My Journey to Freedom

Friday 3 August 2018

“My life is like the moon’s phases, as there are good days and bad days”

Eleven-year-old Nora* travelled to Thailand in hope of reuniting with her dad and brothers, who are in Malaysia. When her mom passed away in 2015, Nora made a decision to flee Myanmar and travel on a boat by herself, in order to get to Thailand. On her way to the Thai-Malay border, the Thai police in Nakhon Si Thammarat province found her in a crammed truck with a number of other Rohingya trafficking victims.  All had been travelling without food for two days, and one of the victims was found dead due to the harsh conditions travelling inside the vehicle. Upon interception by the Thai police, Nora was referred to the Nakhon Si Thammarat Shelter for Children and Families and was later transferred to Surat Thani shelter, where she has been receiving care and protection until now.

(Nora draws a picture of trees as the idea of green spaces relaxes her)
 
Nora is the youngest child out of four siblings. Three brothers are currently living in Malaysia, while another sister is in Myanmar. The battle for Nora has been about her struggles with loneliness and the lack of adult guidance as she fights for survival. Due to the harshness of her life at such a young age, Nora has had to confront many serious issues and thereby make life decisions independently. In her own words she said,

“My life is like the moon’s phases as there are good days and bad days. Someday I miss my mom very much as I am here all alone. I came to the acceptance that when I left home, I was a child. However, having no parents around anymore, I now have to be both a man and a woman in one body. I have cultivated the strength of a man and the tenderness of a woman. But sometimes this really takes a mental toll on me.”

While staying at the shelter, Nora faced some adjustment issues as she once attempted to escape. Her attempt to escape led to tightened security on other Rohingya victims, leading her to struggle when blending in with others, which included facing verbal and physical violence. However, through an individual care-plan designed by staff from Save the Children and the shelter, Nora was able to slowly reintegrate back into the Rohingya community there. For her own protection, Nora was first separated to dwell and participate in activities with the Laos children at the shelter. A designated key person was also set up for Nora when she needed to confide with someone. The care-plan not only targeted Nora, but it also included working closely with those who she had issues with in order to ensure a holistic recovery process for all parties.

(1)   Nora listed out her favorite things to do at the shelter (left)

(2)   Nora’s favorite hand sewn top (middle)

(3)   A hand drawn picture of a house and trees by Nora (right)

Gradually, Nora was encouraged and given support to join activities with other Rohingya children, particularly during group therapy and sports activities. This gradual interaction between Nora and her friends, in a lighthearted environment, eventually allowed her to amend feelings with her old support network. As the shelter staff said, “Nora’s inner strength, along with forgiveness by her peers, have been the key to success of this care-plan.” Not only has Nora reintegrated back to her old network, but she has also become a role model for younger Rohingya children. In her free time, Nora began to take on more responsibilities at the shelter, such as by aiding shelter staff to assist other Rohingya children with transitioning, and attending to their daily routines.

For the past 3 years, Save the Children had provided psychosocial support to assist children at the shelters in the south of Thailand. Some of the activities included counselling support, hygiene education for adolescent girls, art therapy activities, and individual care-plans for those in need of attentive care. Through working closely with the shelter staff, Save the Children’s psychosocial support services aimed to meet community-identified needs and help individuals to cope better with everyday life and become reconciled.

(Nora reads one of her favorite English books, which one of the drawings inside reminds her of her brother)

The individual support provided to Nora in times of need has led to positive signs of psychological and social development during her time at the shelter. This is particularly evident from her active engagement with support services and activities provided at the shelter. Additionally, when asked about her future, Nora said,

“I am very excited at the prospect of going to the U.S. as many of my cousins are already there. Once arrive, I want to learn English and eventually get a doctorate degree so that I can become a TB doctor in the future and help others in need.”

For the next phase of the project, Save the Children will focus on working closely with the shelter staff on capacity building and case management. The shift in direction aims at ensuring the long-term sustainability of assistance provided to children at shelters in the south of Thailand, as the shelter staff are the key people who work closely with children on a daily basis.

(* Indicates that the name has been changed to protect identity)