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That’s how one young woman describes her relationship with the non-profit which rescued her from a life of hardship and abuse in Thailand.
Suparat Kongsi, who is now a teacher in Washington DC, has nothing but praise for Friends of Thai Daughters (FTD) and its founders Jane McBride and Patty Zinkowski, whom she refers to as her aunties (or in Thai “P̂ā”). She credits them with changing her life, and preventing a tragedy that is far too common in Northern Thailand – human trafficking.
Suparat, who goes by Khai, said: “We’re really close; they’re like my family. No, they are my family… The two greatest things that they gave me were education and a family that I really needed.”
In fact, Khai reveals that the most important thing she learnt through FTD was that she could trust other people because FTD wouldn’t abandon these girls, no matter what.
She explains that sometimes the girls would fight, as sisters do; sometimes they’d argue with the people caring for them, as children do. But Jane and Patty did not give up on them. This, in turn, encouraged the girls not to give up on themselves or each other.
Khai said: “I love that. It’s not perfect- what family is?- but it’s pretty good. I love that Jane and Patty treat us so well; they treat us better than my own family… I learnt a lot about family from them.”
To this day, Khai remains in touch with several girls who went through the program with her and describes herself as a big sister to those currently being cared for by FTD.
She advises those young women to make the most of the opportunities that they are being presented with, assuring them that FTD will always be there for them, and so will she.
She said: “Take a chance on something great… life is not perfect but you have to choose your path, face your problems, and work through them.”
When Khai first met FTD, she was under the care of a different organization, which wasn’t looking after the children properly and had sent 15 girls to an abandoned school in Doi Luang where they had scarce adult supervision.
This shocked Jane and Patty, who knew that girls in this area of Thailand were vulnerable to human traffickers, and spurred them into action. After gathering enough money, they took the girls to a group house in a larger city, Chiang Mai, with the goal of providing a safe home, education, and a support network to them.
Whilst at the group home, the girls took an entrance exam to a prestigious private school. Khai passed first time, along with two other girls, and went on to graduate high school, study a joint English and Thai degree at the Chiang Mai University, and move to the US.
Khai, who lives with her husband Oliver and their cat Wiffy, describes the move from Thailand to the US as overwhelmingly positive, with the possible exception of non-authentic Thai food and cold winters.
She said: “I love it here… my life here is great now.”
Leading the fight against human trafficking
Khai, 27, explained that human trafficking is a pressing issue, not just in Thailand but also around the world. Those vulnerable to it cannot always rely on the government for help, as high-ranking officials are too often involved in the crime.
That is why the work done by groups like FTD is so important.
Explaining what ordinary people could do to help, Khai said that even the littlest bit of help could mean everything to these young girls, whether it’s talking about the issue on social media, making a small donation, or even volunteering.
She said: “It doesn’t have to be money and it doesn’t have to be anything big…Any help, any support could be so useful.”
She said: “To me, it’s not even a foundation, it’s like a family… and I would say as one of the graduates of FTD, they get results; they get a new life for young girls who need help in Thailand.”
Due to the dangers of human trafficking, limited opportunities for women, and the lack of a support network in Thailand, Khai fears that if she hadn’t been helped by FTD she would be in the same position as her late mother, and so many young girls across the country; making hard choices in order to survive.
She said: “If I’d never got any help from FTD, I would be back in my home town doing drugs and selling drugs like my mother did. This is huge. Their support helped so much… I can’t put it into words; it’s just changed my life.”
The problem is FTD can’t reach every vulnerable girl in Thailand, which is why they need your help. If you’ve been moved by Khai’s story and would like to help Friends of Thai Daughters to protect more young girls from human trafficking across Thailand, please visit donate $5 a month here or visit their site to learn more.