Fundraiser and cleat drive culminate in eye-opening Thailand visit
Published Tuesday, January 3, 2012 5:00 am
by Jess Neilson

BC U18 provincial team standout Jess Neilson has returned from an eye-opening experience in Thailand. Neilson ran a cleat drive and fundraiser this past December and then visited Thailand to personally deliver the funds and cleats to the Nak Suu Tigers program. Here is Neilson's amazing story...

The Thai phrase “Nak Suu” means "Noble Warrior" in English – a term that describes the kids in the surrounding slums or ‘communities’ in Bangkok perfectly.  They truly are "Noble Warriors" who really fight to survive everyday, live with the bare essentials and do everything possible to help their families get by no matter how rough their backgrounds are.

The Nak Suu Tigers Rugby Academy is a program that has sprung from Ark International, a Non-Profit organization that is partnered with X-Treme Rugby Wear (http://www.arkintl.org/). Nak Suu targets at-risk kids who live in five slum communities around the Bangkok metropolitan area (population approximately 20 million people).  These young boys and girls are at risk of many dangers from human trafficking, prostitution, drug abuse and teenage pregnancy to child labour, all of which prevent them from completing their education. Through Rugby, Nak Suu reaches out to these kids and instils life skills development, build trust, hope, self-esteem and courage while making a lasting impact on their lives. This creates a healthier cycle of children finishing their education and making positive changes in their lives and their immediate worlds.

I came across Nak Suu when BC Rugby posted an article about Eddie Evans (co-founder) on their website in 2010.  Being a member of the BC provincial under-17 women's team at the time, I was touched to hear about his work with Nak Suu. Being half-Thai and an avid rugby-lover, I was thrilled and wanted to do something with Nak Suu when the time was right. Eventually, that time came around when I heard from my parents that we were going to Thailand for Christmas.  The first thought that popped into my head was "Nak Suu!"  

I emailed Sopo Fakaua and [former Canadian national team player] Eddie Evans, Nak Suu co-founders and asked what Nak Suu was really in need of as I wanted to give something useful to them. When Sopo responded and said the children cannot afford cleats, I thought of how many spare cleats I had lying around the house and how many other members of the rugby community had lying around their houses!

Knowing how amazingly tight-knit rugby communities are as well as how quickly word spreads, I put out the word through emails, my BC U18 women's provincial team and other BC Teams, as well as the Meralomas and other Lower Mainland clubs and Carson Graham Secondary.  The North Shore News helped me further the cause with a picture and advertisement and I employed some social networking skills through a Facebook page I started.  Before I knew it, I had cleats flying through the door!

At the culmination of the cleat drive I collected 80 pairs that I hand-washed and paired up to make them clean and special for the kids receiving them. I also fundraised $605.00 (the equivalent of approximately $18, 400 Thai Baht). Nak Suu is hoping to expand sometime in the future, and wishes to buy some land and build two rugby fields as well as a clubhouse and a few other facilities to accommodate more kids.  To the grounds they want to add tutoring centres, English classes, career and health education classes and other subjects to help these at-risk kids in the future.

When my family and I arrived in Thailand, we had arranged a meeting with Sopo and the Ark International South East Asian Headquarters which is where the Nak Suu office is located. I got to meet some of the wonderful staff who have amazing stories of how they came to Ark and Nak Suu.  I also learned more about what Ark stands for. From there, we took a taxi to the province of Samut Prakan just south of Bangkok where we walked though a market, took a commuter boat across the water and hired tuk-tuks upon reaching the other side to take us to the first community.

It's astounding how much most people take for granted in our lives.  Seeing these communities really opened my eyes to the world around me. I study about disparities in wealth and related issues in school, the pages in my textbooks go on and on, but it never seems real. It always seems as if it's another dimension or reality that not many people ever see

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