Living In a War Zone

Living In a War Zone

By: Arada Polawat, Thailand Field Communications Specialist   |   Posted: May 14, 2010

Student finds strength through faith and LDP sponsor to endure volatile environment surrounding Thai university

Dol is the only Christian at his university, and he is often pressured to abandon his faith. Yet his love and reliance on God has grown.

Puwadol, a fourth-year university student of electrical engineering in Thailand, starts each day fearing for his life.

Thinking about the frequent newspaper articles and TV reports about his university friends who have been hurt only adds to his fear. He knows that police will be on guard in front of his university, waiting for a violent outburst to occur. Puwadol feels like he lives in a war zone.

Puwadol, or Dol, as he is known, is the son of a factory-employee mother who earns the equivalent of about $8 a day. His father has skipped from one unstable job to another. Dol's parents had high hopes that their only child would live a much better life than they had been living. They were determined to do anything to help him succeed.

The Introduction of a New Way

Years earlier, Dol's parents registered him at the Pra Krist Met-ta Child Development Center after hearing about how the Compassion program helps children, particularly with education.

The Compassion-assisted child development center is in Chonburi province, not far from  the capital city of  Bangkok. Pra Krist Met-ta Child Development Center is also near Hua Khun Cha school, which is run by the church. The school is one of the best in the province. Even though Dol came from an unprivileged background, he was given the opportunity to study at this private school through the center's support.

The center has not only provided Dol with knowledge and education, it has also enabled him to develop and nurture his personal relationship with God. At age 16, Dol decided he wanted to study to be a mechanical engineer.

"I had a dream to be an electrical engineer in a factory," Dol says. "Every factory needs electricity to run various processes, and my hometown has many factories where I can work in and be of assistance. I will also be able to live close by to my parents."

The Ability Without the Means

Dol graduated from Choburi Technical College with a high score of 3.68. After graduation, he had a strong desire to continue his studies and pursue his bachelor's degree. Studying engineering is no small feat and requires a great amount of focus and intelligence. Confident of his capabilities, Dol was ready for the challenge.

However, Dol lacked the money to pursue his academic dreams.

But when the child development center director saw the leadership potential in Dol, he recommended him for Compassion's Leadership Development Program (LDP). The program offers graduates of the Child Sponsorship Program a university education and trains them to be strong and effective Christian leaders in their communities.

As an LDP student, Dol chose to pursue his bachelor's degree at the Patumwan Institute of Technology. This was the first institution in Thailand to teach mechanical engineering. 

Moving to Bangkok to study at a university seemed like a good move to Dol. He hoped to gain knowledge and make some good friends. But he soon learned that life is full of unexpected twists and turns, and our plans are shaped by these unforeseen events.

Piercing Light Surrounded by Darkness

The moment Dol entered the university, he noticed that nearly all of the students were male (only about 5 percent are female). The peer pressure among young men to drink, smoke and fight was high. Dol also noticed that students worshiped idol images located throughout the university. The students believed in and respected these images as a "father," but Dol would not bow down to these idol images.

"It is tacitly expected for students to participate in the ritual of worshipping idols," Dol says. "When I refused to do it, they (the students) looked at me as if I were a stranger. I soon learned that I was the only Christian at my university."

When Dol sits in class, he can smell the strong, distinct scent of cigarettes or alcohol from his classmates and friends around him -- reminders of the frequent partying that goes on.

Many students wouldn't accept Dol into their cliques because he lived, spoke and behaved differently from everyone else. Dol was not willing to compromise his beliefs and faith to gain the social acceptance of his peers.

"There are so many times that my friends have asked me to go out and join them to have a little fun," he says. "I always just told them that I am a Christian and that my beliefs and faith are my priority. I have no desire to join them. Sometimes they mock or criticize me saying that I am a godly son, or they are always asking why I blindly believe in an imaginary God."

Feuding and Strife

Dol can handle the spiritual war within the university, but he struggles with another war that has taken place between his university and others for decades. Students treat students from rival universities as  enemies.

"I hear about the fighting every day," Dol says. "Usually it is just between a small group of students. Major fights occur about two or three times a year, and many students are injured as a result. Some are even killed.

"Recently, I just lost a classmate who was involved in a fight," he says solemnly.

The intense fighting and rivalry between universities  makes headlines in local newspapers. Students carry lethal weapons to the fights. Usually at the end of fights police arrive to break them up, so many hot-tempered students end up in the police station -- or in the hospital with knife or bullet wounds. Not everyone survives.

In the midst of this dangerous and unstable environment, Dol has cried out to God many times asking why He put him in this place. Dol has struggled  to find peace and security in his life outside the university campus. Whenever he ventures from his university, he has to take off his mandatory university uniform and belt and anything else he is wearing that represents his university. He fears students from a rival university might attack him.

Dol once considered dropping out of his university to  find another that was safer. In such moments of doubt and uncertainty, Dol tries to focus on the positive aspects of his life.

"I think of my parents and the fact that they are counting on me. I would never want to let them down. I also think about my sponsor, who I have never met, but who has had the heart to help and support me. I thank God that I have a mentor, provided by the LDP, who was also a former student here. He always encourages me to stay and reminds me that I have God on my side and that I can overcome anything through His strength."

Perseverance Leads to Hope

The situation Dol has been placed in has enabled him to learn more about God and His ways. "I learned that I have to be a positive thinker no matter what situation I find myself in, and to learn to stand firm in my faith," he says. "I have decided to respond to this difficult circumstance I currently face from a Christian perspective. I am trying to stay focused solely on my studies and doing my work to the best of my abilities. I want to set an example to my peers and remind them that we are students and not gangsters."

Dol feels blessed to be one of the top five students at his university. His GPA is 3.45, which is high for an engineering student.

"There are millions of people who do not even have the chance to study like me," he says. "God has given me this great opportunity and I want do my best in my studies."

The Leadership Development Program has enabled Dol to attend camps that teach leadership skills and time management. Program mentors also provide spiritual guidance, which helps him have a clear understanding of the Bible.

With only a year left in his studies, Dol is close to achieving his dream of becoming an engineer. The support and encouragement from his LDP sponsor combined with the guidance he receives in the program will help ensure Dol secures the brighter future his parents envisioned.  

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