Her Name May Mean Shrimp, but She is Far from Small.
Thai people are often given a second name at birth. Nicknames are a pervasive part of culture in Thailand and can tell just as much about a person’s identity as their given name. 19-year-old Tipsuda Winprakhon is also known as “Gung” which, when translated to English means “shrimp.” Shrimp may be the last word that comes to mind when you first meet Gung. She is neither especially small or particularly timid. Reserved but well-spoken once she gets to know you, her warm smile fills a room.
Gung came to the Freedom Story for the first time at twelve years old. President Rachel Globe and Founding Director Tawee Donchai first entered her life when they offered scholarships to at-risk children, including Gung, at her school, Pong Phrae Wittaya.
Gung said It was difficult for her to imagine what would have happened if she had not received her scholarship. Her family is low-income and after her father’s death two years ago, her mother became the family’s sole provider. Instead, Gung prefers to focus on her accomplishments since day she received her scholarship. With the help of Freedom Story, she graduated 9th grade and started high school. When, after a year she realized traditional school was not the best fit for her, she found her passion and transferred to vocational school to study tourism.
Now Gung staffs the front desk, prepares rooms for guests, and leads tours at a hostel called Ozone. Her favorite stops on her tour include the White temple, Sing Ha Park, and the Blue Temple. She is still passionate about learning English, and practices with guests and her roommates. She says she may be interested in applying to University next year, but until then, is happy at her job and living with friends in a dorm only a few minutes from Ozone.
Family is important to Gung. She does not live with her relatives anymore, but makes frequent visits to her village to visit her mother, sister, and nephew. Her face lights up when she walks through the door of her childhood home and sees her nephew sitting on the floor. He may be watching TV, but is still delighted to see her. They wrestle on a large blanket, then Gung stacks colorful blocks and let’s her nephew knock them down with a giggle. “When I am tired and I play with my nephew I feel energized again.”
Gung also takes pride in the leadership role she occupies in the Youth Partnership Program at the Freedom Story. She shares her experience and knowledge to help educate and inspire younger kids, especially about anti-trafficking issues. Gung put her knowledge into practice when she discovered one of the young girls at Freedom Story was offered money to preform a sex act on Facebook by an older foreigner. Gung was able interrupt the dangerous situation when she spoke to the man on the phone, and told him never to call again. After the incident, Gung explained to the girl the dangers of accepting friend requests from strangers. Armed with knowledge and the courage to speak out, Gung has been able to touch the lives of many children in her community.
Having gotten to know Gung better, perhaps her nickname begins to fit her. Shrimp have tough exoskeletons and can survive severe fluctuations in their environments; the resilient, adaptable creatures who can be found at the bottom of bodies of water in nearly every biome around the world. Fierce, strong, resilient and adaptable, she empowers others to be the same. Gung has taken the opportunity provided by a seemingly small gift from the Freedom Story and used it to blossom into a hard-working and successful young woman equipped for a promising future.