Happy children at the Blue Dragon’s Children Foundation

After being six weeks in Hanoi and flooded with work, I finally found the time last week to visit one Hanoi’s NGO. I met with Trịnh Thanh Hiếu, Communications Officer at the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, in their headquarters in Hanoi.

Started in 2003, Blue Dragon is an Australian charity that works with children in crisis. Blue Dragon kids are street kids, children with disabilities, children from rural families living in extreme poverty, and victims of human trafficking and slavery. In Hanoi, Blue Dragon has established a day care centre for street children, which I could visit and was really impressed with.

Who are the Blue Dragon kids?

The day care centre of Blue Dragon is a place to go for children that live or work on the street, or live in difficult family situations. In Vietnam, the trafficking of children and women remains an issue, but not all children have been forced away from home.

Read article about trafficking in Vietnam here

A lot of the children coming to the day centre do have families in Hanoi, which with they live, but the family situation is sometimes so difficult that the kids need a place to go, a place where they get a meal, can talk to social workers and play with friends. Some of the children used to work on the street, mostly selling stuff, or in restaurants. Some children also ran away from home, due to drug addiction and violence in their families, most come from the countryside but not exclusively. For these kids, Blue Dragon can provide a permanent home in one of their shelters.

Blue Dragon has an outreach team to approach street children in Hanoi. The head of the current outreach team is a former street kid that was taken off by Blue Dragon. However, spotting street kids has become more difficult. With an increased police effort to prevent children from working on the streets (which is definitely a good thing), the kids have learned how to hide better and many now work hidden in restaurants or shops.

What does the day care centre offer?

I was really impressed by the size and the offer of Blue Dragon’s day care centre in Hanoi. Blue Dragon provides for basic needs, like lunch. From Monday to Friday, Blue Dragon gives out around 80 meals every day and makes sure of a balanced nutrition. Tuesday is veggie-day!

Around 20 social workers, all Vietnamese, are employed at Blue Dragon in Hanoi. The social workers are a contact point for the children, if they need to speak, but also communicate with the children’s families. Many families need their children to work on the street in order to gain extra money. With the help of the social workers, Blue Dragon assesses the families’ situation and provides support if necessary, for example in food supplies or paying part of the rent.

Blue Dragon also organises workshops for children and parents about domestic violence, how to talk to a teenager or simply cooking classes. In addition, there are vocational trainings for children and families to help them find a well-paid job and secure their incomes without their kids working. In some cases, Blue Dragon can also pay for school fees and provides catching-up lessons for children if they want to go to school again. For this purpose, there is a big learning centre with an extensive library at the day care centre.

In order to make the day care centre attractive for children to come, Blue Dragon also offers many recreational activities. Thus, I bumped into an aerobics class, which is offered in Blue Dragon’s gym. There are dancing, drama and music classes. Hiếu told me that the hip-hop class has been a great success and a good way for the children to express themselves and to process traumas. The children can also come to Blue Dragon to meet friends, relax

Volunteers needed!

In order to provide such a huge offer of workshops and classes for the children, Blue Dragon is in current needs of volunteers. The volunteers are required to commit for a minimum period of six months, which is to guarantee some stability for the children. If you have a special talent or hobby and are in Hanoi for at least six months consider to contact Blue Dragon.

 

*The pictures of this article have been provided by the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation

 

The sad reality of child trafficking in Vietnam

Last week, I met with the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation and talked to Trịnh Thanh Hiếu, who told me a lot about the problem of children’s and women’s trafficking in Vietnam.

The issue of child traffic seems to be twofold in Vietnam. Children are being trafficked into child labour, working in various sectors of the Vietnamese industry. Another angle are young women that are kidnapped and sold into marriage or brothels in China.

Child labour in Vietnam

Even though child labour is prohibited in Vietnam, it remains an issue in the entire country. Many children are being sent away with the consent of their parents and finish working numerous hours in factories, restaurants or as vendors on the street.

Traffickers target poor families and convince parents that they will take care of their children. The parents of families with low income often work a lot and do not have much time to take care of the kids. They are vulnerable to listen to traffickers’ promises to provide vocational education, food and shelter, and a little bit of money for their children. The children are sent into different cities and sold into, at least that what it sounds to me like, slavery. They work shift of up to 17 hours per day and night, earn very little with the money often kept by the owner.

The parents often do not realise into which conditions they have sent their children. Traffickers make sure that the family receives happy pictures and good news.

According to Hiếu, many children are taken from the Central Vietnam and sold to Ho Chi Minh City, but child labour also exists in other areas of the country. Recently Blue Dragon rescued two boys of the age of 15 and 17 from a gold mine in Northern Vietnam. The boys are part of one of the ethnic minorities in Northern Vietnam and were forced to work in the mine. They had to buy their food with the gold they find, which means in return that if they did not find any, they were not fed.

Blue Dragon has rescued over 380 children from child labour and returned them, if possible, to their parents. The foundation closely works with the local authorities and organises workshops on anti-trafficking in order to create awareness about child labour and slavery.

Women’s trafficking into China

I have heart from several Vietnamese that the trafficking of women into China is a huge issue in the parts of Vietnam close to the border. So far, I have been sceptical about the stories, and was concerned that they are part of a general anti-Chinese resentment here in Vietnam.

However, Hiếu confirmed that young Vietnamese women are sold into marriage with Chinese men or end up in brothels in China. According to Hiếu, one reason for this is the one-child policy in China, which has led to an imbalance in gender.

I was shocked to learn that, in some cases, the women are trafficked by people they know, like friends, classmates or boyfriends. Blue Dragon recently rescued two young Vietnamese women from a brothel in China. The women were hold against their will and were forced to sell themselves. They had no access to smartphones or other ways of communication and could not alert the authorities or their families about their situation.

In the rescue of kidnapped women, Blue Dragon also cooperates closely with Vietnamese and Chinese authorities. The women were rescued, have returned to their families and continue to be closely followed by Blue Dragon.

*The pictures of this article have been provided by the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation

 

Meeting with Roelien from the Asia Center Foundation

Last week we have met with the Director of the Asia Center Foundation (ACF), Roelien Muller. Roelien is from South Africa, and has been in Phuket for many years. After her husband and father passed away, Roelien found herself at a point of life where she decided to do something useful. She has been enrolled in charity in South Africa, but decided to do more and to travel to Thailand with a friend from her church. She has stayed and worked on Phuket since that day.

Roelien wanted to work with children in Phuket, after she visited the slum in Patong where she taught English to children. To read out article about the humanitarian situation in Phuket, please follow this link.

After her friend, who initially brought her to Thailand, went back to the US, Roelien took over ACF. She kind of jumped in at the deep end, but managed to get her very first project proposal accepted by the World’s Children Fund. Today, ACF is an officially registered NGO in Thailand, with multiple projects and 18 staff members. Roelien and some of her children even got to meet the Queen of Thailand, which she describes as an “amazing experience.”

ACF currently has five major programmes: The Jumpstart Learning Center for Burmese children, the Patong Child Center, a scholarship programme, a youth programme for disadvantages children and the Safe House which currently hosts ten children that cannot live with their families for different reasons. Read more about the ACF programmes on their website.

The Patong Child Center

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Roelien took us to the Patong Child Center, which is within walking distance from the ACF office. We were welcomes very warmly by the 50-ish girls and boys between three and seven years old. The kids were not shy at all, came to hug us, and gave us high-fives and fist-bums.

The Child Center is a pre-school for children from the slum and/or difficult family and living situations. Some of the children would not have the opportunity to learn something, have a hot meal and be in a safe and clean environment if they would not come to the center.

The situation for the children in the slums is more than difficult. The low standard of living and lack of hygiene are not the only the problems. Many parents work a lot and cannot take care of their children; some are addicted to drugs. Roelien said that even though she cannot change the situation at the childrens’ home, at that she is sometimes worries when they go back after school, she re-assures herself that the children have at least eaten and have spent time in a safe environment.

We had a very good impression of the child center. The furnishing is simple, but loving and the children seem happy. Here are some of our impressions:

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The Child Center is admission-free, but has such a good reputation that families offered the ACF money to get their children into the center, which Roelien declined. The purpose of the Child Center is to support the poor. Before a child is admitted to the Patong Child Center, an ACF staff member visits the child’s family to have an idea of the family’s living conditions. Further, there is a follow-up with the families, which are visited yearly by a staff member.

Plans for the future

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Roelien also told us about ACF’s plans to construct a new school and youth center in Kathu. The ACF already has the land and funds to start the constructions of the pre-school building, the cafeteria and a new ACF office, but needs to raise more funds to finish this amazing project. If you want to donate to ACF, please click here.

The center will include a school and a youth center which Roelien considers can be used as a community center for different occasions. Further, she wants to build accommodation for some of the children and staff on site, a football field and a swimming pool so the kids can learn how to swim. The school is to attend to 250 children from poor and broken families.

The religious aspect

ACF is a Christian foundation, and the religious aspect clearly plays a very important role. The children are taught about Christianism, listen to bible stories and learn how to pray. However, according to Roelien, there is “no heavy indoctrination,” the ACF simply shares information and the children can chose whether to take or to leave it. To us, it does look like missionary work, and Roelien, too, used the term once or twice during our discussion.

Religion plays an important role in the Thai culture (mainly Buddhism, but also Islam), When I asked if the children, and parents, are receptive for the Christian religion, Roelien said that the way Buddhism is practiced does not help solving the problems. Thus, said that the children are generally open to the Christian religion. The parents sometimes have questions when the children start praying before eating at home. Roelien is happy to answer these questions, and to reassure the parents’ concerns.

Roelien stressed that, especially in a difficult environment like Phuket, with money, alcohol, drugs, sex and mafia around, the children, but also the parents, need spirituality and something to guide them. She considers that Christianism gives more answers to the people’s struggle than Buddhism does. Having faith into something bigger helps the children to accept things they cannot change, and pray to god for help.

Being barefoot with Solemen

Sarah Chapman, a nurse in the UK, has travelled through Bali when she came around a young local girl, skinny and sick, in a remote mountain village. The girl, eight years old and 6.4 kilos, was too short and too skinny for her age, and obviously had severe health issues. Sarah knew she had to do something to save the girl’s life. She posted a picture on facebook, asking people what to do.

This is how Sarah met Robert Epstone, the co-founder of Yayasan Solemen Indonesia.

With the help of Robert, the young girl was taken to a hospital, and her health improved. She put on more weight, and was close to the 12 kilos she needed for a life-saving operation, but she passed away before the surgery was done. Sarah still had tears in her eyes when she told us the story, and so did we.

Sarah has now been working for Solemen for over three years, and could give us a very interesting insight into Solemen’s work when we met her in Kuta. Solemen was formed in 2010 with the goal to support the disadvantaged in Bali. Robert declared his intention to be barefoot until Solemen had raised one million US Dollars.  The reason for being barefoot is “to be in solidarity with those who don’t have a choice to wear or not wear shoes,” he says.

Today, Solemen works with 140 children and adults, and mainly supplies medical care for people in the remote areas of Bali. Nearly every day, Sarah and her outreach team are out on the field, taking care of people in need. She told us so many incredible stories, most with happy ends but some without.

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If you want to read more about the situation of the mentally and physically disabled in Bali, click here.

Sarah told us the story of a man who has been living in a cage for two years. The man is mentally ill, and has repeatedly threatened his family and neighbours with a knife in order to get coffee and cigarettes. After people became scared of him, the family decided that there was no other choice, but to put him in a cage. When Solemen found the man, he was barely talking or moving. They took him to a hospital, got rid of the cage and renovated his house. The man now takes medication, and has returned to his home village.

Another sad story with a happy ending are two disabled boys, Komang and Wayan, who have been kept locked away in their house by their families. Their parents told them that they will die, if they leave the house. Solemen found the family in extreme poverty, provided food, clothes and regular therapy for the boys. They also provided customised wheelchairs for the boys, and created a permaculture garden to provide food for the family. The boys now leave the house and are happy to spend time ouside in their wheelchairs.

Solemen works with children and adults with many different kind of diseases. Hydrocephalus, skin diseases, mental and psychological patter. Many of the diseases are treatable, but the lack of education and the difficult access to medial infrastructures in remote areas transform diseases into fatalities.

Sarah is part of the Bali outreach team. Every day, they go into the remote areas, talk to the Banjars (the heads of village) and try to help people that need help. When possible, they are treated on the field, but in many cases it is necessary to transport the patients to hospitals in urban areas.

After the patient has been treated, Solemen tries to keep contact with the people, mainly via phone calls. Sarah said that once the trust is established, it is easier for the patients to ask for help again if they or somebody they know need it.

In the long term, Sarah dreams about a medically equipped car and hope that Solemen will eventually be able to pay a full time doctor. Further, she stresses education in the villages, and a better access to medical care in the remote areas. If you want to support Solemen, you can make a donation to the NGO directly here.

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Thailand’s sex industry also concerns boys – Meeting with Alezandra from Urban Light

This week we had a super interesting meeting with Alezandra Russel, founder of Urban Light, a NGO which for with boys from Chiang Mai’s sex industry.

Alezandra came to Chiang Mai five years ago in order to have a vacation and to volunteer. She had heard about Thailand’s sex industry in the US and wanted to get to know more about it. She visited several NGOs working with former female sex workers and was positively surprised about the good support infrastructure for the girls.

 

However, when visiting Chiang Mai’s red light district, she did only see bars where (partly minor) girls offer their services, but also boys and young men. She was shocked because it never occurred to her than a man could prostitute himself.

One must know that all kind of prostitution, especially of minors, is illegal in Thailand and should be severely punished according to the law. We have however learned previously that the laws are bypassed with corruption and that prostitution, also of minors, remains common in Thailand.

 

Alezandra has talked with some of the male sex workers and saw how blatantly old foreign men look for a date for the night. Her search for NGOs that take care of the boys remained, however, unsuccessful.

After her holiday was over and Alezandra went back to the US, she should not forget the discussions she had with the boys. She wanted to do something, but does not speak Thai, has no experience with NGOs and at this time no financial possibilities. It seemed difficult to get involved. Nevertheless, after discussing the issue with her husband, Alezandra sold her wedding ring as a starting capital and three months later she went back to Thailand.

She founded Urban Light which is Chiang Mai’s first and so far only NGO that works with male sex workers. The goal of Urban Light is to give support, help and an open ear to the boys. Urban Light works today with 300 boys and young men, most of them minors.

 

Many of the boys come from the hill tribe villages in the North of Thailand and earn money for their families by prostituting themselves. Alezandra thinks that many families are aware how their sons earn the money. But as poverty is high in the North, many consider this the only possible way, the “lesser evil.”

Not all boys, Urban Light works with, want to leave the sex industry. There a many reasons, among which the above-mentioned financial reasons. Alezandra also talked about “emotional and psychological chains” which keep the boys in the sex trade. Some consider there is no alternative which allows to earn enough money, others stay because they have to pay for their drug addictions.

 

We have also asked Alezandra about the structures of Chiang Mai‘s sex industry. While female prostitution is mainly organised by a network of pimps, many boys work for themselves. They have however regular bars and are protected or exploited (that depends on the perspective) by the bar owners.

The boys pay the bar owners and can offer their services in return. Many bar owners however drive the boys into drug dependence in order to tie them to the sex industry. Loans are given to the boys for the same purpose. Thus, the bar owners create a financial and psychological dependence which is difficult for the boys to escape.

When the boys are older and “less desirable” some start to recruit younger boys themselves. In that regard Alezandra talks about human trafficking. Even though most of the boys are not physically forced to prostitute themselves, they are introduced to the environment with the exertion of power and manipulation.

 

The immediate goal of Urban Light is not necessarily to make the boys leave the sex industry. This would be unrealistic. In a first step, Urban Light is more concerned about the boys’ security and health. Alezandra and her team of five also want to show the boys that there are alternatives to prostitution, if they want to leave the sex industry.

Urban Light has rented a house close to Chiang Mai’s red light district. The boys can come and relax (many are homeless), watch TV or make music and sports. Further, Urban Light offers computer workshops, English lessons and legal support. A doctor takes care of the boys’ health. Some of them come on a very regular basis, others don’t.

 

Some of the boys have health problems which are linked to their work, like HIV and other STIs, but the doctor also takes care of wounds, eye or skin infections, fight injuries etc. Urban Light takes the kids to the hospital in case of more severe problems. One important part of the team’s work is the discussion with the boys. It is important to make them understand that they are not left alone and that there is a shelter if they need one.

Most of the boys do not come to the Urban Light facilities. Hence, four members of the Urban Light team go every night (!) on the streets and in the bars in order to give the boys medical treatment and to distribute condoms and clean needles. Urban Light has 15 hotspots where the team distribute health kits.

 

Alezandra further told us that Urban Light urgently needs a trained psychologist. The problem is that there are no psychologists in Thailand and most of the boys do not speak English or not enough to follow a therapy in English. The Urban Light team talks with the boys about their daily lives and when the trust is built up about their problems, but they are not psychologically trained.

One form of therapy are the workshops of Art Relief International, a NGO we have reported on last week (read article). Many of the boys are traumatised by the prostitution itself, but also by drug use, physical and emotional violence and the uncertainty of their situation. For example, Alezandra told us that many of the boys do not identify themselves as homosexual. They sleep with old men, but have a girlfriend. Many are uncertain about their own sexuality, but have nobody to talk to.

 

Even though Urban Light does not push the boys to leave the sex industry, it supports those who want to stop prostituting themselves. Thus, Urban Light pays school and educational fees for boys that want to change their job. Further, Urban Light supports drug-dependent boys that want to follow a detoxification programme.

 

Urban Light also has a housing programme for boys that want to leave the sex industry. Criteria for an apartment which is financed by Urban Light are abstinence from drugs and the will to follow a school or professional education. For one year, Urban Light supports the boys not only financially, but also in organisational matters and offers advice. After one year, the boys have to pay for the apartment themselves. According to Alezandra the programme has a success rate of 90 percent.

Urban Light currently offers three boys accommodation and support. Alezandra wants to do more, but Urban Light’s financial possibilities are limited. Prostitution of male minors remains a topic which gets little attention. We can only call for a donation for Urban Light (donate here). Alezandra and her team are incredibly dedicated and do what they can to help the boys.

 

Omakua has decided to support one boy in the housing project. We will soon present the project on our website. Supporting a young man to change his life for the better is an incredible thing to do and we hope for many donators.

Our meeting with Alezandra was very inspiring. Alezandra shows that it is possible to make a difference, even without experience or money. In end, the only thing one needs is determination.

 

“Change the world through art” – Getting to know Art Relief

In order to talk about Art Relief International (ARI), one should firstly mention Cultural Canvas. Cultural Canvas has been established in 2008 and aims at connecting local NGOs seeking volunteers for support and people seeking volunteer positions in different areas.

Four years after Cultural Canvas has been created, Art Relief International was found by the Cultural Canvas staff and current volunteers who realised that they all share a common interest: Art. Instead of placing art-loving volunteers in other NGOs, Art Relief organises its own workshops around art and offers volunteer positions. Today, Cultural Canvas and Art Relief remain closely linked.

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The goal of Art Relief is to transform the lives of struggling social groups by offering them the opportunity to express themselves through art. ARI organises artistic workshops for different NGOs and associations and works with children, disabled, struggling and traumatised young people, as well as elderly people.

The workshops include different artistic fields like painting and drawing, dancing and drama, music and other forms of art. ARI believes that art can come from anybody and that art can be a powerful means of expression and even a therapy.

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The ARI staff in Chiang Mai includes five permanent workers, but is mainly based on the work of volunteers. Hence, volunteers from all over the world can join Art Relief and conduct artistic workshops in fields they are interested in. Art Relief has a weekly schedule for workshops; the content of the workshop can change according to the volunteers (but does of course fit the NGO’s specificities).

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Thus, every week, an ARI staff or volunteer goes to Wildflower Home – a women shelter we have visited previously – in order to work with the women. > Read blog article on Wildflower Home

Most of the workshops are conducted at the facilities of the NGOs and associations ARI works with, but we were lucky and could attend a workshop at the ARI office. Every Tuesday after school, Art Relief organises a workshop for children from the neighbourhood to play and be creative. This week, the children designed a hand football field to play on with capsules as players. See the pictures:


We have met with the Assistant Director Dan Hales and the Art Director Emma Yella who we both have met previously at the NGO Chiang Mai meetup. We love the idea of making art accessible to everybody. Art can be an important way of communication especially for traumatised children and adults. Art Relief works, for example, with Urban Light, an NGO for boys that have been rescued from abuse, exploitation and trafficking.


If you are interested in art and seeking a volunteer position, think about contacting Art Relief. You can also contact us for more information.

Omakua goes animal – Spotlight on Blue Tail

Even though we have so far reported on humanitarian organisations (besides Laetitia who also works with gibbons) we have realised that many animals in Thailand live in precarious conditions and that increasing awareness on that topic is necessary.

This week we want to write about French initiative Blue Tail Animal Aid International which aims at improving the living conditions of wild animals living in captivity and stray animals. We have met with Delphine Ronfort, founder of Blue Tail and her managing trainer Laurène Heuguerot.
Last week we have been on a field trip with Delphine and Laurène and have visited the dog shelter ARK which has been supported by Blue Tail for two years.

Delphine is an assistant veterinarian who has been working with and for animals in Thailand for six years. In 2009 she has founded the French association Blue Tail. Blue Tail mainly works with governmental animal shelters that take in animals from illegal traffic, victims of poaching and road accidents. Blue Tail further works with local NGOs linked to animals. The association provides tools and professional training to animal keepers and care-takers, as well as training in animal behaviour and shelter management.

Blue Tail’s work is particularly important in Thailand as the required knowledge, skills and animal-welfare awareness are not prevalent in many developing countries, leading to animals suffering. Blue Tail provides advice, workshops and training for veterinary nurses and other staff on clinic management. If you are interested in Blue Tail’s work, visit their website for more information.

We have noticed that there are three main issues when it comes to wild, captive, working and pet animals here in Thailand. (This is solely our impression and we are no specialists in that field.)


First, poaching and the traffic of protected species remain a big problem in Thailand. Awareness about the protection of endangered species is low in Thailand and due to poverty especially in rural area, poaching remains common.

Second, the living conditions of wild animals living in captivity as well as working animals are often bad. This is the result of a lack of financial resource to provide better conditions, but also a lack of knowledge about the animals’ needs.

Third, even though Thai people love animal, they treat them like human beings. One must know that Thai people are pretty rough with each other and this is also how they treat the animals. A Thai person can easily pet and feed a dog and violently chase it away. Of course, animals do not understand this behaviour and we have met a lot of straying dogs that are afraid of humans because they have been badly treated.

By the way, we have been surprised to learn that Thais are willing to donate to animal shelters and organisations – even though the donations are small, it is at least something. The humanitarian organisations we have met so far all told us that they receive hardly any money from Thais. Nevertheless, the financial and structural resources of many animal shelters remain limited.

When visiting the ARK shelter we have noticed that the dogs are well fed, but clearly lack in veterinary care. ARK houses around 100 dogs; most of them former strays or abandoned by their owners. Founded by an American, the shelter is now run by Dip and his team of four after the founder died three years ago.
Dip is very committed to the well-being of his dogs, but he lacks in resources. Thus, during our visit, Delphine and Laurène have brought food, medication and blankets for the dogs.

According to Blue Tail, ARK needs a small veterinary clinic above all, in order to take care of the many dogs that arrive in bad shape. Delphine has organised a voluntary veterinary that will train the ARK team in basic medical care and be with ARK three times a week.

Blue Tail further wants to build and supply ARK with a clinical setting and build better kennels. Even though we have so far only supported humanitarian project, we want to keep in touch with Delphine and Laurène in order to see how Omakua can support Blue Tail in that project.

After all, not only humans, but also animals have the right to good life.

 

A “gleam of hope” for hill tribe children in Northern Thailand

Last week-end we have made a trip to Phrao in order to visit the Children Home Phrao for children from hill tribes in Northern Thailand. We were very warmly welcomed by Günter Oppermann of the German association Hoffnungsfunke (gleam of hope) and his team. Our day at the children home was very interesting and pleasant. We were amazed by what Günter has built in only seven years.

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The children home currently accommodates 109 children – girls and boys, but the waiting list is long. Children Home Phrao has a very good reputation and is handled as the “best children home” in the region. The reasons for the children to stay with Hoffnungsfunke are manifold: Certain are orphans, others come from difficult family situations including drug abuse, violence or forced prostitution; another part of children simply stays at Children Home Phrao, because they come from remote villages and have no access to education.


If the parents want to visit their children, they can come on Sundays when Children Home Phrao invite the families for lunch. The contact between the children and their families is very important for Günter. However, some children cannot see their parents for obvious reasons. Some even cannot go back to their villages during the school holidays.

Hoffnungsfunke is a Christian organisation and thus there is a prayer before eating. Günter however stresses that the children are encouraged to carry out their religious beliefs and indigenous traditions. Hence, every Sunday a mess is hold at the children home for which the children dress up in the traditional cloths of their villages. Günter, too, has got the respective costumes made and wears a different one each Sunday. Unfortunately we were not there on Sunday, we would have loved to view the spectacle.

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Seven years ago, Günter has bought the land and built everything from scratch. Still today, we have the impression that the Children Home Phrao is all about self-reliance. Thus, there is a bakery, a repair shop, a fruit farm, a vegetable garden and more. When the children have a particular wish, it is discussed and implemented, depending on Hoffnungsfunke’s financial and material resources. Hence, a dance hall has been built at the wish of the children. During the construction works, the older children are involved and help with the constructions.

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This self-reliance is well linked to a sort of professional education or work introduction for the children. Thus, children interested in needlework can learn how to sew in a sewing workshop. They also create the main supply of cloths, sheets etc. for the children home. Children which are interested in mechanics can go to the repair shop and in the bakery, the children learn how to bake bread.


In addition, there are a very well equipped music room where the children can learn how to play traditional or modern instruments, the dance hall, a playground as well as football, basketball and takraw fields.

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A very nice idea is the little shop where the children can by sweets. Every child receives a weekly pocket money which they can spend how they want. This is to teach the children how to handle money. In the shop there is also a donation box. Günter wants to teach the children that even though they do not have a lot, they can always donate and share. Once the donation box filled, Günter doubles the amount and the children can chose for what the money is used for. They have decided to support a children home in Myanmar.


Teaching the children sense of responsibility, self-reliance and brotherly love is an important part of the daily life in the children home. Every child has a weekly task, for example kitchen duty. The children cook, wash and iron for themselves and the others – under surveillance of course. A nice side effect is that the children from different village tribes dissipate ancient dislikes. Certain mountain villages have quarrels which have been going on for years. In the children home, they live, eat, play and go to school together. This promotes the understanding of other cultures.

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The day we were visiting, one of the team members celebrated her birthday and was given a beautiful cake. Günter tries to bring workers from Germany to the children home in order to improve certain manual abilities of the staff and the children. Thus, a German baker is currently living and voluntarily working at the children home for one month.

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We had the impression that the children are happy in the Children Home Phrao. Despite over hundreds children living there, everything is very neat and organised. Regarding Günter, we had the impression of a loved and respected father. The children will come and hug him, but be all quiet as soon as he talks.

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The Children Home Phrao has a couple of guest accommodations and we definitely recommend a little holiday there. In addition to the warmhearted team and children which alone are reason enough for a stop, the children home is in the middle of Northern Thailand’s beautiful mountains and surrounded by rice paddies, a very nice and appeasing atmosphere. When we were visiting, a family of five was staying for several days. Fear of contact or language barriers are not an issue. If you are interested in a homestay, you can write an email to Hoffnungsfunke. Hoffnungsfunke also offers children sponsorships.


There is much more to say about our day at Children Home Phrao. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us or Günter directly.

We have visited a similar project some weeks ago. A shelter for women called Wildflower Home.

Sustainable tourism with Laetitia

This week we have decided to write an article about Laetitia Bisiaux, a young French woman we have met in Chiang Mai.
Laetitia has been in Thailand for two years. She has got enrolled with an organisation which aims at the protection of gibbons which disappear from Thai forests due to the destruction of their habitat and illegal poaching. The project is super interesting and if you want to learn more about it you can visit the organisation’s website.

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The reason why we have decided to write an article about Laetitia is however not her commitment to gibbons, but a second project she is currently enrolled with and which aims at the establishment of sustainable tourism in a village one hour from Chiang Mai. The project is called Active Conversation Travel (ACT) and has been established in a Thai-French cooperation. Laetitia is currently creating a guest house and will propose responsible tourist activities in cooperation with the village dwellers.


The project aims at developing the local community with the creation of jobs, the preservation of the forest and the respect of local traditions and the conservation of nature. Thus, Laetitia will propose activities in cooperation with the local population like cooking schools, workshops on the cultivation of local fruits and vegetables and on Thai traditions like boxing, but will also offer activities like planting trees, hiking etc.

In Thai villages, poverty often leads to the destruction of the natural habitat with poaching and illegal deforestation. In return, the destruction of nature enhances poverty in the middle and long term. A vicious circle. Once the forests are deforested and burned and once the soils are exploited, the population is left without any resources.

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One must know that the eco-conscience is not very developed in Thailand, especially in the rural regions. Nevertheless, the respect of the environment is important in the fight against poverty, especially in the North of Thailand where agriculture is one of the main resources.

In order to raise awareness among the population for the protection of the environment, Laetitia regularly organises workshops in schools so as to concern the youngest for the issue. The goal is to explain to the children and young adults why it is important to respect and protect nature and animals. The workshops go on for several days and include walks in the forests, role plays and other educative activities.

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Laetitia is currently raising money for the renovation of ACT’s guest house. If you want to support Laetitia and ACT, you can make a donation on leetchi.

For more information you can always contact us.

The Community Development and Civic Empowerment Program for civil society actors from Myanmar

This week we have met Nang Seng Pin, the Programme Coordinator of the Community Development and Civic Empowerment Program (CDCE) which is located at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Chiang Mai. CDCE has also offices in Bangkok and Myanmar.

CDCE is a three-month programme for society actors from Myanmar which aims at capacity building of young leaders and engaged citizens. It was founded in 2006 by the Vahu Foundation. While CDCE has originally been financially supported by Oxfam, Seng Pin told us that today’s main donator is the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

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Every year, 29 to 35 Burmese NGO workers and society actors are invited to spend two month in Chiang Mai in order to follow classes and workshops from experienced NGO workers, University professors and freelancers. Followed by one month of training in the field.

The programme is a full-time programme which includes accommodation and food for the participants. Classes are held in English or Burmese according to the lecturers’ language skills. The classes concern various topics like community development, financial management and accountability, transparency, empowerment and others. Seng Pin told us that CDCE aims at making the programme as intensive and complete as possible.

There is currently one batch of students in Chiang Mai and we could assist a class from a Burmese NGO worker who has been giving lectures for CDCE for several years. The class was in Burmese and we could not understand much, but the Power Point Presentation was in English which gave us an idea of the overall topic.

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CDCE is missing advisers to work with the students on their project proposals which they present at the end of the programme. As Lisa has studied humanitarian development, she is currently in contact with Seng Pin in order to see how Omakua can support CDCE in that matter. You will hear more about Omakua’s work with CDCE soon.

If you have any questions you can contact us or CDCE.