I had heard much about her before we met, and I was surprised to see a young girl, small for her age walk out of her classroom to meet us. What I first noticed was that Khin Chor Su attracts attention. Not just because she is the shortest 10-year-old in her fourth grade class, or because she is the first to raise her hand to a question, or that she tries to have conversations in English rather than through a translator (“because English can be used everywhere,” she explained). What grabs attention is her determined smile that lights up her face. She seems simply happy to be herself, which for any ten-year-old girl can be difficult. But she has it tougher than most girls her age.
Khin Chor Su is a student at one of the six learning centres JRS operates in Ranong. Run mostly by Burmese teachers and staff, JRS liaises with the traditional Thai schools to assist integrating more Burmese students into their classrooms. JRS also works with parents to impart the importance of education, to try to get parents to enroll their children and school and keep them there.
She took us to her home to meet her mother. It was a small one-room shack with a ripped couch and broken bicycle propped up against the exterior. Inside, a refrigerator and a few knick-knacks scattered about. He mother was getting ready for work: 10-12 hour shifts at a fruit stand, 365 days a year.
Khin Chor Su is proud of her home, sitting up straight and smiling. Maybe that’s because she has no plans to stay here forever.
“I would like to go to other countries. I would like to go to America,” she said. “I want to be a teacher when I grow up. Some of the poor children like me can get an education and get by more easily in Thailand. If I become a good teacher maybe I can go to America to teach.”
Khin Chor Su was born in Ranong Thailand, a fishing town that runs off Burmese labour. Her parents came here before she was born looking to save enough money to return to Burma and build a house.
“But just having enough money to live day to day here is difficult. Now we have to stay here,” her mother said.
Her father was not present because he lives and works in a near-by resort town. Both parents work long hours with no holidays so their children don’t have to. Khin Chor Su and her younger brother have the luxury of parents who support their education, which can be difficult when many children start working at 10 or 12 to double the family’s meagre income.
“I know some students drop out of school because some of the parents have no money and they want to work to help then,” she said, grasping tough realities usually guarded from young people. “I also want to work to help my family, but I will stay in school, get an education and become a teacher and help my family that way.”
And her mother not only insists her children be educated, she is proud of what they have accomplished. They looked at one another and smiled when we spoke about how good her daughter’s English is.
“I want my daughter to learn English. That is a very important skill to have,” she said in Burmese.
She admits that this isn’t the life she had envisioned when she moved to Thailand. But she isn’t thinking of her own future anymore.
“We only make a small income, but I work so there is enough for both of them to go to school. We are working for an income for their future,” she said.
And while attaining a future beyond factory and shop work is difficult for a Burmese girl without legal documents, if anyone can accomplish something greater, it’s Khin Chor Su.
“I want to help poor people like me. I hope there can be more schools here for people like me who cannot afford to go to Thai schools,” she said.
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