When teen parents Paal and Saachee learned they were pregnant with twins, they didn’t know how they would care for their children. Read how Holt child sponsors, and Holt’s long-standing partner in Thailand, empowered Sachee and Paal with the skills and support they needed to parent their boys — and become role models in their community.
“Is your mom proud of you?”
Sachee starts crying softly. In her lap, her 6-year-old son Somchai is emptying the contents of his backpack — making soft, playful noises as he pulls coloring books and colored pencils out onto the floor of their home in southern Thailand. Her other son, Somchai’s twin brother, is running around the room.
“She is proud of me now that I have a job and can care for my boys,” she says, speaking in Thai to her social worker. “But she’s disappointed that I didn’t meet her expectations — graduate from school, get a good job.”
Sachee was just 17 years old when she got pregnant with her sons. She had met her boyfriend, Paal, on Facebook. He was 15 when he learned he was going to be a father. They didn’t know how to tell their parents and kept it a secret until Sachee was seven months along. Sachee eventually confided in her teacher, who shared the news with the young couple’s parents. Sachee’s mom was particularly devastated. As a single mother who struggled to support her own children, she did not want to see the cycle repeat with her daughter.
“She had such high expectations for her,” Sachee’s social worker says.
Sachee and Paal’s parents also worried how they would afford to care for the newborn baby. Sachee’s mom earned just 150 Baht, or about $4, per day working at a chicken factory. Paal’s parents also earned very little and couldn’t help much. Neither Sachee nor Paal had any income. They were still just kids themselves.
Then they learned they were expecting twins.
Creating a Better Home and Future
Although they look identical, Somchai and Somsak could not be more different. Somchai is more quiet, calm and patient. Somsak is more stubborn and will throw a fit when it’s time to brush his teeth. But his mom admires how clever and brave he is — often trying new things on his own. Typical brothers, they love to tease each other and have a bit of a sibling rivalry going. They giggle and make faces when asked to give each other a hug for the camera. But they always have each other’s backs and will stand up to anyone who tries to bully their brother.
When Sachee and Paal learned they were having twins, they weren’t too surprised. Twins run in Paal’s family, and even though he was nervous about this monumental change in his life, he was also excited. Sachee was worried.
“I was so worried because I wasn’t prepared for it,” she says.
Sachee went into labor early, giving birth to Somchai and Somsak at eight months. Both born with jaundice, the twins needed to be closely monitored by the hospital for the first month of their lives. When they came home, Sachee dropped out of school to care for them. Paal was still partying a lot, and often absent.
The hospital social worker referred their case to Holt’s long-standing partner, Holt Sahathai Foundation (HSF), when the boys were 2 months old. Their HSF social worker, Kritsana Joonsong, first visited Sachee and her mom in June 2017.
“They appeared depressed at the time,” Kritsana wrote in their case file. “[Sachee’s] mother was aware of the enormous amount of pressure that lay ahead for her [daughter].”
Without the support of HSF and sponsors, I don’t know if we could have made it through.”Sachee, mom of twin boys Somchai and Somsak
It was clear that Sachee and Paal needed additional help caring for their sons.
HSF reached out to Holt’s team in the U.S., who immediately began looking for child sponsors for Somsak and Somchai. And soon, Holt sponsors in the U.S. committed to providing monthly support for the two babies — including infant formula, clothing, diapers and other basic supplies. With their immediate needs met, the health of the babies began to improve, and their parents felt less stress — allowing them to focus on more long-term goals for their family.
One significant goal they began working toward was creating a better home and future for their children. For this, they learned to rely not just on the help of the supportive adults in their community — but also on other teen parents just like them.
Helping Teen Parents Learn and Grow
The coastal region of southern Thailand where Sachee and Paal grew up is in many ways an ideal place to raise their own children. They live in a small but comfortable house on a family plot of agricultural land and have relatives on both sides who can help care for their children. A lush, green tropical rainforest, warm year-round with undeveloped white sand beaches off the Gulf of Thailand, fewer tourists than other parts of the country and a population of just over 100,000 people, their hometown of Nakhon Si Thammarat is in many ways a vision of paradise.
But under the idyllic surface, their community faces a number of social issues — including a high rate of poverty, drug use, unplanned pregnancy and children dropping out of school early. Most children drop out around 8th grade — not so much due to financial reasons but a lack of encouragement and understanding about the importance of education among parents, the majority of whom also dropped out early to start working. It’s a generational cycle that Sachee’s mom got caught in — and hoped to break with her own children.
When Holt’s long-time partner first opened an office in this community 25 years ago, they began working to strengthen families, keep children in school, and help single moms and young parents care for their children. Today, they work with about 700 families each year.
“Twenty percent of these families are so poor that they want to place their kids in the children’s home,” explains Goranid “Tuk” Sudmee, social services director at HSF who has worked with children and families through Holt’s partner agency for over 34 years. “We have to work very closely with them.”
While there are several nonprofit organizations in this region of Thailand, Tuk says HSF is the only organization that works to prevent family separation and keep children from growing up in orphanages.
“If a pregnant woman comes to the government and says, ‘I want to give up my child,’ they will say ‘OK.’ But we will want to work with the birth family to stay together,” she says.
Many of the parents in Nakhon face similar challenges in caring for their children. Many of them are struggling single mothers. Or, like Sachee and Paal, teenagers who dropped out of school and got pregnant young. Also like Sachee and Paal, many are also the parents of twins or triplets — an unusually common occurrence in southern Thailand.
Seeing the commonalities among these groups of families, the HSF team in Nakhon initiated a unique program in the late 1990s — a series of support groups where parents of similar backgrounds can share their experiences and learn from each other. The single mother support group was among the first they formed, in the year 2000, followed later by a group for parents of twins and triplets — and in 2011, a group for teen parents.
“This is how they learn,” Tuk says of these support groups. “A lecturer, a doctor — it just goes in one ear. But when a peer who had the same experience, they can feel and learn and make a better life.”
When Sachee and Paal’s social worker began working with them in 2017, she suggested they join both the twins group and the teen support group to help them adjust to their new life and responsibilities. At the teen group, Sachee felt inspired by many of the other parents she met. “Some have gone through so much more than me, but still do better,” she says.
Initially, Paal was more apprehensive about joining the teen group. He was shy and didn’t want to share about his experience. But he relented, and soon became a prominent member of the group. Paal became more actively involved in his sons’ lives, and even became their full-time caregiver after Sachee got a job working as a cook.
Over time, as Sachee and Paal became financially stable and increasingly confident in parenting their sons, they became role models for the other teens. They now serve as inspirational speakers at HSF gatherings and seminars for teen parents. When the Thai government holds similar events for teen parents, Sachee and Paal also volunteer to speak.
“They are a good example,” their social worker says, “because they worked together to care for their children.”
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Reasons to Feel Proud
When Somchai and Somsak started going to school three years ago, Paal got a job working in construction while Sachee kept her job as a cook. With the support of Holt donors, HSF also gave them a small microgrant to start a vegetable garden around their home — providing nourishing food, and extra income when they sell their produce in the market. During the pandemic, Sachee’s hours were cut and Paal’s construction jobs became harder to find. Thankfully, Holt donors made it possible to give them a 5,000 Baht loan to grow more corn — helping them stay financially stable and weather the global crisis.
Since that time, Sachee and Paal have paid off the loan for the corn, which continues to bring in money for their family. Combining the profits from their corn and the the chili Sachee’s mom grows, their small family farm brings in 7,000 Baht, or almost $200, per month. As Sachee and Paal earn about 10,500 Baht per month from their jobs, the farm has almost doubled their total household income.
They still don’t earn a lot, but with the monthly support of sponsors, they can meet all of their basic needs.
Just as critical to the financial support they received from sponsors is the psychosocial support Sachee and Paal received from their social worker — holistic care and support also made possible because of Holt’s generous sponsors and donors. When Holt partners like HSF meet a family in crisis, they provide more than just a one-time, in-kind gift to meet short-term needs.
“We meet with parents on a monthly basis to monitor their children’s development and to give family counseling,” Kritsana, Paal and Sachee’s social worker, shares. While tailoring services to the needs of each family, in Paal and Sachee’s case, they counseled them on everything from managing their emotions as parents to how they planned to earn an income to ensuring Somchai and Somsak saw a dentist every six months. Their social worker encouraged them to save some of their income for a rainy day — and to ultimately grow more self-reliant.
Although life is difficult, the twins have provided their parents with the motivation and inspiration to improve themselves and fight on.”Kritsana Joonsong, Sachee and Paal’s Holt social worker
Everyone at HSF is impressed with the progress Sachee and Paal have made. “The young parents gained new knowledge and skills through our development initiatives, and despite their youth, the couple has been excellent parents,” Kritsana wrote in their case study, adding that the twins are growing up “healthy in a safe environment, surrounded by people who love and care for them.”
Although Sachee’s mom was devastated when her daughter got pregnant and dropped out of school so young, her love for her grandsons was immediate. “Once she saw the twins, she was more accepting and wanted to help care for them,” Sachee says of her mom.
The first months as a mother were a struggle for Sachee. But even when she was depressed and worried about how she would care for her newborn babies, Sachee never considered relinquishing Somchai and Somsak for adoption. “She’s a very hardworking and devoted mom,” Kritsana says. Paal has also grown to become a responsible and devoted father.
Now in their early 20s, Sachee and Paal feel confident and capable as parents. They are role models in their community of teen parents. And they are hopeful for their boys’ future.
“Although life is difficult, the twins have provided their parents with the motivation and inspiration to improve themselves and fight on,” Kritsana says.
Sachee and Paal also feel tremendous gratitude to their social worker, the team at HSF — and the Holt sponsors and donors who helped them care for their boys and continue to support Somsak and Somchai’s education and growth.
“Without the support of HSF and sponsors,” Sachee says, “I don’t know if we could have made it through.”
In the afternoon, after the boys get home from school, Sachee takes us to see her family’s 2.5-acre farm a short walk from her home. Somsak and Somchai run ahead, giggling, through grasses as tall as they are. They love to race each other through the tall stocks of corn and chili plants, banana and palm trees on the farm, and sometimes nap inside a small thatched-roof hut while their grandma works in the fields nearby. Their grandma is proud to show off her abundant chili plants and the bright red and orange chilis she recently harvested, piled in the same hut where the boys like to nap.
As she stands behind her grandsons, and her daughter, she smiles, touches Somsak’s shoulder — and looks proud of them.
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