Pacharee is one of hundreds of Hmong girls attending school because of the persistence of workers at the Kao Kor Grace Child Development Center.
Although driven from their home country of Laos more than 30 years ago by war, the Hmong people who live in the hills of neighboring Thailand still cling to their native culture. One of those cultural practices involves forcing girls as young as 13 to marry, often to older men.
The practice was deemed necessary generations ago, as the Hmong people generally had a short lifespan of 30 to 40 years.
But today, even though the Hmong people typically live much longer, this ritual is still practiced. Girls often have no say about their future and are given to men who can pay a high "bride price," similar to a dowry.
The people are poor, most struggling as subsistence farmers or day laborers making an average of U.S.$1.60 a day. Bride money is welcome relief.
"I worry about the girls in the project," says Vadsana , director at Kao Kor Grace Child Development Center (TH-209) in Kanok Ngam Village, a predominately Hmong community. "Many of our girls don't think they can reject the man their parents have chosen for them. It would be disrespectful. They feel they have no choice."
Fighting the Battle
At the Compassion-assisted center, workers have discovered that education is a powerful ally in the fight to prevent forced teen marriages. The process has not been easy, though.
When the center first opened in 1990, the Hmong resisted allowing their girls to be educated there. Their culture allowed only boys to go to school. The center workers knew they had to prove to the Hmong community they were not trying to destroy or diminish their culture.
They were instead trying to help the children and their families find a way out of poverty. And with each child who received medical care, each one who received tutoring at the after-school program, the Hmong people in Kanok Ngam Village gradually were persuaded to allow both boys and girls to attend the center. They learned that education meant the possibility of better jobs and a better future.
Saved from an Unhappy Future
One family that was won over was Pacharee's. She grew up desperately poor, one of 10 children. She knew her parents wanted to marry her off, to give her what they believed would be a better life. Pacharee believes that if Compassion had not intervened to explain the importance of an education for Pacharee's future, she would have been married off.
"I saw a lot of my friends get married and have many children when they were still young," says Pacharee. "But they divorced or had a family crisis after their short marriage. So I thank God that He chose me to join the center because He gave me wisdom to do the right thing, to study further, which has resulted in a brighter future."
Holding onto Childhood
Today, Pacharee, 17, is among the hundreds of girls who have passed through the doors of Kao Kor Grace Child Development Center. She is in the top of her class and dreams of being a pharmacist.
Pacharee says she wants to get married some day and have a family. But for now, she would rather worry about finishing her homework and studying for her math test.
Through the diligence of the Compassion staff, Pacharee gets to be a student for a few years longer.
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