Namjai is a quiet fourth-grade girl who loves puzzles and games. She used to struggle with her homework, so we would help her after school. Her inability to comprehend some very basic concepts at first made us think she might have a learning disability. But she has persevered. Her mom consistently sends her and her two younger siblings to the creative learning center whenever we are open. Little by little, Namjai has blossomed in her studies. Her reading comprehension, math skills and critical thinking skills have all improved. We have come to realize that with consistent support and encouragement, Namjai has much more potential for growth than we first thought.
Recently, after practicing for months, Namjai was able to read an entire early reader English book all by herself in front of the other children at the learning center. She didn’t make a single mistake, and she read aloud with confidence. You could see how proud she was of herself. And we were proud of her, too.
Before, Namjai’s options were limited. She comes from a poor family of rice farmers who work hard to make a living from their small plot of land. Her parents are not well educated. They love their children, but like their parents before them, it’s likely that they’ve never imagined anything more for their children than the life they live now.
Like so many other Isaan children, Namjai is stuck in a poverty cycle. Many Isaan children never finish high school. Without education, without hope that there might be something more in life, many kids fall victim to drug abuse or criminal activity. Often, out of desperation, families will even send their children and teenagers to work in the sex industry.
Namjai and her siblings also come to our kids’ church faithfully every Sabbath. Her mother often comes, too, and helps prepare lunch for the other children. Namjai likes to sing Thai Christian songs. One of her favorites is a song about how big God is, bigger than the mountains or the ocean. Sometimes Namjai helps one of the teachers tell Bible stories to the other kids.
Often in our work, it feels like we are swimming upstream against an impossibly strong current. But then we see the way that Namjai’s mother looks at her daughter now, with hope in her eyes—hope for a better future for Namjai and her siblings.