By Michael Hart
This month, ZOE’s founder Michael Hart shares 3 stories which show why the recent school graduations are cause for such celebration in Thailand.
It was an extra hot day of 95 F (35 C) when 8 of our ZOE 6th graders graduated on March 12th. In addition to the heat, the air quality was at extremely dangerous levels over 300 AQI. Many of the locals stayed indoors that day or wore filtering masks in order to be protected from the hazy pollution created by the burning fields and forest fires. Yet this outside graduation would not be stopped. It was a time of celebration despite the foreboding elements. These 8 children have had previously experienced atrocities in their young lives that none of us can imagine. Yet, here they stood for over 3 hours in the sun and smoke, without protection, smiling away and enjoying their day of victory. We cheered them on and hugged them, telling them how much we loved them and were so proud of them for their achievements. It was not the weather we remember, but it was looking at them and beholding what God has done in their lives that captured our attention. God is truly “The Father to the fatherless.”
On March 15th, four of our sweet ZOE girls graduated from 6th grade at a different school. We thank God for their school because it is one of the few Christian schools in Thailand, where less than 1% of the nation are followers of Christ. Their school understands the backgrounds of many of ZOE’s children and for years have worked with us in helping to restore them. Education is an important part of preventing and ending child trafficking. These 4 girls were taught all the regular school subjects but in a Christian context. In addition, their school taught them many Thai historical and cultural skills. We think this is great for children to learn more about their own culture and to celebrate their national identity. It was a joy to see their proud smiles and to congratulate them for their achievements.
Also on March 15th, we arrived at 3pm in the hot sun and smoky air to celebrate the 12th graduation of one of our ZOE teenage girls. We were told that we would be able to meet the students for a photo at 3:30 pm. Instead the 300 graduates were escorted straight to their seats while the parents, friends, and families waited until the ceremony was over. Finally, after 6pm the festivities took a pause, so we could see our girl and congratulate her. She was so excited that we were present for her, because she did not have parents to greet her peers. Her ZOE mom lavished her with praise, while the rest of us hugged her and gave her gifts. After that, it was photo time. We stood by her and surrounded her for pictures, helping her experience that she was the most important person on earth in that moment. She graduated with a degree in Tourism, which will empower her to be able to take care of herself in a sustainable career. We are so proud of all our kids and thank God for His loving grace that He showers upon them. All great reasons to celebrate!