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No place to go - a Women’s Refuge in Chiang Mai
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
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.
a fascinating history and
a compassionate heart
Khun Nai in her shop with her stunning antique
A beautiful example of a traditional costume.
A selection of embroidered silk.
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
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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