Raising Kanya

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Facing an unplanned pregnancy, Napha, a college student in Thailand, made the difficult decision to place her baby for adoption. But when she learned that Holt Sahathai Foundation could help with support and resources she needed to raise her daughter, everything changed.

Napha* looked down at her swollen belly, six months along with her first child, anguished over the decision before her. No longer able to hide her pregnancy, she had recently dropped out of school — one of the top universities in Bangkok — where she was in her final year of studying to be a teacher. Her boyfriend, the father of her baby, left her shortly after learning of the pregnancy. Her parents knew nothing, and because of the strong stigma against unwed pregnancy in Thailand, she intended to keep it that way. At just 22 years old, Napha was afraid, without a home and alone. So she picked up the phone.

The number she called was an unplanned pregnancy hotline where she got in touch with Jintana Nontapouraya, executive director of Holt Sahathai Foundation (HSF), Holt’s longtime partner organization in Thailand. HSF works with women like Napha who are experiencing unplanned pregnancies. They offer counseling to help women make a decision for themselves and their babies. And regardless of whether they choose to parent or relinquish their child for adoption, HSF provides these women with a safe place to live, prenatal nutrition and, if they do parent, opportunities for training and education needed to provide for themselves and their baby.

While a difficult decision was still before her, Napha was no longer alone.

Jintana referred her to Good Shepherd Sisters’ Mothers and Children Program in Nongkhai, a safe place in northern Thailand where Napha could remain throughout her pregnancy. Jintana spoke with Napha about the options she had for her baby, making it clear to her that it was her decision alone.

“She kept insisting that HSF take her baby into care as soon as the baby was born,” says Jintana. Napha was confident in her decision: she would find a loving adoptive family for her baby so that she could finish her education. This way, she could also continue to keep the pregnancy, and her child, a secret.

The day finally came. Napha had a girl and named her Kanya*. In the first minutes that she held Kanya in her arms, Napha fell in love with her beautiful baby. And as she looked down at her dark brown eyes and soft brown hair, so much like her own, she reconsidered her decision. Maybe, like Jintana said, she could do it. So she changed her mind — she would do whatever it took to parent her daughter.

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For the first month of Kanya’s life, Napha continued to live in the shelter as she got used to motherhood and decided what to do next.

“Once she made the decision to parent her [daughter],” Jintana says, “Napha expressed full commitment to Kanya.” With help from HSF, Napha came up with a parenting plan that would empower her to fulfill both of her dreams — to be Kanya’s mother and finish her education.

After spending their first month together at the Good Shephard shelter, it was time for Napha to return to Bangkok to finish her education. As planned, Napha entrusted Kanya to the loving, temporary care of an experienced HSF foster family, Mr. and Mrs. Somboom.

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For 15 months, Kanya was well taken care of by her HSF foster family, the Sombooms.

Mr. and Mrs. Somboom loved Kanya dearly. She lived with them for 15 months, in which time she grew to have beautiful, twinkly eyes and a sweet smile. “The Sombooms devoted their time to provide Kanya with tender loving care, close and special attention, and the stimulation that she needed,” Jintana says. With their nurturing, Kanya — who was born with low birth weight of just four pounds — grew to be healthy and strong. Kanya’s pediatrician saw her every two months, and was amazed by her significant progress!

In those same 15 months, far away in the bustling city of Bangkok, Napha worked tirelessly. She spent her days in class, her evenings and weekends working part time at a local 7-11 store, and she never missed her scheduled meetings to see Kanya at the HSF office. But after several months, Kanya didn’t seem to recognize her mother anymore. She would cry for her foster mother instead. Napha loved that Kanya bonded with her foster family and was being so well taken care of, but this signaled for her that it was time for a change. She wanted Kanya to bond with her biological family.

It was time for Napha to tell her parents.

Steeling herself for her parents’ reaction, Napha traveled back to her hometown — a rural rice-farming village in northeastern Thailand. She was afraid of how her parents, and her two younger siblings, would respond to the news of Kanya’s birth. But she was confident in her decision.

“Napha said that whether or not her parents would be mad and accept her daughter, she was not afraid to be a single mom and would try her best to parent [Kanya],” Jintana says.

Their first reaction was shock — how could their daughter have gotten into this situation? But their next response surprised her. It didn’t take long for their hearts to soften. They agreed to travel to Bangkok to see their then 1-year-old granddaughter.

Napha’s parents laid eyes on Kanya, and they fell in love. “They could not think of leaving their granddaughter,” says Jintana. “They said she was faultless.” Although they lived ten hours away and they didn’t have much extra money for travel, they were dedicated to their granddaughter and traveled to visit her by train once every month at the Sombooms’ home.

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When Kanya was 15 months old, Napha graduated from the university, complete with a passing grade on the national teaching exam. Finally, Kanya and Napha’s wait to be together was over.

Today, Kanya is 23 months old. Her grandparents take care of her each day while her mother teaches school. Kanya’s aunts and uncles, Napha’s younger siblings, take her for daily walks around the village and she is the center of attention in her family. Then cannot imagine life without her!

Napha and Kanya’s story is an example of Holt’s family strengthening programs around the world. We believe that whenever possible, a child should remain in the loving care of his or her birth family. But in many countries, the stigma against single parenting is so great that both unwed mothers and their children will face discrimination in every facet of their lives — even from their own families. Working alongside our local partners, we work to empower women like Napha with the support and resources they need to parent their children and to cope with the stigma they face every day in their communities.

Napha is a very courageous young woman. By providing support, HSF showed her what was possible. But it is through Napha’s hard work and dedication that she is now raising her daughter. Now, Napha can look down at her daughter and the anguish and anxiousness that she once felt is replaced by love and fulfillment. But Napha also knows she is not alone. Between Jintana, Mr. and Mrs. Somboom, her grandparents and herself, so many people have come together to raise Kanya in her first months of life. And Kanya will grow up loved and safe, knowing that she is cherished by so many.

Megan Herriott | Staff Writer

*Names changed

This November, on Giving Tuesday, we are raising money to ensure women and girls in our programs have all the support and resources they need to reach their dreams — resources like scholarships, income-generating courses and supplies, single mother support, pre-and-postnatal healthcare and more. From now until November 29, we’ll share more stories about Holt’s work to empower women and girls around the world and how you can be a part of this important day of giving!

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