Among the subpopulations vulnerable to exploitation, the stateless children are in the most danger. Statelessness is a condition that affects over half a million people in Thailand alone*—most are refugees from Myanmar (Burma) or the children of refugees. Some have lived in Thailand their whole lives; some come from families who have lived in Thailand for generations, but as refugees they are not officially recognized by either Myanmar or Thailand. They have no claim to citizenship rights, nor the protections of either state. If they disappear, no one will come to their aid.
One of our scholarship students, Chana**, has lived in Thailand his entire life. Despite extreme financial challenges, many bureaucratic hurdles, and several experiences of outright racism, he fought his way through school to finally finish with a bachelor’s degree in law. However, because he is one of the stateless, without access to citizenship, it was probable that he would never practice law because he needed to be a citizen to be certified. He would have to go back to work with his family in the fields.
And yet, he persevered. He fought for many years—and won his Thai citizenship.
Yet his story does not end there. A few weeks ago, shocking news came to light. His older brother, who had been the primary breadwinner of their family, who was married with two children, died unexpectedly. The family has been rocked to the core, and now, Chana, as the remaining son, must step up and find a way to support his parents and his brother’s family. Though overcome with grief, he cannot waste a moment, but must act immediately to protect his family.
In the face of these difficulties, Chana remains a testament to maturity and grace as he soldiers on. He is in mourning, but insists upon controlling his emotions. He says, “If you want to succeed in life, you have no excuse to ever give up.” At the moment, he is growing pineapples and selling them on his own, as he continues to pursue his dream of one day practicing law.
His dedication and perseverance is an inspiration and role model for us all. We will be rooting for him as he continues to tackle this next big hurdle.
* Source: UNHCR Thailand profile
** name changed to protect privacy