How far does twenty dollars reach?
Thailand is an incredible country. A land of spectacular topography from mountainous panoramas, valley’s laden with rice fields and water buffalo. To seascapes only dreamed about with island and karsts that will release ones jaw to the point of dropping. The tropical terrain and weather beckons hundreds of thousands each year to leave frigged temperatures to a land where the body begins to defrost almost immediately after departing from the aircraft. The food is bar none some of the most delicious cuisine world wide and the people so adorable it’s no wonder how this nation has been deemed the “land of smiles”. Travelers from around the world find themselves embraced by a nation that expresses kindness, serving and a desire for them to have an incredible experience in amazing Thailand. However, very few travelers or tourists get to see or experience the underbelly of this nation or its people. Where behind every face and every heart there is a back story as to how Thais carry this nation’s smile. One such story is that of Somjit, nicknamed, Fern.
At seven years of age, young Somjit was taken by her mother to an orphanage at the Northern border of Thailand and handed over to spend her entire childhood separated from her family. Her father died when she was five years old. Being the youngest of 7 children her mother could no longer bare the burden of caring for all of her children. She felt it best to take her youngest child to a center that she heard about from others who could care for her daughter. This fearful and extremely shy little soul was placed in the care of an organization making provision and protection for little lives such as these. The program reaches out world wide to care for orphans, children at risk and the poor. They provide sponsorship given by individuals who will send $20.00 dollars a month to care for the physical needs of a child that they could select through a panel of photos. Somjit was selected by an American couple to sponsor her. Through this sponsorship she found shelter, food, clothes, education, friends and even family within the care of incredible organization. She and her sponsor family were able to communicate quarterly through direct mail; similar to that of a pen pal. Photos and stories could be exchanged with one another. Somjit discovered through these letters that she was being sponsored by a family who had three children, one of who’s birthday was only days from her own. The boy and she were the same age and there were also younger and older girls. Quickly both she and the sponsor’s claimed one another as family. Allowing no breach because of culture, distance or bloodline. Months of sponsorship and letters being exchanged turned into years and even more than a decade caused for this family to draw closer to one another through pen and paper. Each year her sponsor family were allowed to send her a special gift on her birthday and for Christmas. Her proxy siblings were excited to send her the latest gift or gadget from the western hemisphere but had to hold back in order to stay more relevant to Somjits culture, lifestyle and living conditions. Her siblings were learning life lessons beyond the classroom that extended beyond the borders of their own homeland. Both she and the sponsor family would express a desire to someday see one another face to face and to finally embrace what was for years only held within their imagination.
Somjit went from childhood to adulthood and would soon lose her sponsorship through the organization which finalized sponsorship after 18 years of age. Both she and her siblings were all moving into adulthood and their relationship would quickly be ending. Somjits sponsor parents wanted to go to Thailand and meet Somjit before her sponsorship was over. However, a series of circumstances caused the door to close on them, the sponsorship stopped and so did the communication. Two years passed and her proxy parents had yet another opportunity to visit Thailand for the first time. They began to try to find a way to reconnect with Somjit seeking out the program that they sponsored their Thai daughter through. Although it took months and excessive communication there was finally a breakthrough; Somjit was located. Arrangements were made to meet Somjit at the center that she grew up in.
The introduction was awkward and uncomfortable for both she and her sponsor parents. Although on paper there was much love expressed and communicated there was no ability to express themselves because of language and cultural barriers. This union was longed for but challenging to say the least. They all made the most of the visit and hoped that they would see each other again some day. From that visit 10 years passed and thanks to the invent of social media Somjit reached out to try to find her family from afar. A reunion was arranged and this time there were no more barriers because her family were now living in Thailand and could speak the language enough to really have a proper reunion. The joy in reconnecting after almost 25 years of knowing Somjit was discovering that she had returned to the same sponsorship program that offered a hope and future for other young children and was now acting as an employed coordinator. She understood the tremendous blessing that was offered her and wanted to be a part of bringing this same blessing to those that were now on a road that was all too familiar to her. Compassion was shown this life and she knew to extend compassion to others.
You may not feel that twenty dollars will buy you much from where you are from but it may buy a future for someone else. Somjit is one face that where’s the Thai smile proudly for more reasons that you may ever know. As you travel the roadway’s through this incredible nation remember that each smile you see has a very special story unto itself.
by Zina Docto
Zina is the founder of “i AM WOMAN”: Educating woman to discover their health and beauty from the inside out: overcome weight issues, sickness and disease.
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