Marathon-minded student runs to provide aid for refugees
By Avery Jones | Editor
Delta Digital News Service
JONESBORO — The third annual Rani’s Run for Refugees is happening today. The marathon begins adjacent to Vineyard Plus in Leachville at the intersection of Highway 18 and North County Road 17. From there, runners will continue along the highway toward Jonesboro finishing near Chuck E. Cheese.
Event coordinator Rangsiya Faihin, who goes by Rani, has spent the last two years organizing the marathons.
An avid runner, Faihin, who is a college junior majoring in mechanical engineering at Arkansas State University, saw the event as a way to raise funds to aid Karen refugees affected by the civil war in the country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
Faihin felt obligated to help the Karen people because she herself is also Karen.
The Karen are primarily located in Myanmar and on the Myanmar-Thailand border. Faihin was born in Thailand in a small village outside of the Chiang Mai province.
Faihin lived in this village until she was 12. According to her, there were less than 80 houses; everyone knew each other. The roads weren’t very good, and there was little electricity. They used solar energy instead. Furthermore, the whole village had only one or two cars.
“One of the things I miss about it is how simple life is,” Faihin said. “It’s more self-sufficient.”
Most days, Faihin and her family would wake up very early in the morning to prepare meals, then work in the fields planting and harvesting, and then prepare more food before the day was over.
The village school that Faihin attended until she was 12 had limited resources. She didn’t learn English or math. Most of the time, the children would play volleyball, plant vegetables and take care of chickens.
From ages 13 to 15, she attended another school in a larger city, and then went to the Ambassador Bilingual School in Chiang Mai before moving to the U.S. at 16.
She met her current host family while attending school at the age of 14. Candace and Gavin Brailsford, her host mom and dad, were her English teachers. They decided to help her transition to the U.S. when they found out that her birth parents wouldn’t be able to afford higher education.
“I was very talkative, very eager to learn English,” Faihin said.
“We noticed how smart she was and how much she wanted to learn. She was the smartest girl in her class, blurting out every answer,” said Candace Brailsford. “She had a big smile on her face always and was so excited to be learning English. When we invited her to come live with us, we never dreamed it would lead us back to the U.S. and would be the start of such a wonderful journey.”
The move was difficult for her birth parents since they aren’t able to visit her here in the U.S., but they were very supportive of Faihin’s decision. Education has always been very important to her; she was the first person in her family to finish high school and go to college.
“I’m not saying that to brag on myself…[my family and I] are doing this together,” Faihin said. “It’s not just me. We’re doing this as a team, we’re seeking education.”
The hard work that she did with her family as a child built the foundation for her future studies. Her parents encouraged her to study hard so that she could have an easier life. She and her parents didn’t begrudge their work, but they wanted it to be possible for her to have a good future.
When Faihin came to the U.S., she attended high school at Ridgefield Christian School in Jonesboro. The adjustment was difficult at first because of the unfamiliar culture and peer pressure. She had trouble connecting with people.
“I think the hardest part was friendships,” Faihin said. “It took me a long time to find friends … It was lonely sometimes, but it gets better.”
Her host family was very supportive and encouraging, and Faihin believes that really helped. She also eventually found some friends.
Now attending college, Faihin finds it much different from high school. It’s easier to make friends because she and her peers in her major do a lot of projects together. She also enjoys her major. She chose mechanical engineering because she loves numbers.
“I honestly think that [my fondest memories from college] are the nights before tests,” Faihin said. “A bunch of future engineers will come together and we’re trying to study this and help each other out. Just seeing the teamwork is really motivating.”
Outside of class, Faihin enjoys running, photography, painting, drawing, and hanging out with family and friends. She started running as a hobby in 2018. She heard about a peer that ran a half-marathon and took it as a challenge. Her American dad is also a runner.
Now she practices almost every day; she usually takes one day off to rest. She enjoys running because it’s relaxing and releases stress. It allows for focus on something other than school.
To stay in shape, Faihin also does strength training and HIIT at a gym. She closely watches her diet. Sometimes she joins a running group that meets Saturday morning in downtown Jonesboro.
For both of the last runs, Faihin ran 26.2 miles and raised $2,000 from each. The first run took 4 and half hours while the second took 4 hours. Both times, it was freezing and rainy. A few people have joined her on the runs, but only one person, Seth Speer, ran with her the entire time.
“It was a cool run for a cause and nice to do something for someone else instead of selfish reasons,” Speer said.
“It is a very hard thing she is attempting to do, to run a marathon by herself. But we try to make it easy for her by following her in our car and making sure she has everything she needs,” Candace said. “We are so proud of her each time she does it.”
“I am very thankful that I am actually able to do it,” Faihin said. “I see it as a privilege. It’s an opportunity for me to talk about my tribe … My ultimate goal is to be able to help other people.”
Candace had previously been a missionary in Thailand for 10 years, from 2003 to 2013. She was working in a child trafficking prevention home with Lana Vasquez, founder of Life Impact International, a rescue organization that provides aid to refugees in Myanmar and Thailand. There are refugee camps on the border between Thailand and Myanmar where Life Impact delivers food and medicine to villagers living in the jungle who were driven from their homes.
Faihin asked her host parents how she could get involved, and they told her about Life Impact. She decided to raise money through her marathons for donation to the cause.
Faihin said she is very proud of her heritage and the Karen tribe. Karen people don’t live in one specific region, but are mostly concentrated in Myanmar and Thailand. They have their own language, clothing, foods and culture.
“My parents always taught me to not look down on my tribe,” Faihin said. “It’s you, it’s in your blood. Protect it, protect your language, protect your tradition.”
When she graduates from college, Faihin wants to move back to Thailand and get a job in the automotive industry. She also hopes to create an opportunity in engineering to help her village and her tribe.
“If you have a chance to help someone, do it,” Faihin said. “I can come here and just live for myself and forget about who I was. I have been praying that I would never forget who I was or where I come from … God brought me here for a reason, so why not do something that I can, while I’m here, get the most out of it?”
Lana Vasquez, the founder of Life Impact, expressed pride in Faihin for her efforts and her focus on remembering her roots.
“I’m so very proud of Rani, to come to the U.S. and have all the comforts but yet to never have forgotten her people or where she comes from says so much about her heart and life,” Vasquez said. “A modern-day advocate serving her generation well and saying from halfway around the world, ‘I won’t forget and I will be responsible to do something,’ echoes into the hearts and lives of us all that each one of us can do something to change a life and change the world.”
Rani’s Run for Refugees makes a difference. Article may or may not reflect the views of KLEK 102.5 FM or The Voice of Arkansas Minority Advocacy Council