On October 13, the people of Thailand lost their beloved king of 70 years. King Bhumibol was respected and revered for his compassionate leadership. With humility and compassion, he would visit even the most remote and poor villages, working with local communities to develop numerous projects to protect and lead his people to a better future. In mourning his loss and honoring his legacy, we are reminded what great leadership looks like.
This month, we would like to shine a light on a great leader here at The SOLD Project: Ketsara Thutsunti. I have known Ketsara for the year that I have been involved with The SOLD Project, and every day I am blown away by her compassion, work ethic, leadership, and the daily impact that she has on the children here. Ketsara is special. She has a servant’s heart that shines through in everything she does. Not only does she model leadership through her own actions, but she mentors young people, both scholarship students and others in the community, teaches them how to be leaders, and gives them guided opportunities to practice taking on leadership roles.
Ketsara grew up in a hill tribe in Northern Thailand. She was never encouraged to study because her father didn’t understand the importance of education for female children.
This did not discourage Ketsara, and she continued to work hard. She received a scholarship when she was in primary school from Compassion International and she went to a boarding school in Chiang Rai. In grade 5, she was given the job of classroom assistant. At first she was shy, but she felt it was an honor to be chosen, so she took on the responsibility. Sometimes they had meetings with other grades and helped to plan activities like sports day, etc. This was her first leadership role, and she naturally fit the position. Ketsara went on to get her Bachelor’s degree from Rajabhat Chiang Mai University and took a job working as a project coordinator for New Sky, working with HIV positive clients. This job gave her experience and confidence to reach for other and higher positions. As she grew in her own leadership, she followed her dream of becoming a Sunday School teacher. She was nervous that she didn’t have the education and skills necessary, but because of her past experiences and opportunities, she felt confident in moving forward. After getting married, she took a job working with the Office of Child Protection, where she began to teach the 3-3-5 program, which teaches children how to recognize and prevent child abuse. Eventually, that brought her to The SOLD Project, where she now teaches 3-3-5 in local schools, runs a leadership council group at the Resource Center, and works with an international children’s rights organization, ECPAT, to run a Youth Partnership Program. She now uses her own experiences to help guide the students into being successful young leaders.
In village communities, kids from low-income families don’t often have opportunities to be a leader. In their understanding, leadership is relegated only to those with education, money, or respected family names. Leadership amongst youth, and especially young women, is a very recent concept. Ketsara is helping to break past these perceptions every day by guiding the children into leadership roles.
Often when she first introduces the kids to leadership opportunities, they are hesitant. They know that being a leader means more responsibility and they aren’t sure they want to join. They are nervous they may not know other students, or will be uncomfortable with extra responsibility. Ketsara encourages them. She explains that it is a new experience and they will build skills that will benefit them in high school and university. Afterwards, the students come back and tell her that they loved the experience and they feel proud of what they have accomplished. She now has other students coming to her and asking if they can participate too. Her experiences growing up have given her understanding and she can speak from the heart and her own experience to encourage the kids. She knows that having a supportive community is critical to their success.
Seeing the students build their confidence and self-esteem is another reason these programs are so important.
Many children in the villages don’t hear positive encouragement from their families, and praise embarrasses their sense of modesty. Furthermore, respect for elders does not allow children to express emotions, but instead diligently obey their parents. Parents often worry if they show emotion or express appreciation or pride in their children, it will make them appear weak or even worse, make the children forget their place in the social structure. Therefore, many children are left wondering what value they have. Ketsara believes this needs to change and she works to help the children see their own value. She involves the families, especially the fathers, to encourage and promote change. She would love to see fathers supporting and building positive self-esteem in children even when they are young. To do this, she works with local organizations like Baan School to run Family Camps, where families are encouraged to be open about and share emotions and together build relationships and learn the value of quality time together.
Ketsara wants the kids to become young leaders. She wants them to develop skills that will serve them into the future. When asked why she thinks it is important to teach the kids to be leaders, she responded:
“If kids learn something good and practice it, then they can teach others as well. I want them to gain the confidence to be a leader so they can feel comfortable teaching others. If they learn when they are young, they can take more leadership roles as they grow up. They can share what they learn and be a role model for others. The more experiences they have will help their perspective grow and their self-confidence will grow. Then they can follow their dreams and do their talents and feel important and valued.”
Thank you Ketsara, for all that you do!
Lisa Winterfeldt is our International Liason, helping to bridge communication between our U.S. and Thai offices. She has experience teaching children with needs at various schools in the U.S., and in teaching with an international school in Bangkok.