Natida, a Compassion child worker, furrows her brow and chews on the end of her pen as she sits at the edge of her seat in the tense silence of a classroom. Child workers from five other Child Development Centers sit in schoolchildren’s seats around her.
Worawut, the center’s director, explains why they’re here. “They’re learning a lot at these classes,” he says. Because these workers are members of one of Thailand’s many ethnic minorities, “we can’t speak Thai very well.”
Here at these literacy classes, his staff learn to read and write in Thai, making up for the education they didn’t have access to as children.
“I think what they are learning is great, because they will bring this information back and teach our mothers and our children. They will be able to teach Thai language as well as math and other things.”
Sydney J. Harris, a 20th century journalist, once said:
“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”
Like a hall of mirrors, poverty can surround a child with its never-ending reflection of their lack and hopelessness, reminding them daily of where they are. Poverty perpetuates a cycle of self-defeat: telling them that without an education, they are too dumb to ever receive an education.
Natida sits in a classroom today because she wants to turn those mirrors into windows, to show the children in her project a world of opportunity and a path to get there. But first, she has to fight that battle for herself.
Like her colleagues, Natida speaks Thai, but barely. Her elderly mother can only speak the tribal Karen language. While we work hard to preserve children’s cultural heritage, Natida’s language barrier hampers her ability to teach her pupils and care for Child Survival Program mothers.
“I learn Thai so I can teach Thai,” she says. “We have to know it well so we can prescribe the right medicines at the right amounts. I also have to teach our CSP mothers how to read and understand prescriptions for themselves and for their children.”
If education is about changing mirrors to windows, a bright new future is about to open up for children in Thailand, thanks to these diligent child workers. Rather than just telling their pupils the importance of seeking education, these workers are showing them with their own lives that the poverty of education is a battle that can be won, no matter your age.
“I encourage them as much as I can,” says Worawut, “And I support them. Every staff member of mine who wants to further his or her education to help our children, I will help [them] go to school again.”