What Did He Have to Lose?
He was about 13 when they first met him, working on the streets in Mae Sai, Thailand. Not unlike the other kids hanging around the border crossing, he was a drug smuggler – by necessity, not by choice.His family had 12 kids, and their mother was their only support. Although their dad was around, he seemed to be continually strung out on opium for as long as he can remember and when he came down, it was not pretty. His mom worked day and night to try to support the family and it was a losing battle. This was all that Aung knew, but life on the streets did have it’s upsides such as freedom to say and do what you wanted without perceived responsibility. Maybe his life looked bleak from our point of view, but from where he sat, it was all that he knew and sometimes there is a weird and twisted comfort in knowing that you are hurting and dysfunctional. It can be scary to leave the familiar.Sitting down on the steet with him one day, JK and Kru Nam offered Aung a way out. Because he couldn’t read or write, they told him if he got out of drugs they would help him get an education. They didn’t even know if he would be willing to take it, but thankfully, he reached out and took their offer. That was step one.That one step changed everything. Aung became immersed in a world he didn’t even know existed: a world of possibilities and hope. As he began to realize what education can do, he became hungry to learn and to do something significant with his life. He needed something to live for that was meaningful. While he settled into the rhythm of life at the drop-in centre and the children’s home, he wanted to show how thankful he was for this chance to start over. He became the first to volunteer to help and the one that everyone could depend on. He became a new person – or maybe it was just that he started to transform into who he was meant to be all along.But, like most things in life, change has a price tag. As Aung approached 17, he needed to find a job. JK began to walk the city streets with him, searching for employment and a new place to live. Finally, after many days, they found someone who was willing to take a risk on a Burmese kid who was a former drug runner. It became his chance to prove himself where it really counted.Today, Aung goes to school each morning, continuing his education, and works afternoons and evenings. He has his own apartment and he is able to send home money to his mother to help her with the burden of the family back in Burma, working to help his other siblings get out of the traps of poverty and exploitation. Aung is into hip hop and has a following of admirers at the boys’ home who he helps to mentor. They have watched his success and want to grow up to be like him: someone who is making a difference. Aung’s goal today is to own his own restaurant and provide opportunities for other kids from the foundation to come and work for him and have the same kind of opportunities that he has had.Sometimes change is hard to embrace. Even pain can become familiar when it is all you know and to step out of that to the unknown can seem too scary and intimidating. But what, really, did Aung have to lose by taking a chance in trusting someone to help him that had already proven to hundreds of other people that change is possible? Not much to lose really, but he had everything to gain.Aung’s success is due to his own hard work and the persistence of JK in helping him. JK and the staff at VCDF (www.vcdf.org) are able to do what they do through the support of many friends around the world. Some of those friends have joined us on Hero Holiday in Thailand. When I asked JK how they manage to do what they do in Thailand, he simply said, “There is a lot of power in a passionate life.” Enough said.To find out more about how to make a difference in Thailand, check out www.heroholiday.com.Author‘s Note: JK couldn’t tell me his name, so I choose to call him Aung. He is Burmese, and ‘Aung’ in Burmese means to succeed. If I was Burmese, that is what I would want my name to mean too.