Shaping futures

Shaping futures

With support from the Bangkok Post Foundation, a young girl was able to realise her dream of becoming a nurse and helping others

Shaping futures

There was an empty medicine cabinet, no doctor or nurse, no medical instruments or pharmacy, no water or electricity. Medical treatment simply the delivery of oxygen through a tube, since the patient had no money.

"I felt that poverty could take our lives," said Duean Khanitikitikun, a nurse at Phaholpolpayuhasena Hospital in Kanchanaburi.

"Money is critical to our lives, in terms of education and survival. Often, I felt that money could buy life for a person. But because he or she did not have money, death was certain. That's why I set my heart on becoming a nurse, and on going back home to help the people of my village."

Now 27, Duean remembers seeing destitution as a child while living with her grandmother in Mook Kanieng, a village in the Mon State in Myanmar close to the border with Thailand. By the age of about seven, she was living with her parents on the Thai side of the border, in the grounds of Wat Somdet in Mongkather, Sangkhlaburi district.

Duean graduated with first class honours from the Boromarajonani Jaskeerat College of Nursing in Ban Pong, Ratchaburi. The Phaholpolpayuhasena Hospital immediately took her on, not only because of her academic excellence and diligence, but because she spoke a number of languages. Many patients at the hospital are of Mon, Karen or other ethnic origins, but staff are largely Thai, posing communication problems.

Duean Khanitikitikun, left, and Prapaiphan Rathamarit. Bangkok Post Foundation

Duean is working at the hospital in return for government funds which supplemented, for two years, the scholarship she received from the Bangkok Post Foundation. The foundation provided for 70-80% of her needs for a total of 12 years, from kindergarten to college. Throughout her four years as a nursing student, Duean added to that by selling clothes online. She recently joined a graduation ceremony where representatives from the Bangkok Post Foundation were also present.

As a child of marginalised people, she lived in a community where there was no electricity or water. But Sunissa Tongsouk, a teacher Duean called Kru Sim, took care of her, bringing food and sharing other necessities.

"If there was a donation of clothes, she would call me and I would collect. I would take what I could use and pass on to other people what I could not," Duean explained.

Sunissa did what she could to improve Duean's chances of success. For instance, she introduced her to a pharmacy, and got her jobs cleaning and checking the validity of medicines.

Duean was then in the second grade of primary school. She had been doing odd jobs since she was about 10, when her father, an ethnic Mon who had been given Thai citizenship, sent her to kindergarten in Sangkhlaburi.

"Since I was in kindergarten, if a teacher or anyone else had work for me to do, I would do it. I wanted to because I was deprived of chances and needed money. The pay would depend on the teacher. For instance, I swept the school rooms after hours, did ironing on weekends, and other work that retired teachers might need done."

When Sunissa heard of the Bangkok Post Foundation scholarship, she asked Duean what she wanted to do in life.

"I told her that I wanted to be a nurse. It had been my dream since I was in first grade. Khru Sim gave me this chance because she understood the finances of my family," Duean said.

As required of scholarship recipients, Duean submitted reports to the foundation regularly.

"I was used to noting my income and expenses. Because money was limited, I had to manage it well when I received a sum. I had to decide what I should spend it on. The scholarship from the Bangkok Post Foundation was very important to me because it helped me improve the management of my funds," she explained.

Normally Duean wrote the entries in long-hand, in the belief that this showed determination. But on one occasion when she had no time because she was busy training, and she relented to typing and printing.

"I was not happy with myself, recalling then that I could write it out in long-hand before, so why can't I do it now? But I tried to look on the positive side, telling myself that I had to resort to typing because I had more responsibilities now," she said.

Duean was well disciplined, with a clear goal and determination to reach it.

She said the scholarship had brought her knowledge and a chance to broaden her horizons. She had also found a secure profession. Thirdly, she was able to apply what she had learned to take care of sick people.

"The scholarship gave me a chance to learn and apply it to help people with problems," Duean said.

"In future, if I have a chance, and have sufficient income, with some financial security, I would like to share some of it with the next generation as funding for their education.

"I have never known a foundation that provided scholarships continuously like the Bangkok Post Foundation. At times, I wondered whether my scholarship would be disrupted as others around me who won scholarships but had theirs discontinued."

The Bangkok Post Foundation discontinues scholarships on a number of grounds -- failure to report expenses, to attend classes, take exams and to keep in touch. In addition, recipients lose funding if their grade point average drops below 2.0.

Duean admits she was worried about the latter condition because the performance of nursing students was assessed on the basis of group work in the first three years.

"It was a matter of making the graph look good, and I never knew where I would stand in this," she said.

In the fourth and final year, however, students were assessed on the basis of individual work. Duean was given a grade point average of 3.95, or 0.05 short of full marks.

Duean spent the funds from the Bangkok Post Foundation on paying for her uniform, books, food, accommodation and school fees. She did not mind that the foundation only provided 70-80% of her needs. On the contrary, it trained her to plan and think of ways to find the difference she needed to pay bills.

"For instance, if you receive only 5,000 baht but your expenses amount to 10,000 baht, you have to find a way of earning an income that is enough to pay for your needs. I opted to sell Mon cloth because I am Mon by ethnicity. It was a way of promoting the Mon culture, developing self-discipline, and of earning a supplementary income."

The Bangkok Post Foundation set 70-80% as the ceiling for individual scholarships because some young graduates who previously received 100% funding for their studies had shown disrespect to their parents, thinking that they had not helped put them through school or university.

For Duean, it was enough that her parents gave her moral support and guidance through her years of study.

"They could not pay for my expenses but they gave me guidance. When I told them that I wanted to study nursing, they asked how I would do so, where I would get the money from. I told them I would do my best and that it was enough that I had mum and dad to stand by me," she said.

When the cost of living went up, the foundation made adjustments to the scholarship in order to ensure recipients survived while pursuing their studies, although they still had to find supplementary income.

Duean remembers being surprised by increases in funding that came to her every year, for instance from 50,000 baht a year to 60,000 baht. "I sometimes wondered if the foundation had made a mistake."

Duean says determination and planning were crucial to her qualifying as a nurse. From the time she heard that she had received the scholarship, she set her heart on making her dream come true. She asked previous graduates how much money they needed for the four years.

"I worked out that I would need about 400,000 baht for four years. Then I looked at what I had received, how much more I would need to earn, and how much I would need to save in case of emergencies, as you never know when an problem would arise," she said.

Teacher Chantana Nahathaipokin described Duean as "a sweet girl with a lot of determination". That is because she has been through a lot, having had to struggle much more than other people her age.

Duean had many disadvantages in terms of schooling, the way she lived and language barriers, Chantana recalled. But she had succeeded in graduating as a nurse in four years, which means her roots were strong, her potential considerable and her perseverance unflinching.

Chantana thanked the Bangkok Post Foundation for supporting a child from a remote place with almost no future or possessions to "become someone with a profession, and a good future".

Duean has "done very well" to have acquired the skills and knowledge to help patients in need, she added.

Information for donations: Bangkok Post Foundation, account No.218-026-7441, Bangkok Bank, Sunthonkosa Branch.


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