BY: Anamika (Cindy) Tangsakulnurak, Thailand
It has been three wonderful weeks staying in the United States (U.S.) with Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative (YSEALI) Professional Fellows Program. I have learned so many interesting things through my placement with Montana Non-profit Association (MNA) in Helena, the capital city of Montana. Hence, I would like to convey my sincere appreciation to Ms. Liz Moore, my amazing fellowship coordinator, for her insightful advices, useful suggestions and strong connections to other non-profit organisations. I am passionated in child development and very glad with this opportunity working with MNA. It allows me to visit and learn the best practices from Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs), schools and other social enterprises that focus on working with children. One of the organisations that Liz brought me to is called Big Brother Big Sister which later became an absolutely mind-blowing professional experience to me.
Big Brothers Big Sisters has been helping children in difficult circumstances by adding another positive adults into their life in the role of a mentor. They match adult volunteers (called as “Bigs”) and children from ages 6 to 18 (known as “Littles”) to work together in order to reach children’s highest potential. The organisation provides an ongoing support for children, families, and volunteers to build and develop positive relationship that have a direct and long-lasting effect on the life of the children. If someone is interested in volunteering to be the "Big", the organisation will conduct a matching process that includes extensive background checking of the volunteers to ensure a safety of the children. It is the most important process that can last up to two months.
There are two types of mentoring programs, which are community-based and school-based program. For the community-based mentoring program, the Bigs will provide Littles with one-to-one time and attention to do activities in the community. For instance, Bigs will meet with their Littles for two to four times per month, which each meeting will last a couple of hours. They can go out for hiking, having lunch, watching movies or playing games. The program is also supported by a local businesses; for example, the Big can buy one ice cream and get another one for free for the Little at the participating shops. For the school-based mentoring program, the Bigs provide Littles with one-to-one time and attention in the local schools during the children’s school day(s). In contrast with community-based program, the school-based matches will meet each other only once a week and usually last only 30 minutes to an hour. Moreover, this program also gives an opposition to the high school students to serve as the Bigs as well.
It is very interesting to me that the Bigs can be anyone who would like to spend some of their personal times helping and mentoring the Littles. I was amazed by the concept of the program that allow anybody to help developing children’s ability and potential even they are not relevant or relatives, which implies that the community cares so much about their children. Ms. Colleen K. Brady, the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Big Brothers Big Sisters told me that “Every child needs to have a good mentor that does not need to be their parents or people in their family”. Big Brother Big Sisters’s mentoring program is also proven by an independent research that it can improve children’s odds for being successful in the school, behaving non-violently, avoiding drugs and alcohol, and breaking negative cycles.
Big Brother Big Sister inspired me in a lot of ways and make me feel that I must do something for children in my country too. From 1980s onwards, while Thailand has been focusing more on the economic development, it also led to many of important changes in the society. Thailand has been transformed from a complete agricultural country to an industrial country. Urbanisation and industrialisation created more complicated societies with a competing culture. Thus, Thai people started to overlook the traditional family’s value and pattern of social cohesion. Though the rapid growth in the economy created a number of opportunities to some groups of people, it also created a lot of challenges and inequality for others. For example, most of the children in the rural area are trapped by the poverty and have to drop out of school at a very young age. In addition, the statistic shows that the rate is higher in girl students than boys. Sadly, due to the lack of education, many of them ended up being exploited in Thailand’s sex industry. Moreover, most of the vulnerable children had lost parental care due to economic reasons, which about 400,000 of them were left out due to HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, it is not overstated to say that we have almost every forms of child maltreatment from neglect to physical abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, and emotional abuse, which can finally lead to more serious problems (child prostitutes, child beggars, children in conflict with the laws, child labour, stateless children, etc.).
Finally, I realised that all of the problems about children need to be addressed in the policy level. However, I strongly believe that, no matter who you are or what is your profession, you can be part of the solution of this issue by promoting, ensuring and protecting child’s right. Big Brothers Big Sisters is one of many successful models that proved to us that it does not need someone famous or important to be a role model. Anyone of us, including you and me, can be a good mentor and a role model for our current younger generation who will finally become our future change agent. In fact, the only question for all of us to answer now is if you currently taking a good care your children enough? And, if not you, then who? If not now, then when?…