When his wife left their family, Anurak suddenly had to raise his two sons alone. And in a traditional culture where women typically do the majority of childcare, he didn’t know where to begin. But his love and dedication for his sons motivated him to learn. And as he soon discovered, he didn’t have to go it completely alone.
You can learn a lot about Anurak from his hands.
His right one has large callouses, noticeable from feet away — from the manual labor jobs he has worked all his life. He used to work in a lumber factory. This was a good job, and he made 600 Thai baht a day. But his career quickly came to an end one day.
This story also brings you back to Anurak’s hands.
Anurak’s left index finger is missing. It ends before it even begins, right at his knuckle. He was fishing in a pond back behind his house one day when a snake slithered through the reeds at the shore and bit him. He was unconscious at the hospital for two days — the doctors told his wife to be prepared for him to never wake up. She was eight months pregnant with their first son at the time. But Anurak survived. He woke up with normal brain function — a miracle.
“I was so happy that I survived. I never feel hopeless,” Anurak says about his near-death experience. “I feel that even though it’s unfortunate for me to get bitten by a snake, I was blessed enough to survive because I have a family to care for.”
But his physical strength decreased because of the snake bite, and he couldn’t work in the lumber factory anymore. He started doing odd jobs to earn an income, working at a brick factory every weekday, and painting and fixing boats on the weekends. But he barely earned enough to support their family — his wife and two sons.
Kovit was born just a month after the snake bite, then Kasem came four years later. But slowly, over this time, Anurak’s wife distanced herself. She and Anurak came from different cultures within southern Thailand, and over time, some of these differences became too difficult to bear. When Kasem was born, she secluded herself from their family even more. She never bonded with Kasem, and she wanted to start back at work right away. Then one day, she left — leaving Anurak to raise their two sons on his own.
Today, about a year later, Anurak’s hands lovingly hold onto his youngest son. Despite the heartache and loss, Anurak’s eyes are soft and kind. He wears camo cargo pants, black Crocks and a black messenger hat. He is a single father. When his wife left, he suddenly catapulted into a life he knew little about.
“It’s hard for me. At first, when the children got sick, I’m not used to it, and I didn’t understand much about the symptoms or what I should do,” Anurak says, sharing about one of the first difficulties he experienced as a single father. “I didn’t know when to take them to the hospital, and I don’t have confidence to talk to the medical personnel. That’s one of the struggles that I have.”
Anurak’s family first connected with Holt Sahathai Foundation (HSF) long before Anurak found himself parenting his sons all by himself. When she decided to go back to work, Anurak’s wife reached out to HSF, our long-time partner, to ask for infant formula — a staple that HSF provides for many families living in their community, thanks to the generous support of Holt sponsors and donors.
But now, Anurak needed more help than ever.
Even though his wife never connected with her children, she still filled the caregiving role that women traditionally fill in Thai culture. When she left, Anurak not only lost the support of his wife and the care that she gave to their children, but because of his lower-paying jobs, he didn’t have the resources to provide for them either. Luckily, Anaruk’s sister lives right next door and has stepped up to care for the children while Anurak is at work. Anurak’s home is a spacious, concrete home, but only partially constructed — so they often eat meals and spend time at his sister’s house.
It’s the beginning of the rainy season in Nakhon Si Thammarat, a province in southern Thailand. As we sit in the open-air kitchen of Anurak’s sister’s home, from out of nowhere, a cloud bursts open and heavy drops begin to saturate the ground. Anurak leaps up from his sister’s table where we’re talking and runs to the clothesline in his front yard, snatching the clean laundry he had drying there.
“This family is special to me because of how hardworking the father is,” says Tarn, one of the social workers at Holt Sahathai Foundation. “At first, he didn’t have experience caring for a young baby. We got to teach him a lot about child care, hygiene, things like that.”
Tarn helped Anurak with household bookkeeping, helped him open savings accounts for both of his boys, taught him how to garden to provide his sons with healthy fruits and vegetables, stressed the importance of education for Kovit and Kasem, and provided parenting support and encouragement whenever he needed it. Through HSF, Kovit and Kasem immediately got matched with Holt sponsors.
With educational support from his sponsor, 6-year-old Kovit received the school supplies, uniforms, books and other resources he needed to attend school. And for Kasem — just under 2 years old — Anurak got a full supply of nutritious infant formula. And this support — both the social work support from HSF and the financial support from Holt sponsors — is truly making a difference.
“His children are healthy and clean,” Tarn says. “They even have no cavities!”
Tarn encourages Anurak to send his 2-year-old son Kasem to preschool. Kasem clings to his dad, and while this is evidence of their close, loving bond, Tarn explains that it would be best for Kasem if he would learn to socialize more with other children, and begin preparing for primary school in a couple years.
As Anurak spends more time with Tarn, and more time with his sons, he gets it.
“What I really hope for my children to achieve is to have the highest education as their potential allows them,” he says. “I don’t want them to be like myself – tired.”
While Anurak is tired from the hard manual jobs he works to support his boys, his eyes are now opened to his sons’ potential, and he wants the best for them. He would do anything for his sons, even if it means making difficult changes — changes that will strengthen their family, and make an enormous difference.
“The way we parented before, it was more about the physical needs of the children. To feed them, to have them get enough sleep, things like that,” Anurak says. “But what I learned from the social worker and Holt Sahathai is more of the psychological and emotional aspects of the children. And being the parent, you need to not just let your child grow naturally, but as parents we need to get involved in their activities and stimulate them.”
So Anurak makes sure his boys eat healthy, that they’re going to school, that he talks with them lovingly — and that despite their hard times — their life maintains dignity. He expresses that last point in a sweet and tangible wish, perhaps something he was reminded of as he rushed to take the clean laundry off of the line.
“I wish I could iron the clothes for the children,” he says. “I know how to iron. But I’m too busy to have time for that.”
But when it comes to the most important things, Anurak and his sons are doing well. And much of that is because of their community. His sister is next door, and they are close with their neighbors. A few neighbor women are sitting near their houses, slicing up a mango. Kasem runs over and soon comes charging back, mango juice now dripping down his chin.
The rain has stopped, and we follow Anurak to his village’s festival. It’s a fundraiser for the nearby school. There’s food and carnival rides and handicrafts and hundreds of people — a vibrant community where Kovit and Kasem learn, play and grow.
Anurak’s community also includes Tarn and Holt Sahathai Foundation, whose support he values immensely.
“I feel very supported and encouraged to have the social worker here all the time when I can call her, or go to see her,” Anurak says. “And she comes to visit quite often.”
Sometimes, it takes a community to strengthen a family. But this community is more than just the people who live nearby. For Anurak and Kovit and Kasem, their community is also Kovit and Kasem’s Holt sponsors — people who live across the world, but care enough to help them thrive.
Anurak is a single father, but he is anything but alone. He is supported and empowered to raise his sons — a task that will joyously keep his hands full for years to come.
Megan Herriott | Staff Writer