Duang Dao was using and dealing drugs at the age of fourteen when she was caught by the police. After serving out her sentence in a juvenile detention centre, she began working at Suzie's Place, a local orphanage. Over the past four years, she has seen a dramatic change in how she sees the world.

Beverly, a SIM cross-cultural worker who teaches and mentors Duang Dao says, “I can see how her perspective has changed and that she understands the places she’s come from to where she is now. She has a desire to be a person that she can be proud of. She wants to give back to others as a result of what she’s been through and the experience she’s had of other people giving into her life.”

Photo by Denise Poon.

Photo by Denise Poon.

Personal details in this story have been changed.

I understand why I did the things I did, because my family is like that. My family does bad things – my mom drinks and goes to clubs, and my uncle uses drugs. She did not have enough money to take care of me, my brother and sister. I stayed with my grandma and grandpa. She didn’t know anything about my life – about my studies or when I even ate dinner. I never felt loved by her. I used to feel sad because I would look at other families who loved each other. Moms taking care of their daughters and I used to feel noy jai (hurt, neglected). She and my father are divorced – I never knew or saw my father.

Suzie's Place

Suzie's Place in Chiang Mai, Thailand was started to provide care for sick infants, in order to nurse them back to health for successful adoption. The home's mission is to build relationships with and invest in the staff and children. The staff at Suzie's Place are often young girls from the local juvenile dentention centre. They live and work at the home and have the opportunity to grow their skills and earn money as well. Suzie's Place also offers an au pair training program to prepare girls to work in Western homes. The goal is to provide a safe family environment to develop and grow each individual at Suzie's Place.

They don’t want to change, and they are the ones to raise me, so of course I became like them, right? I was fourteen when I had my first boyfriend. When we didn’t have jobs, we started selling drugs. We were always together and I went with him, drinking and doing drugs. It was not a good relationship. We slept, used drugs, played games, and went to clubs. Every day was the same for a year, maybe year and a half – that was my life.

Eventually the police caught me and I was sentenced to go to the young women’s detention centre for a year and a half. That’s how I met Khruu (teacher) Felicia, she teaches English at the centre. She knows Khun (a term of respect in Thai) Suzie and works with the children at Suzie's Place. When I heard Suzie's Place was looking for someone to take care of the children and babies, I was interested. I was nervous about going to work at Suze's Place at first because the workers are all farang (foreigners) and I couldn’t speak English.

But I felt sure that my future would be better because of this opportunity. I didn’t want to go back to my hometown because it’s a small city and all my friends there still drink, use drugs and go to clubs. There’s nothing else to do in that place. I knew if I went back then I would be like that again. But when I came to Chiang Mai to stay, I could control what I do because I’m not in that environment anymore.

Suzie’s family has taught me a lot about the person I want to be. They are good people. Khun Suzie is a Christian and she is always thinking of others first. One time we didn’t have a helper for the children at night. Khun Suzie was supposed to have dinner with her family but she canceled that and brought food for the children. She thinks of the kids first.

Photo by Denise Poon.

Photo by Denise Poon.

I see a difference between Buddhists and Christians. It’s a different way of thinking. Buddhists make merit by giving food to monks. They make enough merit to be a “good person” but they do it to feel good about themselves. And after a while they will feel bad about themselves again and then go to the temple to make merit to feel better. Christians can always talk to Jesus though and feel good because of him, not just making merit. A lot of Christians are good people.

I started believing in God two years ago. I think I am a Christian already and have accepted Christ, but I’m not ready to tell other people. When I am doing something, I like to pray on my own and talk to God. My family is Buddhist and my grandmother keeps telling me I have to make merit but I don’t want to. I feel confused. If God wants me to become a Christian fully, I told him to change my mind and thinking so that I will be one. Now my friends tell me that I’m nothing – I’m not Buddhist anymore, but I’m not Christian either.

Before, I used to care only about myself, I didn’t see the people around me and their needs. But now, if I can help someone, I will try. There’s a younger girl at Suzie’s Place, and her sister did not take care of her. When she does her homework, she needs to use a computer, so I let her use my laptop and printer. And the other day, we went to the zoo and she said she was hungry, but her sister didn’t give her money. So I gave her money to buy some food.

I felt proud because I could share with her and help someone else. And now, my mind thinks differently, I have a more positive way of thinking. If I went back to my hometown I don’t know if I’d be where I am today. I feel I’m lucky to be here.

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