Jess Neilson running 2012 Nak Suu Tigers Cleat Drive
Published Thursday, October 25, 2012
by Andrew Smith, with files from Jess Neilson

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VANCOUVER - After a successful 2011 campaign that saw the rugby community donate over 80 pairs of boots to her initiative, U18 provincial rep and Meraloma Jess Neilson is setting the bar higher for her 2012 cleat drive.

Neilson will once again be teaming up with former Canadian international and X-Treme Rugby Wear entrepreneur Eddie Evans to help support the Nak Suu Tigers. The Nak Suu program is run by Evans in Bangkok and is designed to have a lasting impact on the lives of young people through rugby training and life skill development. The program targets at-risk kids who live in five slum communities around the Bangkok metropolitan area.

Neilson will be collecting cleats from October 29th through December 3rd. Boxes will be available for drop offs at Carson Graham Secondary's main office (2145 Jones Ave, North Vancouver) and the Meraloma club house (2390 West 10th Ave, Vancouver).

"I'm excited to kick things off this month and to collect even more cleats than last year," Neilson said. "Last year I got to 80 pairs and I want to go above that this time so I'm setting the minimum at 100!"

Boots in good shape and in kids sizes are preferred. Neilson will also be at the Year End True Blue Mini Jamboree at UBC on November 18th collecting cleats.

For more information contact Jess by email at j.neilson.13@hotmail.com or visit the Nak Suu Tigers Facebook page.

Last year Jess travelled to Thailand to deliver the donated cleats and funds and spent some time in Bangkok. She wrote about her experience upon returning to Vancouver...

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Fundraiser and cleat drive culminate in eye-opening Thailand visit
Published Jan 3, 2012
by Jess Neilson

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 every day, 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, builds 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 some time 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
first hand or that perhaps it does not truly exist. Well let me say, that it really does.

I cannot imagine how devastating the floods just a few weeks ago would have been to these families.  In the pictures one can see the water underneath the pathways.  According to Sopo, that water was not there just a few months ago, but then the height rose to 2 metres.  Most kids were in school when we visited because the delays the floods caused to the school system have forced all Thai schools to be open on weekends for classes. However, we met some of the parents whose kids are involved in Nak Suu and they were delighted to see Sopo's and Bonds' faces, as well as happy to meet my family and me. It was lovely to see. (Bond is a Nak Suu mentor and leader.)

Later on, we went to another community down the road where we walked around again and this time got to meet some kids who had just arrived home from school. They were all very happy and pleasant.  One little adorable girl, was so shy but couldn't stop smiling.  By the end of our visit, she had opened up to us a little more. After, we drove to the local school beside the temple where we were treated to seeing a music class practicing traditional Thai music and met some more kids involved with Nak Suu.

I wasn't able to hand out the cleats as Nak Suu was finished for 2011, however I know the cleats will be handed out and I will be told when this happens. It was an experience the majority of people will never get to enjoy and I'm so happy I was able to at such a young age. Seeing where these kids live is an experience which has changed my life for the better; it makes me want to help even more, so don't expect my efforts with Nak Suu to wither away, it's only beginning!

Also being able to witness the effect Nak Suu has on these kids' lives is incredible, it's nice to know that I'm not just collecting for a charity and shipping the items off to ‘who knows where’. Overall, I want to thank everyone who helped spread the word and donated either cleats or cash. This could not have been even remotely successful without your help and support. 

‘Til next time,
Jess Neilson

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