Weekly Local Biography

  Janejinda Pawadee

Janejinda (“Jane”) Pawadee is a woman who knows her own mind and speaks it eloquently. She was born in rural Chiang Rai province, but her family moved to Phrae when she was quite young. She attended kindergarten through high school there, and then came to Chiang Mai to go to college. She was admitted to the School of Architecture but her mother had other plans for her talented daughter. The family is Christian, and mom wanted her to be a minister. Somehow the fit wasn’t right, although Janejinda, as a dutiful Thai daughter, tried her best to please her mother. The Student Christian Movement was active on her campus and Jane began to attend meetings. Here, finally, she found her fit.

The Student Christian Movement (SCM) is a worldwide organization that educates students on social concerns all over the world. Jane had been raised in the Thai educational system. She was accustomed to taking notes. She was not accustomed to asking questions or exploring issues on her own. The SCM encouraged her to think. She knew she couldn’t solve all of the problems of the world, but she could help solve the local ones. “Think globally, act locally”, she learned.

She began to look at women’s issues, and realized that she couldn’t separate women’s issues from children’s issues. She was particularly concerned about what happened to Thai women who went abroad. She knew that many of them did not find the better life they had been told was there, that many found themselves in prostitution, or battered or indentured to their employer.

She graduated from college, and went to work in the women’s department of a nongovernmental organization based in Bangkok. She was sent to a rural northern province as a field worker, a hands-on position helping to provide educational counseling in a vocational program for at risk women. She spent a great deal of her time working in a village that has a long history of involvement in sex trafficking. It had become all too easy for the village headman, elders and families to turn their heads while their daughters went to work in brothels. The money was quick but the damage to both the village culture and the girls was great. It was an unhappy learning experience, but a valuable one as Jane began to think of her future.

From this NGO, she went to work for the Foundation for Children in Bangkok. The foundation had advertised for a male staff person, but she applied anyhow. Much to her surprise, she was hired and spent the next six years working in eastern Thailand. She and her colleagues provided nutritional education through school agricultural programs in the region. They also educated children and teachers alike about children’s rights and child abuse. At that time, children rarely confided in their teachers, and Jane became a confidant to many youngsters who had suffered abuse. She learned both the resources and the failures of the welfare system.

She received a scholarship/internship at the Social and Economic Institute in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to do research on the street children there. It was a dangerous time. Some groups thought that the children were simply disposable criminals. Jane came to know many of the children well. She struggled with the language as well as the danger on the streets. It was different from anything she had ever experienced. Then she woke up to find that the police had murdered “her” kids. They had simply shot them on the street. Demonstrating protesters painted outlines around the little bodies. When the bodies were carried away, the painted outlines reminded the world of this terrible injustice.

She came home to Bangkok and helped a friend in business for a few months. She needed time to recover. She traveled in Burma and saw that part of the world. Then she went to work for another NGO that was doing research on human rights and tribal people. She had Thai, Karen, Lahu and H’mong people on her staff. For six years, she worked in tribal villages, assisting women and children, working on issues related to land rights and interfacing with other organizations. She built bridges with people and organizations. She spent a great deal of time lobbying, and began to understand the value of a legal education.

Still she knew that she could do more. And she began to think that she could help better if she were an attorney. So Jane moved to Chiang Mai, took a job with another NGO, and began to go to law school after hours and on weekends.

As though she didn’t have enough accomplishments, Jane is also a court-certified interviewer for children and young people. She is on duty two times a month, and works with the police department and court officials interviewing children and young people who have been sexually or physically abused. She has great empathy for child victims, and understands their ambivalence and confusion when the people who abuse them are trusted and loved adults. But she also interviews juvenile perpetrators of crime, and admits that she is occasionally uncomfortable when they have been perpetrators of violence. Still, she treats them with the respect that she accords all of those with whom she works, and has never been a victim herself.

Jane hopes to be a licensed attorney soon, with the freedom to make her own way practicing law. That may or may not be what she decides to do. She thinks she will always want to work in or with nongovernmental organizations. She’s a born advocate. It’s in her blood. The important thing is that she will have many options, and that her personal values will guide her in making the choices. The SCM proclaims that members “act in solidarity with the oppressed to resist structures of domination and realize justice in the world”. You can be sure that Janejinda Pawadee will continue to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves, and that she will do it effectively.