How is riding life’s waves like navigating the ocean on a windsurf?
To Amara Wichitong (above), they require ceaseless efforts to find balance. In windsurfing and life, you will almost certainly fall off the board, get catapulted, and then slammed into turbulent swells. And how you ride either out takes courage and resilience.
Amara knows about life’s hardships – and windsurfing, to boot. The diminutive Thai is a champion windsurfer and former Olympian who found an enduring love for the sport in her teens.
But her childhood in a remote village near Ayutthaya could not have been any more disparate. Growing up in poverty and pressured to leave school to support her siblings, she moved to Pattaya to find a job at 13.
“When I came across the ocean in Pattaya for the first time in my life, I decided this was where I would plant my feet, and I have stayed here since,” Amara said at the launch of a Training of Trainers (ToT) workshop series in the touristy coastal city.
Amara is one of several sporting diplomats roped into a rural community empowerment initiative in Thailand by RYTHM Foundation, the social impact arm of the QI Group, and ASA Foundation.
The facilitator training forms part of the “Community Capacity Building, Women Empowerment and Livelihood Education Development for Vulnerable Female Youth and Young Adults” initiative in Chonburi province.
The workshops aims to coach 60 women, including single mothers and women from low-income families, to impact positive change for 10,000 disadvantaged women and girls with entrepreneurship, financial literacy, decision-making, and leadership abilities.
Amara knows what it is like to persevere and savour triumphs – personally and professionally.
“I faced many struggles in the beginning. I could not get any job because I could not speak English. So, I started collecting rubbish to earn money. I made paper bags and paid for my English lessons with the money.
“At the same time, I aimed to be good at windsurfing. I eventually got a job teaching tourists to windsurf. Three months later, I participated in a competition. Everyone said I could not do it, but that was their belief, not mine,” the athlete said to the participants in an effort to inspire them.
Amara moved on to compete and win in numerous local and international competitions before representing Thailand in the 1992 Summer Olympics.
“Show people your capabilities. Size, looks, or whether you are a girl or a woman does not matter. Everyone is equal. That was my attitude from a young age, and that is how I became a world champion at 17.”
Amara’s advice to the participants showed how she turned her life around with sheer determination. “Never give up on your dreams. If I could change my life, so can you. And with that, you can change the lives of many children.”
Equipped with the skills and knowledge to implement the project, talented trainers identified from the ToT may be employed as ASA expert trainers for future Thailand projects, creating employment opportunities within the programme.
The RYTHM-ASA alliance follows a similar award-winning collaboration in the Subang Regency in West Java, Indonesia, in 2019. The programme took home the gold in the Indonesian SDG Awards (ISDA) last year for efforts to improve the quality of education for vulnerable Indonesian youth and adults. The collaboration also promoted elements of inclusion, empowerment, and education development for 30 female teachers and over 5,000 youth of all abilities.
In the video below, Amara offers a glimpse of how the project sets out to empower disadvantaged women: