Fanta’s father has been gone for a long time, since she was 8 years old. Both her parents are both migrant workers who came from Laos many years ago, to find work in northern Thailand. He’s been gone before but he always used to come back. It’s very hard for the family to survive and human traffickers in the area prey on girls Fanta. In some villages in the area, there are hardly any girls over the age of 13 left.
“Why does dad never come home?” asks Fanta.
Her mother replies that he’s working far away from home and doesn’t have time. But it just doesn’t make sense. If he’s working, why does he never send any money home?
Fanta is allowed to start going to the little village school. Her mother and her older siblings work hard so that they can pay her school fees.
Two more years pass, until one day her mother suddenly says:
“Tomorrow we will see your father. He’s in prison.”
At first Fanta is speechless.
“Why didn’t you tell us before?”
“I didn’t want to make life harder for you. If you had known that your father was in prison you wouldn’t have been able to concentrate on your school work.”
Fanta doesn’t agree. She is sad that her father is in jail, but even more sad that nobody told her.
Protection from gangs
Fanta is in her final year at the little village school. Her family can’t afford to send her to study in the city, where the schools are expensive. Just when everything seems hopeless, P’tu, a woman from the city, comes to visit the village. She is the principal of a home for girls who need extra protection and support. The home was founded by Sompop Jantraka and his organisation.
“Girls like Fanta need to be protected from the traffickers,” explains P’tu. “Fanta is just at the age the gangs are looking for. If she stays in the village, there is a high risk that she’ll be a victim. In some villages in this area, there are hardly any girls left who are older than 13 or 14.”
The night before she leaves, Fanta sleeps beside her mother for the first time since she was little. Her mother holds her tight and whispers in the darkness.
“Be a good girl and work hard at school. Don’t fall in with the wrong crowd. And try not to miss me too much. I’m sure rich children are good at lots of things but they don’t know anything about how to harvest corn or sow rice. You are strong, you can do anything!”
After a few months, Fanta feels at home at the center in Chiang Khong. All the girls attend a school close to the home, and in the evenings and weekends they learn about problems that are common in the hill tribe villages. They discuss drugs and alcohol and pandemics like hiv/aids. They learn about the rights of the child, as well as practical skills like cooking and sewing. Fanta is happy here, but she misses her family.
Text: Carmilla Floyd
Photo: Kim Naylor