
"I am so thankful for Compassion. The staff always help me when I need it and encourage me to persevere," says Rujira. "And I have learned to dream. I dream of having a big house, where it's safe and warm, and everyone in my family will live together.”
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