On December 18th, 2010, Ford Foundation International Fellowship Program (IFP) fellow Somporn Naklang graduated with a master’s degree in Public Health from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. The Star Advertiser featured him with a photo and interview on an article titled “Families inspired new UH grads to pursue dreams and degrees”.
Here is an excerpt from this article:
Somporn Naklang of Thailand received his master’s degree in public health yesterday on a full scholarship from the Ford Foundation.
It’s been a long journey for Naklang, 37, the only person in his family of six to get an education beyond elementary school.
“They’re the reason why I have strong motivation,” he said.
When he was a boy, his parents couldn’t afford to send him to school, so he became a monk and attended a Buddhist school for less than $20 a year.
Naklang’s younger brother, Sornsak, couldn’t walk because of a disability and didn’t go to school. His two sisters could not attend the Buddhist school because girls weren’t accepted as monks.
So Naklang alone attended high school and hoped to become a doctor to help people like his brother. After graduating, he took the national exam to enter medical school in Thailand but was not accepted.
He eventually got a bachelor’s degree in education and a second degree in public health, but by the time he applied to the only medical school in Thailand that accepts older students, they rejected his application because he was older than 30.
When Naklang told his brother what happened, his brother said the “gods may have decided the path you have to go” and suggested that he may get a scholarship abroad.
With his brother’s encouragement, Naklang applied for and won the Ford Foundation grant, which paid for his tuition, housing and plane ticket.
He arrived at the University of Hawaii in 2007, but his brother never knew what happened because he died of heart failure in 2006.
“Whenever I’m very tired from school because everything is in English, I think about my brother and power comes back again,” Naklang said.
Although not a doctor, he sees public health administration as a way to help people by preventing disease and improving treatment.
“It’s a different point to focus,” he said. “Very important, too.”