Actions speak louder than words – Nitcharee Peneakchanasak
“If I still feel sorry about the train accident, I would still be at home, and I won’t get to develop my skills. But if I continue to adapt and learn new things, though I might not be able to walk towards my dream, I can still use my wheelchair to move towards my dream.”
Back in 2011, Nitcharee Peneakchanasak, was a 14-year-old student who wanted to study abroad to explore the world. After she was granted permission by her parents to study in Singapore, her journey began, with an unexpected turning point that changed her life forever.
On a Sunday morning, Nitcharee was waiting for a train at Ang Mo Kio MRT station, where she fell onto the train tracks as people rushed to get onto the train. She lost both of her legs. Her life changed completely.
The train accident gained widespread attention in the news, both in Thailand and across Asia. Shortly after she recovered, she filed a lawsuit against Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit and Land Transport Authority, for failing to ensure the safety of commuters. However, she lost the court case in 2014.
This traumatic experience did not stop her from living a normal life. Nitcharee says she is lucky that her friends and family truly support her during the most difficult times, to a point where she almost forgot how hard it was to overcome her challenges.
“No one made me feel worthless or incompetent. They all knew that I needed time to adapt. So, I never felt abandoned. I never felt that I had lost anything. The only things I don’t have any more are my legs, but I’m still loved and I still have everything else.”
Apart from learning how to adapt to a new life as an amputee, she also believes in two thingswhich helped her heal from the trauma; her goals and her dreams.
“I dreamt of going back to pursue activities like I used to. I still want to have fun with my friends, to go back to school and tell anyone that I graduated, and that I can still live a normal life.”
Becoming an inspiration
Nitcharee, also known as Thun, has turned things around by becoming a motivational speaker, using her life lessons to inspire other people. It all began with a TV program, where she was interviewed about how she overcame her tragic accident.
“After my interview aired, a well-respected senior from a private company invited me to be a speaker, because he believed that my story could inspire others. I remember the topic was about positive thinking. I accepted the invitation because it would be a great opportunity for me.”
Since then, other opportunities have come along.
The smiles she got in return are what Nitcharee likes the most about being a motivational speaker which, she says, is a valuable experience.
“I think [the experience] is something that cannot be bought with money. I only explain, using my personal experience, to make them reflect on themselves and make their lives better.”
Now at 25 years old, being a motivational speaker for many years can become more challenging. As Nitcharee explains, the biggest challenge is to tell the same story with a whole new perspective, while keeping its relatability, no matter how often the story has been told before.
“I think the most challenging part is to find new stories to tell and to inspire others. Of course, everywhere I was invited to speak, I might be telling a similar story, and the same story can be told for only a certain period of time.”
She further explains that the most important aspects of being a motivational speaker are not only to practice her speaking, or finding new stories to tell, but to also to live her life “the same as she says on stage”.
“If the way I live my life is not the same as what I say, the listeners won’t feel truly inspired. So, my job is to be my positive self, make myself happy, while harvesting more experiences, so that I can use those experiences to inspire more people or to support others.”
Positive, not overly optimistic
Being positive doesn’t mean you never have negative thoughts, or are overly optimistic. Sometimes, Nitcharee, who calls herself a positive thinking girl, admits that there are times where she is bitter about life.
“I think it’s normal for human beings to have both sides; being positive and being negative. Personally, thinking positively comes a lot easier than thinking negatively. There are many times when I suddenly have negative thoughts, but I feel that any time that I become a positive person, the negative thoughts will just come and then disappear.”
When asked about the difference between being positive, or “loke suay” (literally beautiful world), a common Thai expression to show disapproval of people being overly optimistic, Nitcharee recalls the moment when she came across a sarcastic comment about her on YouTube.
“There was a comment saying that I was so ‘loke suay’,” she recalls. “When I think about it, being ‘loke suay’ means you assume that everything is so perfect, everything is so good. It’s like you’re lying to yourself and denying what’s really happening in front of you, but being positive is when you accept reality and find the good in the bad.”
Only amputee in the workplace
Nitcharee also thinks she’s lucky that she has rarely been bullied or mistreated because of her disability. As she explains, many people found out about her through the news, and understood her circumstances.
However, there were times when her schoolmates asking what she could still do without legs, or her colleagues questioning whether she can really do her job.
Apart from being a motivational speaker, Nitcharee also works full-time at a private hospital, focusing on corporate communication, where she admits that she experienced some prejudice at the beginning.
“If I work with disabled people, in an environment where everyone understands each other, everyone treats each other fairly but, when I work in a company that never deals with disabled people, or when people forget about the disabled, because they think I live my life normally, there would be moments where I had to speak up and raise awareness about it.”
As the only amputee employee there, Nitcharee wants to raise more awareness about issues that people with disabilities still have to encounter in their everyday lives, hoping that her voice will lead towards equality.
Actions speak louder than words
When asked what empowering Thai women means to Nitcharee, she believes that all women have different roles and abilities and they can use what they’re good at to inspire others.
“What I think is empowering for me is when I inspire other people to make them realise that disabled women can do many things. They can be representatives or leaders in different fields.”
This “positive thinking girl” also believes that actions speak louder than words, which is the most important life lesson, of which she often reminds herself since her accident, which can also be applied when people encounter negative criticism or are judged unfairly.
“I might be able to say, as a motivational speaker, that you should think positive, but if I’m not a positive person myself, what I say would be meaningless. I think words can be important, but it’s our actions that will prove whether we are truly competent, or we are what they judge us to be.”
By Nad Bunnag, Thai PBS World