By: Piyamary Shinoda, Compassion Thailand Photojournalist   |   Posted: August 25, 2022

Beneath the modern surface of Phitsanulok province, Thailand, many families struggle to find work, and their wages are low. In their desperation to simply make ends meet, many parents turn to the only option they have: They take a loan from illegal creditors. But when Yongyot’s mother couldn’t pay her debt, her children were left without protection … until the Compassion center stepped in.

Compassion Center Protects Children from Loan Sharks

Beneath the modern surface of Phitsanulok province, Thailand, many families struggle to find work, and their wages are low. In their desperation to simply make ends meet, many parents turn to the only option they have: They take a loan from illegal creditors. But when Yongyot’s mother couldn’t pay her debt, her children were left without protection … until the Compassion center stepped in.

Written by Piyamary Shinoda, Compassion Thailand Photojournalist
Yongyot and his older sister Alisa

Swimming with Sharks

Phitsanulok province is located in Thailand’s northern region, but its culture is heavily influenced by the central region. It’s both a historical province and very modern.

Yet beneath the modern surface, many families struggle to find work, and their wages are much lower than the level prescribed by Thailand’s Ministry of Labor. This means businesses are breaking labor laws — but the people have no voice to speak up against this widespread practice.

“Most caregivers here are single parents, and they make low incomes,” says Walai, Compassion center director. “So many of our children live in broken families. Sometimes their caretakers have had to leave to find work and left children alone at home.”

This has been an ongoing struggle for decades, since before their great grandparents’ generation. And in their desperation to simply make ends meet, many parents turn to the only option they can think of to pay their bills: They take a loan from illegal creditors — the local loan sharks.

The Harsh Reality of Poverty

Sixteen-year-old Yongyot’s family is just one of many to fall prey to the sharks.

“Most of our children’s families are daily workers, and their wage is less than $5 per day to feed the whole household,” Walai says. “Most of them have taken loans illegally — and none of them were ever able to pay it back. We face not just children’s issues, but we must also help their families.”

Walai is the Compassion center director for a local church, Santi Church, which partners with Compassion in Phitsanulok.

She says, “Since I joined the center 20 years ago, I’ve seen many children released from poverty. I’ve seen them grow and become adults who can take care of themselves and their families. But every season, we’ve faced many children’s struggles and burdens in our hearts.” As the church and center try to help the community live by God’s values, they often find that, due to desperate poverty, many are more interested in money than living godly lives. But against all odds, the center’s staff members are continually finding ways to help children and their families healthily survive and eventually thrive despite the harsh realities of poverty.

Yongyot stands in front of a wall
Walai organizes food packages

“I’m so grateful for the Compassion sponsorship program that has been walking alongside our church and has enabled our children’s ministry abilities. Because of our partnership with Compassion, it’s like an open way for us of community access and trust from the government,” says Walai.

Yongyot, 16, lives in a crumbling house with his two older sisters and a father who’s almost never home. They live on the edge of the river, in a poor area near the church.

“My house is almost wrecked. Compassion has helped many times to fix it enough to make it livable and even built a toilet for us,” says Yongyot.

Yongyot was registered at Compassion’s program when he was five years old in 2011. His parents are daily workers, earning around $5 per day for 12 to 18 hours of work. The cost of living is about three times what they earn. His father succumbed to alcohol abuse and became increasingly unreliable, leaving his mother alone to take care of the whole family.

“My mom always works hard to make sure all of us can have food, and we can go to school. My dream is that one day, I can take care of her,” says Yongyot.

Paying an Unpayable Loan

As a quick solution to their financial problems, his mother took some loans. First, she borrowed from neighbors; then, when she couldn’t pay them back, she borrowed from a loan shark.

But the interest rate on the loan soared faster than a jet. Before she realized it, her $30 loan ballooned to $8,754 in just a short period of time. There was no way she could pay even a fraction of that amount. But when she tried to explain the situation, the lenders started to harass and follow her everywhere. Even her children were caught in this horrible trouble; they lived in fear.

With nowhere else to turn, Yongyot’s mother found herself knocking on the church’s door.

“His mother decided to come to church and ask us for advice about her debts. And we decided to help her as the situation became worse and harsh on Yongyot and his sisters,” says Walai.

Many other families like Yongyot’s also came for help. The church was overwhelmed to see the desperate situation of so many families. Yet, they determined to find the best and healthiest solution to help these children in need.

“Their burden is like my burden. Their suffering made me feel like I am suffering with them. I felt it in my heart,” says Walai.

With such an urgent case like Yongyot’s, the church gave financial help, contributing $146 to his mother so she could invest in beginning her own small food stall. With this business, she could make a better income to care for her family and begin to pay her debts. Walai and other staff helped her purchase cooking equipment, tables, pots, plates and so on.

But the sharks were always circling.

“It was only for about two months that Yongyot’s mother made a profit from everything we helped her invest because her creditors watched and took all money she made. When the customers were paying, they took the money right from their hands,” says Walai. Every penny Yongyot’s mother made was taken by the creditors.

With her back against the wall, she decided to do something no one expected. She ran away — and hasn’t been seen since.

Walai the Protector

“Before she ran, Yongyot’s mother called me about her decision and asked me to help with her children. And I immediately went to see how the children were doing,” says Walai.

Yongyot’s mother left, but her problems didn’t. The loan sharks continued to harass Yongyot and his sisters. Walking home from school, and even at home, the children were followed by the creditors.

Walai couldn’t bear it. She had to step in.

“I couldn’t stand how they were harassing Yongyot and his sisters. So, I sent a strong message and told them the children were innocent — they were not the one who made the deal! Thankfully, they left and stayed away from the children. Otherwise, I would have gone to the authorities, and that would have become a big deal,” says Walai.

Walai works tirelessly to help protect her center’s children from many types of harassment. The center became a haven where Yongyot and his sisters knew they would be protected and loved.

“I like to come to the church because I know it’s a place where I find peace and feel safe,” says Yongyot. “The staff has shown me what the love of God looks like through caring for me and always being there for me when I needed help.”

Walai is visiting Yongyot and his sister, Alisa

Through all of his family’s difficulty, Yongyot never missed the program activities, and he never missed a church service. He is one of many children learning about their value, getting to know their potential, and finding that the center is a place of safety.

He is determined to build a better life for himself and his family — and the center is helping him to do just that.

“I’ve learned many things at the center,” he says. “I like that they teach us job skills, and I enjoyed learning about making food and beverages. They also teach us to dream about what we want to be in the future.

“When I finish my secondary school, I want to continue in a home economics program for food and nutrition. That’s what I can see myself doing in the future.”

Striving to Survive

The Compassion center is focusing on holistic child development for Yongyot and many more like him. Their goal is for every child to know their gifts and dreams — and to live confidently in the knowledge that they can be released from poverty in Jesus’ name, physically, mentally and spiritually.

“When I look at the staff, I see how they always encouraged me, supported me and guided me when I was in trouble. And the best thing is they taught me to learn about myself. And that’s what made a big difference between me and my friends who are not part of the program,” says Yongyot.

Today, Yongyot and his sisters are still striving to survive. But he never feels that he is alone in a world full of troubles. Walai regularly visits him at home, calls his sisters to ask how they are doing, and checks if they have enough food. Yongyot can focus on his education and finish secondary school on the way to reaching his dreams and full potential.

“I’m very grateful for Compassion’s program. They not only care for me at the center, but they visit my home and are very supportive and concerned for me and my family,” he says.

For a young man on the edge of desperation, like Yongyot, the knowledge that he is known, loved and protected gives him the freedom to dream, to work hard on his education and be released from the chains of poverty.

The compassionate heart of this church is to see children’s lives transformed. They do it through the Word of God, and they live as examples, teaching others about God’s love for them through words and deeds. The partnership between a loving local church and a child development center led by passionate staff like Walai is a recipe for success.

“Without Compassion, we wouldn’t have come this far — and uncountable children wouldn’t have had any opportunity in life,” says Walai.

Sponsor a Child Today

As you exchange letters, send photos and offer encouragement in Jesus' name, your love will bring hope to a child that will last a lifetime. Sponsor a child today for only $43 per month!