Vol. VII No. 4 - Tuesday
January 22, - January 28, 2008

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by Saichon Paewsoongnern

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

No place to go - a Women’s Refuge in Chiang Mai

Stunning silks, a fascinating history and a compassionate heart


No place to go - a Women’s Refuge in Chiang Mai

Wildflower Home - Part Two

In this continuation of the article on Wildflower Home published two weeks ago, we would like to tell the stories of some of the women whom the refuge has helped. Imagine, if you will, arriving in a strange place, totally alone, without funds, unable to speak the local language, and suffering, as a result of your experiences, what is referred to by Western psychologists as “long term post-traumatic shock”. This is not in any way an exaggeration of the condition in which these women are when they finally, by good fortune, arrive at Wildflower. Contrast that with what they achieve within a very few months, and with what they are continuing to achieve to this day. There’s truth in the saying “when you’re down, the only way to go is up!” - but imagine, again, what courage and strength that must take, especially if you are pregnant or have children already. Finally, please, please, imagine what these women’s lives would have been like if Wildflower had not been “there” for them.
Jantra’s story: “I always thought that I was bad luck for anyone I loved. I loved my mother - my father left her. I loved my little brother - he died. I loved my grandmother, and lived with her after my mother left - she died.” It’s possible that believing herself to be “bad luck”, and desperately wanting to bring good fortune is what persuaded Jantra to allow herself to be sold to a man she did not love, and to bear his child. Jantra had already experienced abuse; whilst living with her grandmother she had been frequently beaten by her uncle. After her grandmother died, by which time she was 7 years old, her mother sent her to live with her aunt, the alternative (according to her mother!) being an orphanage. Her aunt was kind to her - at last Jantra was experiencing love and care -which helped when the village children reminded her that her mother didn’t love her! She excelled at school, and her aunt kept her there until she could no longer afford the fees. Jantra then competed for, and won, a scholarship to junior high school. At the end of her time there she again competed for and won another scholarship, this time to senior high school. Then, disaster, in the form of her mother, struck the young girl’s life again. The mother, who had since remarried, took her away to Bangkok. Shortly after her arrival, her stepfather forced her to marry a friend of his who wanted to have a child. Her new husband was a violent alcoholic who had no love for his new wife, and who soon landed himself in prison. After Jantra’s son was born, she tried to return with her baby to her much-loved aunt, who, sadly, refused to accept the child. She arrived back in Bangkok with 250 baht left, and was preparing to spend her first night there with her baby sleeping under an overpass. Finally, her luck turned, and she was rescued by a passing motorcyclist who took her to a refuge, from where she was referred to Wildflower Home. There, sheltered, helped and cared for with her son, she began to realise that she was indeed a worthwhile person.
Ganiga’s story: Her story begins when, 16 years old, she boarded a local bus headed for the nearby city. That day, her life changed forever. She still has no remembrance of what actually happened, as she was drugged and later raped, regaining consciousness laid out on a bench at the city bus depot. She had no real idea that the rape had occurred until, four months later, she discovered that she was pregnant.
Horrified, she turned to her elder sister for support, and, once they had decided that abortion was no longer an option as the pregnancy was too far advanced, they pursued the referral to Wildflower Home given by a social worker. In Ganiga’s own words, “Wildflower Home taught me everything. I knew nothing about being pregnant, about giving birth, or about taking care of a baby.” Ganiga is keenly aware of the difference between her circumstances and those of the other women in the programme. What saddens her is not that she was raped, but that she will never know the father of her adored little daughter. However, she refuses to be a lifelong victim. With the skills she has learned at Wildflower, and her continuing education, she is determined to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a nurse.
“I am a sunflower.” “Could you help me? I don’t want to be here any more…” This was the plea from a 16 year old Hmong girl from Tak province. For almost a month she had been calling Wildflower Home after she had found out she was pregnant. “He asked me to be a second wife - but I don’t want to,” she said with a sob. “What should I do?” Since her first contact with Elizabeth, two months previously, her family and her teacher had doubted Wildflower’s motives, maybe because it was a new organization, or because she was a very bright student whom the teacher did not want to lose, or maybe there was another reason.
The tiny little girl, her five month pregnancy not yet evident, kept looking at Elizabeth while they talked. The bright black eyes showed the light of hope…
Even though Elizabeth tried her best to persuade her father, her family members, her relatives, the director of her school and her teacher, she failed and left without her. However, three weeks later her family brought her to the refuge. Fourteen people - her grandmother, her father, her mother, her father’s second wife, 7 siblings and two aunts unloaded from a pickup truck. They had all come to see if the place was legitimate, as though they wanted to know if they were leaving her in safe hands, or in the hands of people who would traffic her into prostitution.
After she came to stay at Wildflower, she changed so much, both physically and emotionally. In the first three months she was very quiet, but no one saw her cry. Physically it seemed she started growing so fast, maybe because she was drinking milk and eating healthy foods which she hadn’t had access to at home. She is very bright, and performed her tasks well, particularly in the academic field. She obviously had a great deal of potential, but needed time to discover herself and become more confident.
After 4 months, during the second week of May, she gave birth to a baby girl, naming her “Pra Chan” which means “the moon.” The new mother found, just like everyone else, that raising a child was a challenge. She had to be taught to talk to Pra Chan as much as she could, so that the baby would be able to easily develop her own speaking skills. “I do not know what to talk to her about, and I have never done that before. It looks like I’m a little crazy talking to one who cannot respond.” “Your baby responds to you, look at her carefully, then you will see.” After a while, she adjusted beautifully and Pra Chan is happy and very talkative!
When asked what “happiness” meant to her, the young girl replied, “Happiness for me is lying on my bed and reading a book, then suddenly hearing my child laugh...” Looking into her eyes, there was no doubt about that! Due to her financial situation, she had decided to go to work after leaving Wildflower Home, but when she was told that Wildflower would help her find a scholarship help her, she agreed to at least finish high school. She would like to eventually become a maths teacher. Elizabeth was very happy to hear her decision as it would have been a sad loss if such a bright girl had ended up working in a sweat shop.
During an art therapy session she was asked to compare herself to a flower. “I am a sunflower…” she said. “I am a sunflower that the sun doesn’t care much about; I have to try my best to get the sun’s attention…” Like most Thai women who face the same situation, the wounds take such a long time to heal… However, two months later she shared with the group what she had learned during her time at Wildflower. “I think I’ve learned from my past experience, I’ve learned to grow up, learned to forget what has hurt me.” No-one knows how she is going to get the sun’s attention. But certainly, there will be gentle moonlight shining on her from her own Pra Chan, and that light will take her a long way.
Beaten, sold, drugged, raped, pregnant by a married man - offences against humanity repeated countless times - worldwide. But here in Chiang Mai there is at least one tiny organization which heals. Wildflower Home’s lay missioners, volunteers and board of directors aim to establish other refuges in the area, but there will never be enough places for all the women who go through this torment, because there is never, ever, enough money. Incomers, wealthy by basic Thai standards, come here to live a life (usually in retirement) that would perhaps not be affordable in their own countries - how many of us give anything back? Think about it. Hard.


Stunning silks, a fascinating history and a compassionate heart

Khun Nai in her shop with her stunning antique Shan silks.

A beautiful example of a traditional costume.

A selection of embroidered silk.

Tess Itura
If you are looking for decorative textiles to brighten up your walls and haven’t wandered down Wualai Road recently, now is the time to plan a visit. Even if you’re familiar with the area, you may not have noticed, way down on the left, a tiny shop crammed with glorious, mostly antique, hangings, clothes and embroidered fabrics mainly from the Shan area of Burma. The shop is run by Khun Nai, a diminutive lady of, as she says, “over 60 years old” - she has no idea of her date of birth! Khun Nai speaks very good English, and loves to explain about the glittering fabrics adorning the walls of the shop.
She has lived in Chiang Mai all her life but her antecedents were not Thai; her grandfather was from the Shan region, and her grandmother from Lung Prabang. As a young girl, she attended Regina Coeli School, then went to Bangkok to study agriculture, returning to Chiang Mai she worked surveying the environmental effects of prospective dam sites in the area. She has always been fascinated with textiles and their history; her grandmother taught her about Shan antique silks, and at the same time she learned about the power of semi-precious stones and their uses from her grandfather. She has been dealing in antiques embroideries for some 12 years now, examples in her shop range from 200 years old to modern “practice pieces” from young embroiderers.
Khun Nai loves her work and its beautiful silks, but what she loves most is what she has been doing every day for 35 years - feeding the stray dogs at Wat See Suu Paan and at the Flower Market. Right now she is feeding 25 dogs, and has always reserved 10% of her income for that purpose. She truly is an extraordinary and compassionate lady. The address of her shop is 109, Wualai Road, Haiya, Muang, Chiang Mai. Make time to visit her and talk with her, you won’t be disappointed!

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