By: Brandy Campbell   |   Posted: August 31, 2015

Piyaporn, a young girl in one of Thailand’s marginalized hill tribes, is getting the education her father never could.

Study in Progress

Piyaporn, a young girl in one of Thailand’s marginalized hill tribes, is getting the education her father never could.

Written by Brandy Campbell
Photography by Chuck Bigger
Piyaporn and her family sitting in front of their house

Piyaporn, front left, with her brothers and parents at their home in Thailand.

To the rest of the world, they are simply the “hill tribes.” They are the minority, with few rights recognized by the Thai government.

The tribal languages they speak are not recognized in schools, so generation after generation is denied an education — an education that could give these hardworking people a chance to read and write and find work to support their families.

A more accurate description of the hill tribes would simply be outsiders.

They are a blur of nameless faces that the country has turned its back on. But they do have names. Stories. Dreams.

Piyaporn Jalae is one of those hill tribe children — isolated with her family on the fringes of Thai society. Piyaporn’s culture doesn’t place much emphasis on age, so her parents aren’t exactly sure how old she is. Her father thinks she’s 11, but her paperwork at the Compassion center says she’s 9. It’s a common challenge among the children Compassion Thailand serves in this region — most children do not receive a birth certificate until they are several years old, and then only if their parents go through an exhaustive process in a language they barely understand.

Piyaporn and her father, Japeuh

Piyaporn and her father, Japeuh.


“Education is important to me because I am uneducated. I would like my kids to go to school because I never went to school.”


Piyaporn’s father, Japeuh, is a farmer, harvesting rice and corn. The rice he keeps to feed his family, the corn he sells in the market. Most days his wife, Nayaw, joins him in the fields, desperate to harvest enough to provide for Piyaporn and her three siblings.

Japeuh and Nayaw never went to school. Neither learned to read or write or speak Thai, and they became parents while they were still teenagers. Farming and occasional construction work are the only jobs Japeuh is qualified for. The rice harvest runs out quickly and the corn sells slowly, and there is never enough food, never enough money for clothes or medical care. There’s certainly not enough for textbooks and school uniforms for his four children.

Piyaporn helping her mom boil water

While her mom, Nayaw, slices bamboo slivers to burn in a fire pit, Piyaporn prepares to boil a kettle of water to purify it.

Piyaporn washing dishes

Piyaporn washes dishes using water from a hose that’s connected to a holding tank.


On the surface, Japeuh looks like every other man in his village, raising another generation of children who will never have a chance to do more, learn more, be more.

But there is one thing that sets him apart. Japeuh wants his children to go to school. For one reason.

“Education is important to me because I am uneducated,” he says simply. “I would like my kids to go to school because I never went to school.”

Japeuh knows that education is the only way for Piyaporn and her siblings to escape a cycle of fields that never can provide enough. So he sought out a different path at the local Compassion center. Japeuh had heard of the work Compassion was doing, specifically in helping local children learn Thai and go to school. Those were the things he desired most for his children. Piyaporn was soon registered, and the support Compassion offered the family relieved enough of the financial strain that Japeuh was able to send his two oldest sons to school as well.

Piyaporn's little brother.

Piyaporn's little brother.

Piyaporn rides a motorcycle with her father

Piyaporn rides on a motorcycle with her father and brother past homes in their community, many of which are built on stilts to avoid flooding.


Piyaporn is one of a million hill tribe people living in Thailand. She is one little girl living in one village in a remote corner of the world. But she hasn’t been forgotten. Every week at the Compassion center, Piyaporn’s tutor teaches her Thai, the language that will help propel her forward in the world. Her desk in a simple classroom is a symbol of her father’s dream that his children receive an education that was never available to him. And the well-used textbooks she opens to do her homework are the key to a world far beyond the forgotten hill tribes.

And when you ask Piyaporn what she wants to be when she grows up, she smiles. Her dream profession is one in which she can help people. It will take hours of study, years of medical school and tremendous amounts of dedication. But she believes that one day she will be respected and honored with a title.

She will be Dr. Piyaporn.


It’s not just the children and parents who have been denied an education in northern Thailand. Much of the Compassion staff working in these isolated villages also grew up there and faced the same hardships as the children they serve — they know what it’s like to be denied an education because of where they live, who their parents are and the language they speak.

That’s why pastors at five Compassion centers are working together to offer classes for the staffers. Natida, who works in Compassion’s Child Survival Program, which rescues at-risk mothers and their infants, says she understood the struggle these women faced — because she herself barely spoke Thai, having been raised by a grandmother who was part of the Karen tribe.

“I learn Thai so I can teach Thai,” she says. “I want to teach mothers the language so they can read and help their children.”

The dedication of the staff to learn is an inspiration to those they serve. Rather than simply telling the parents and students about the importance of an education, they are living it out.

“I encourage the staff as much as I can,” says Worawut, a Compassion Project Director. “And I support them. Every staff member of mine who wants to further his or her education to help our children, I will help them go to school again.”