By Adriana Ermter with files from Somluck Khamsaen.
“When I was a child, my father used to plant rice on a small piece of land,” says Sumitra Boonyuen. “My parents worked very hard; Dad used to be a construction worker and sometimes he was hired to grow peanuts. But my father didn’t have a regular income and so my family had no money.”
Extremely poor and living in a tiny wooden house in rural Thailand, Sumitra and her older sister enjoyed learning but dreaded going to school: they were embarrassed about never having pencils to write with and a proper school uniform to wear. They wanted to drop out. Their father’s attitude didn’t help. He believed girls didn’t need an education, especially when there were mouths to feed. So he pulled Sumitra’s sister out of Grade 4 and sent her into the farm fields to work.
“Parents in the village did not see the value of education,” explains Sumitra. “Most of them had their children leave school and help with farming. No one completed their Bachelor’s Degree.”
By the grace of God, Sumitra became the exception.
It began in Grade 6. Sumitra was 12 and studying at the Ban Pai Ngam School when Canadian George Hollema chose to sponsor her. Immediately her life improved: her school fees and supplies were paid for, she had a proper uniform to wear and had clean water to drink. And her parents and their community received training for sustainable opportunities, including digging ponds for farming and participating in coarse-rice farming and a pig raising. Sumitra attributes her success to the education World Vision’s employees gave her father.
“Life was very difficult towards the end of my high school education,” explains Sumitra. “At that time, workers came into our village to make roads. I was hired to carry buckets of wet concrete and I earned 120 baht a day [US$3.63].”
And all she really wanted to do was to go to university. She’d even taken her entrance exam and passed, but her father didn’t want her to attend; the tuition was expensive. Taking matters into her own hands, Sumitra went to her village’s World Vision office and shared her predicament with her now long-time friends. They listened. So did her sponsor in Canada. Later, the organization’s staff made a house call to Sumitra’s father, spoke with him about the difference Sumitra’s education would make and invited him to join their grassroots community projects, explaining what it would provide. He listened.
Working with her dad, Sumitra helped raise four piglets. Once they were full-grown, she sold them each for 3,000 baht (US$90) and used the money to pay for her family’s expenses during her school term. With this income, she then raised another group of pigs and then another and another …
Now, 25 years old and flourishing, Sumitra has graduated from Thailand’s Lampang Rajabhat University with her Bachelor's Degree in computer science. She works in a data job at a government hospital.
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You asked, Sumitra Answered
Q Beautiful story, Sumitra ... I would like to know how being sponsored through World Vision has helped you in your life?
Sandra and Gianni Mattina
A “If it were not for World Vision’s support, through the project’s support, I would not have been able to complete my Bachelor’s Degree and have the honour of working with and helping sick people in my hometown. World Vision’s support has made a difference in the lives of poor children like me. If I did not receive help, I would be in great trouble today. As a sponsored child, I received school fees, school uniforms, school supplies, transportation and dormitory money. This allowance helped relieve my parents’ burden a lot.”
Q Sumitra, I think you are amazing. I am so glad that you were given your rightfully deserved education and it’s beautiful that you are using it to do something so generous and caring. My question is, do you encourage other young girls to pursue their dreams? And do you realize you are a role model for equality?
A “I still live in Ban Pai, my hometown, and I want the children to have a chance like I had. The village has been developing and not stopped progressing. Before, the villagers did not have livelihood funds and knowledge. World Vision took them on observation trips, gave them training and loans. The villagers started to work earnestly and they earned an income. Their living conditions have improved. I want my village to continue developing."