What do chicks, fish, a food cart and a garden all have in common? For one family in Thailand, it’s anything but luck.
“She’s a smart woman,” says Jintana Nontapouraya, the executive director of Holt’s longtime partner organization in Thailand. “Just unlucky.”
Rada’s life was going well. She had graduated from technical school and was pursuing a university degree when her whole life changed. In the second year of her accounting program, her father passed away.
Today, 37-year-old Rada sits on the floor of her home, sharing about this difficult time in her life. She wears a zebra-striped jumpsuit and tendrils of her black hair, blown loose by the fan on this hot day, wisp across her face.
“After my father died, a family member who was a fortune teller told me that I had to come home and become a Buddhist nun,” Rada says, “or else I would die.”
Feeling like she had no other option, that’s what she did. After several days of serving in the Buddhist temple, she got a job selling brand-name shoes in one of Bangkok’s largest shopping centers.
“During that time, when I was around 18 or 19,” says Rada, “I met the children’s father.”
She became pregnant with their first child, and they moved in with his parents.
“He usually didn’t work,” Rada says about the children’s father. “He depended on his own mother and father and I worked most of the time. And he was very jealous when I would go work.” His jealousy turned violent.
They had three children together — but his laziness, jealousy and violence only got worse. So did his drinking.
Just days after their youngest daughter, Kannika, was born, Rada knew she had to protect them. She decided to leave.
“It is very brave for a Thai wife to leave her husband,” Jintana says. “Usually, the man leaves. I think she made the right decision.”
Today, Kannika is 4 years old, marking four years since Rada’s brave decision to raise her children on her own — to start over.
“When she first saw us,” Jintana says, “she had just separated and had no income at all.”
Rada had inherited land from her family, but had no other possessions. She wanted the very best for her children, but was unable to provide for even their most basic needs.
“At first, I felt hopeless,” Rada says. “It was very difficult in my family. I had no money or anything. I had nothing to feed my children.”
Recognizing their struggle, a neighbor referred Rada to our local partner, Holt Sahathai Foundation (HSF).
Not knowing exactly how HSF could help her, at first Rada thought the best option was to relinquish Kannika — hoping she would be adopted by a family who could meet her needs.
“But after counseling,” Rada says, “I learned that there are some other alternatives … I felt encouraged and wanted to continue parenting.”
Kannika was just 6 months old when Rada first sought help through HSF. Right away, a Holt sponsor began supporting Kannika. Through monthly gifts, Kannika’s sponsor helped provide vital nutrition for her whole family, including her mom and two siblings, as well as other basic necessities like clothing and medicine. At the same time, Rada also began attending HSF’s “0-to-3” support group, a quarterly gathering for parents of young children.
In doing so, she became part of a vibrant and encouraging community.
“I feel that it’s not only our family who are in difficulty,” says Rada. “There are others. And among us we can exchange ideas, experiences and support each other.”
Four-year-old Kannika has had a sponsor for nearly her whole life. She keeps every card she gets from them, and stores them in a neat pile in a drawer in their living room.
“How do you feel when you get a card from your sponsor?” we ask Kannika.
“I like it A LOT!” she responds, her high-pitched voice coming out in a burst.
Kannika hides behind her mom’s legs then bounds off to play with her dolls. Her outfit — a purple polka dot and floral shirt paired with a poofy white tutu — seems to reflect her personality: independent, spunky, sweet and colorful. But before long, she sheds down to a navy leotard and proceeds to splash waist-deep into a large bucket of clean water that she uses as a makeshift pool and bath. She doesn’t stay still for long. She is healthy, strong and growing up with the loving care of her family. And this is all because of a special gift that her mom received four years ago…
Once Rada’s most immediate needs were met — essentials for her new baby and two other young children — she received a Gift of Hope that changed her life. A food cart.
“I am quite good at cooking,” Rada says. So when she and her HSF social worker talked about how she could earn a sustainable income, cooking was the most obvious choice. A bright orange cart with a green roof, Rada’s business actually attaches to their family motorbike — allowing her to drive to wherever she will get the most customers. Her specialty is Thai salad, made with combinations of noodles, shrimp, papaya, peanuts, garlic, lettuce and more.
When she sells Thai salad from her food cart, she can make anywhere between 300 to 1,000 Thai Baht a day — the equivalent of up to $30 U.S. dollars. Not only does this empower Rada to care for her children, but gives her joy and confidence as she does what she loves.
In addition to the tangible food cart, her Gift of Hope included the tools and training to run a successful small business.
“I especially liked learning about doing the bookkeeping,” Rada says, “the household bookkeeping, because I am a food vendor and [before], I really didn’t know.”
But a food cart wasn’t the only Gift of Hope that changed Rada and her children’s lives.
When you follow the rut-filled dirt road up to Rada’s home and enter the clearing where her house sits, one of the first things you’ll notice is a garden — neat rows of cultivated greens just to the side of their house.
Red and white plastic cups hang from a terrace built above the garden — hanging baskets of sorts that efficiently use the size of the garden plot and drip water to the lettuce below.
Rada’s oldest child, Chet, talks about the garden with great pride.
“He is very responsible,” Rada says about her 14-year-old son. “He spends much of his time doing organic farming and raising the fish.”
In fact, Chet is the one who wrote and submitted the family’s proposals to HSF — explaining their business plan and desire to become self-reliant — and making them eligible to receive Gifts of Hope.
The fish, which were also given to the family as a Gift of Hope, live in several large concrete barrels around the family’s home. Chet uses a blue meshed dish to catch several and pull them out of the water. They squirm and flop before he slowly lowers the dish and releases them back.
“Once they’re bigger, we move them into our pond,” he says, gesturing to the back of their property where a small pond sits in a clearing surrounded by jungle-y trees.
On the other side of their yard, running perpendicular to their house, is a long row of tin-roofed chicken coops. Kannika runs over to the coop and Rada scoops up a baby chick and places it in her hand. Kannika squeals in a mix of surprise and delight as its small feet scratch and tickle her hand.
Every day, they use a net to reach into the coops to collect about five eggs.
Between the garden and the fish and the eggs from the chickens, Rada feeds her family nutritious meals every day. And whatever they have in excess, she uses as ingredients for the Thai salad that she sells from her cart.
If you take a step back, Rada’s life is strikingly different than it was just four years ago. Four years ago, she was alone — unable even to feed her children. But today, they are self-sufficient and proud.
Perhaps Rada finally had a stroke of luck.
Or maybe it has nothing to do with luck — but with her own perseverance and hard work, and the generosity of people across the world who believed in her, who gave Gifts of Hope.
Megan Herriott | Staff Writer