At just 18 years old, Petch is already a leader in his church and community, known as a young man with great integrity, always loyal and willing to help, full of dreams for how life can get even better for his village.

“I want to have my own restaurant, a high-end [one]. It’s not just a restaurant, but also a garage. I know it’s strange for the two opposites to be together, but it’s my dream.

“I want to be an entrepreneur in this community, for this community … so that people [here] can earn a living and sustain their families. I want to serve others by using all my skills. I don’t have much but I will use it for others. It’s my dream.

“I want to teach teenagers about forest conservation and to understand the importance of water. It’s my dream.”

Surayat—“Petch” to his friends—pauses. “I have a lot of dreams,” he says, with a laugh.

At just 18 years old, Petch is already a leader in his church and community, known as a young man with great integrity, always loyal and willing to help, full of ideas for how life can get even better for his village.

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His family is a tight-knit trio: his father is Thai and his mother is from the Karen tribe. He is their only child. They have always loved and supported him in his choices, confident that he knows his own mind and is strong enough to withstand peer pressure.

In grade nine (at around 15 years old), every student in Thailand has to choose the direction of their education—to either continue to high school or complete a vocational certificate. His parents expected him to continue his education in high school, because he’d always received good grades. To their surprise, Petch decided to go for a vocational certificate, majoring in food and nutrition.

As a child, he had watched his mother cook for church on Sunday and for the children at the Compassion program as a volunteer. He was fascinated by food and began helping his mother in the kitchen at a young age.

“I thought if food is something I love, then why not study it?” he says.

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After he finished his internship program and vocational certificate program, he started to plan how to achieve his dream—one of them, at least—of becoming an entrepreneurial baker.

He started to design his own biscuits. First, he sold them at a local market on the weekend. Then he expanded into making them for a few restaurants in another city, where he knows the owner.

With a little help from Compassion and the local church, he was able to organise all the details and processes of his biscuit business, including designing the packaging himself. Though it was only for one season, he learned a lot more than he expected.

I know it’s not easy to be an entrepreneur. I know how hard it can be. I wanted to learn how to [take] a risk and experience how an entrepreneur starts a business. I just wanted to try. I don’t look at my business as a failure in money making, even though I didn’t make much. Instead I’m proud that I gained a lot of experience through it,” he says.

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Experience is one thing he’s not lacking, despite his young age. He is continuing his education, this time in a two-year diploma of food and nutrition at a local college. When not studying, he mentors younger students and leads a youth group at the church. As the youth president of the local community forest conservation society, he helps to reduce the risk of runaway bushfires and protect the habitat of the region’s elephants, some of which were released from a nearby tourist park and are still tame.

In all of these things, he has been faithful in using the resources he has. And he’s always praying and asking God to add to his dreams of how he can make a difference.

“[I want] to find new experiences that will give me new and different ideas,” says Petch. “I want to gain as many experiences as I can get before I start my own business and become an entrepreneur to help others.”

You can encourage a teenager like Petch by becoming a sponsor today.

Words by Piyamary Shinoda and Richard Miller; photos by Piyamary Shinoda

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