As an outstanding student, Rujitnate has received many certificates since she was young.
Rujitnate was born into a poor family in Thailand, and lived with her grandparents and aunts. Her father was a cycle rickshaw driver and received only 50 baht a day (U.S.$1.50). Her mother was a housemaid and earned 900 baht per month ($27). Rujitnate went to school with 2 baht (6 cents) in her pocket to pay for snacks.
"When I was young, I did not have many friends," says Rujitnate with a soft voice. "I was very quiet. I rarely talked to anyone, not even my parents. I was different from others. While my friends played happily, I often sat at my chair alone and cried."
Finding a Way
At age 6, Rujitnate's father went abroad to work. She never received any letters or news from him. Rujitnate's mother decided to move them out from her husband's home because she felt her in-laws were no longer friendly to her and Runjitnate. She felt unwelcome and uncomfortable in that house.
Through tears, Rujunate explains, "On the day we left the house, we had only a bed and pillows. We did not have a place to stay so we rented a small room. My mother had to work hard to find enough money to pay rent, electricity bills, my school fees and food. She worked as a cleaner from eight to five in the evening. At night, she worked at a video store. She received only 4,500 baht per month ($136). I barely ever saw her & and I felt sorry for her because she worked day and night."
Rujitnate's father returned and asked to be a part of the family again. Rujitnate thought she would start a new life with her mother, father and that things would return to normal. However, that wasn't the case.
Her father had changed. He drank more and became violent. The sound of her parents arguing was something Rujitnate became familiar with. One day her parents had a huge fight, and her father decided to abandon his family. This time it was permanent.
"From the day I saw the back of my father and realized that he walked away from me again, I was hurt & I felt despair, hopelessness, anger and vulnerability.
"I changed. I became pessimistic, hard-hearted and carried anger deep inside me. I became unfriendly. I did not smile or laugh. I lived unhappily, and I wrote all my thoughts and feelings in my diary every night when I locked myself in my bedroom to be alone. I no longer knew or understood the meaning of happiness," states Rujitnate.
In times of trouble, God has a wonderful way. When Rujitnate was in sixth grade, her mother said that she could not support Rujitnate's high school education. At that time Rujitnate thought she would not able to study so she began to pray for her unknown future.
God answered her prayer through members of Rujitnate's church. They collected money for her education fee, which was sufficient for a few years. Rujitnate was registered with a Compassion child development program, but the center could not fully pay her education fees because of its limited budget.
She did get support from the center through activities, such as teaching Thai, math, English and vocational skills. Studying in these extra classes helped her gain more knowledge in education, and she did not have to pay for tutoring. The center also gave her opportunities, which she could not otherwise receive, such as going to camps, trips outside the city, and gifts from the center.
Not the Average Teen
Most teens could watch TV at home with full stomachs, or sleep in their warm comfortable beds on Saturday morning. But this was not Rujitnate's life. By age 15 she was waking up very early in the morning to get herself ready to work at a teacher's house every week. She received a small wage of only 50 baht ($1.50).
"My mother had to go the hospital every other day because she was really ill. She could not work and we did not have enough money to pay her medical bills so we had to sell everything in the house. Sometimes, I only had 10 baht (30 cents) in my pocket and I was really hungry. I could not buy food with this small budget, so I drank only water instead."
As an outstanding student, Rujitnate received a scholarship from her school to study until grade 12. She knew that she could not study beyond high school because of the poverty she was in.
One day Rujitnate saw a Leadership Development Program (LDP) poster on the board at the development center. She had a desire to be an LDP student because she knew this program was like a passport in her journey to pursue her studies in university.
Pursuing the Dream
Currently Rujitnate is a third-year student at Chiang Mai Rajabhat University majoring in Thai Education. She is also an LDP scholar student. She is an outstanding student in education. Her GPA is quite high so her advisor challenged her to study for her master's degree and come back to be a professor in university. However, she knows exactly what she wants to do with her future.
"I want to be a good teacher," says Rujitnate. "I want to teach the needy children in rural areas. I want to be a light and bring hope to them. I will teach them how to live in harmony with others, to live with happiness and how to use their potential to develop their community. I see myself as a bridge that children can cross to achieve their goal."
Fortunately, LDP is not just a program that helps her in education but also a program that healed and changed her life forever.
According to Supaporn, a Compassion Thailand LDP specialist, Rujitnate was the poorest LDP student. But the real problem was not the poverty itself, but the spirit of poverty that she carried in her heart.
"Rujitnate's weakness was her bitterness about her family and relationships. Her pain was written on her face, which made her look tough, sad and unfriendly. Every time I talked to her, I could feel her deepest wound, which she tried to hide."
"When I first saw Rujitnate I felt sympathy," says Siripan, another LDP specialist. "Her face revealed the feeling of sorrow, and she was very quiet. I wanted to help her find happiness and contentment for her life. So I spent time with her quite often, sometimes calling her to have dinner together, and sometimes I invited LDP friends who knew her to hang out together. Spending time together helped Rujitnate feel that she was accepted. I also taught her how to socialize with other people."
With the help her friends, Rujitnate realized that "love" is real in this world and that she deserves to have and experience this love. Rujitnate became "a girl with a happy life."
"In the past I did not want to talk to her," says Varanya, an LDP student who is now Rujitnate's best friend. "She looked so serious, quiet and unfriendly. But now she has a great sense of humor and likes to smile. I remember this one day as I was riding a motorbike with her and it was raining quite hard. She handed me her only raincoat without saying a word. This selfless act of kindness greatly impressed me."
"The LDP program is not just a scholar program but also like a family to me," says Rujitnate with a big smile. "I had forgotten the meaning of the word 'family'. I am really happy to be a part of this wonderful program. From the very first time I joined, I began to learn, grow and have been touched by the love from the Compassion staff and my LDP friends. I am bound to them and to this program."
"LDP changed my life. I have the opportunity to study. I can now smile, I can love others, and thanks to this program I am loved dearly."
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