Women empowerment at Wildflower Home

We had an amazing visit at the Wildflower Home, thirty minutes East from Chiang Mai. Wildflower is a “Good Shepherd” run foundation which offers women in need and their children a place to stay. Wildflower currently hosts nine women and seven children with a maximal capacity of hosting twelve women.

Violence against women remains a severe problem in Thailand, especially because many do not talk about it. We met with Sister Siripawn who told us that many women do not come from the Chiang Mai area itself. It would be embarrassing for the women if their friends and family learn that they feel the need to move out from home into a women community. Most women come to Wildflower by themselves, but sometimes Wildflower is contacted by hospitals.

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We were amazed by Wildflower in so many ways. One main goal of Wildflower is to make women strong and independent. Community is an important point, too. The women work and life together, share daily tasks and look after each other’s children. For women who come from an unstable background this environment helps them to build new self-confidence.

Wildflower is also a farm. The women grow vegetables and fruits. There are pigs, ducks, chicken and fish. The whole farming process is all organic and no chemical products are used. Wildflower is not only good for women, but also for the environment. The institution is pretty much autonomous and can even sell some farming goods.

 

The women learn how to farm vegetables and livestock, but Wildflower also puts a focus on the creative side of the women. The women make embroideries, had bags, create handmade cards and paint. Thus, they learn that they can do something and earn money with it. One volunteer at Wildflower told us however that the marketing process can be improved.

Wildflower further teaches the women English, administrative skills, problem solving, business management and the legal situation of women in Thailand. This gives the women self-confidence and the strength to deal with problems once they have left Wildflower.

Wildflower has a small kindergarten and school. Starting in high school the children can go to the local school in Bor Sang.

Usually the women stay between three month and one year in order to get back on their feet. Sometimes they can go back to their home villages, but sometimes they start a whole new life. Siripawn told us about a woman who lived with Wildflower and has now a chicken farm with 50 animals.

The women have learned about organic farming, recycling and law. When living on their own again they keep these good habits and can even spread the word among the rural population. The environmental impact of farming in Thailand is really bad as there are hardly restrictions on chemicals and no awareness within the population.

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We wondered beforehand if Wildflower, as a Catholic institution, only takes in women with the same believe. Siripawn assured us that religion is no point of criteria for Wildflower. There are currently Catholic, Buddhist and Muslim women living with Wildflower. Everybody can life their believes and is free to pray to their god and celebrate their rituals.

From our visit, we can only say that Wildflower makes a very good job in empowering women. Community and strength are promoted. They offer volunteer positions if you are interested.

We will keep in touch with Wildflower and maybe can support one or more of the women in their future projects.

Meeting with FFAC in Chiang Mai

As intended we have visited the office of the Foundation Friends For All Children in Chiang Mai. We were warmly welcomed by Gwan and her team.

FFAC currently takes care of five girls: four with mental and/or physical disabilities and one healthy three year old girl which has been adopted by a Belgium couple and which will soon leave FFAC. Gwan and her team take wonderful care of the girls and we were surprised, how good FFAC works on the children’s disabilities in daily life.

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Anong cannot talk, but she can understand everything. In order to facilitate communication in daily life, FFAC has printed pictures of the most important words which Anong can use to communicate. If Anong, for example, wants to drink, she can show the picture of a water glass. Further, Anong has learned to eat by herself and even to do the dishes.

 

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Duanphen has a physical handicap and cannot use her legs, because they are too weak. She is, however, the probably happiest little girl we have ever seen. When we were playing with the girls, Gwan and her team have tried to make Duanphen stretch and use her legs.

 

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The right side of Boonsri’s body is weak, because of an innate brain damage. For Boonsri, too, Gwan and her team has tried to make her use her right arm instead of her left arm.

 

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Hathai is already thirteen and cannot move any part of her body. She needs a wheelchair, is fed and cleaned. When we were playing with the other girls, the team has taken Hathai with us and even though she could not participate in the games, one could see how happy she was about the company.

 

FFAC has a “deal” with one of Chiang Mai’s hospitals and the girls get free therapy twice a week. We could accompany Anong, but we could not make any pictures; only of the facilities. Two young nurses took care of Anong for one hour and tried to encourage her motor functions through playful exercises.

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If you want to learn more about the work of FFAC, you can read our article about FFAC in Bangkok, or visit FFAC’s website.

PS. FFAC is always happy about volunteers which play with the girls, feed and clean them.

 

The names of the children have been changed in this article.

Why Aids remains a major problem in Thailand – Field trip with Rejoice

This week we have made a field trip to Chiangdao and Phrao with Gee, Wi and Arm from Rejoice.

Rejoice works predominantly with HIV-positive persons and those suffering from Aids in the North of Thailand. We have visited clinics and made home visits in order to distribute free medication to those followed by Rejoice.

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Rejoice does not distribute anti-viral medication which is only available in hospitals. Rejoice offers treatment for side-effects of the anti-viral medication and accompanying sickness of Aids.

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Before the field trip we have met Alan Wheeler of Rejoice UK in Chiang Mai who has told us a lot about HIV in Thailand. As Don Willcox and Saovanee Nilavongse have already told us, Rejoice has difficulties to obtain donations directly in Thailand. According to Alan, 90% of Rejoice’s funds come from abroad. Many Thai people prefer to donate to temples rather than to humanitarian organisations.

Chiang Mai was the epicentre of Aids in Thailand 15 years ago and even though the situation has improved, the region still struggles with the repercussions. Especially the rural population is affected by the virus.

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As of today, the public Thai health system provides free medical care for persons suffering from Aids. Further, the HIV tests are paid for by the Thai health insurance which is available for all Thai persons which are registered. A good example of state measures is that HIV test are mandatory for pregnant women in order to prevent a possible transmission of the virus to the new born.

Even though Alan has qualified the governmental action as “good,” several problems persist and HIV and Aids remain a major issue in Thailand.

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All people living in Thailand are not registered and thus have no access to free health care. Especially hill tribes, which speak different languages and often do not speak Thai, do not make the necessary procedures. Further, there are many migrant workers which come from neighbouring countries and which often are in Thailand without a work permit.

According to Alan, another problem is the transportation to the hospitals and clinics. Don has told us about the same problem. The most vulnerable often live far from medical care institutions. The transportation is relatively expensive for the rural population and takes a lot of time which often means one lost day of work.

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Further, and this leads us to the third major problem, going to a hospital could attract the neighbours’ curiosity. HIV and Aids, just like handicaps, remain stigmatised in Thailand. Bad information of the transmission of HIV make that HIV-positive persons are socially rejected and isolated.

We have noticed that Gee has taken a lot of time to talk to the patients. Unfortunately, we do not yet understand Thai, but the discussions seemed very amicable. Gee explained that many persons suffering from Aids stop taking the anti-viral medication when they start to feel better. Even though the medication is free for most, many do not consider it necessary when the symptoms of the sickness disappear.

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Our field trip with Gee has shown us that HIV and Aids remain a problem in Thailand in terms of prevention, treatment and information. Alan and Gee have told us much more about HIV and Aids in Thailand and about the persons suffering from it. If you have any questions you can contact us. You can also read Rejoice’s last report.

PS : On our way to Chiangdao and Phrao we stopped at a primary school in Chiangdao to distribute fruits to the children whose parents are mostly field workers. There is no direct link to Rejoice work on HIV and Aids, but it shows the diversity of its work. Here are some pictures:

 

Wheel chairs may not be sexy, but super important – Meeting with Don Willcox

Today we have met Don Willcox of the “Foundation to Encourage the Potential of Disabled Persons.” Don has previously worked with disabled persons in Nepal and has now settles down with this Thai wife Pirana in Borgsan, close to Chiang Mai.

Don and Pirana work with disabled persons and today mainly provide wheel chairs to those who cannot afford to buy one themselves.

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Our meeting with Don was very interesting. He has confirmed what we have learned from Saovanee (we have met her in Bangkok one month ago) that disabled persons are often discredited in Thailand. Many Buddhists believe that a handicap is the “payback” for a bad previous life. Thus, disabled persons “deserve” their faith; supporting them could attract bad karma.

Don told us, for example, that he had problems in the past with his neighbours which felt perturbed by the presence of disabled persons. Main objections, according to Don, came however from the monks and temples. As Saovanee told us previously, monks mostly encourage the donation to temples in order to “improve” one’s karma rather than helping people.

Don himself is a practising Buddhist, but he prefers to stand back from certain Thai customs. He compared the Thai Buddhism to the catholic religion in Europe: Practitioners are often far away from the “real” religious ideas. Don, however, stressed that one should not generalise, there are “veritable” Buddhists here, too.

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When we asked Don on governmental action taken for disabled persons, he responded very critically. Even though the situation improves in Thailand, many disabled persons still have no access to care, education, work or even a dignified life.

Don explained that there is an increasing number of public facilities providing medical and therapeutical care to disabled people, but the people often have no access to these facilities. According to Don the main problem is transportation.

In Thailand it is usual that the grand-parents take care of a disabled child, so the parents can continue working. But the grand-parents themselves often have health issues and/or do not dispose of adapted transportation for the disabled family member(s). Don further told us, that sometimes men abandon their families if a disabled child is born, in order to found a new family with another woman.

Another main problem is the financial governmental support for disabled persons. Even if a disabled person has been trained and could work, he or she are rarely hired – mainly because of the bad image Thai people have of disabled persons. The Thai government grants 500 Baht to each disabled person per month, which is hardly enough for food – and there is accommodation and possibly necessary medication and special equipment which adds on.

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The wheel chairs Don and Piranan supply mostly come from international donors, mainly the US and Australia. Even though the donations come obviously for free and normally there is no additional tax (according to Thai law, donations are exempt from taxes), Don told us that they have a lot of expenses when bringing the wheel chairs from Bangkok Harbour to Chiang Mai. Numerous administrations apparently want to enrich themselves and without paying a bribe, the wheel chairs would never arrive in Chiang Mai.

Don has shown us a couple of wheel chair models he distributes. According to him, the Westerners often think “too complicated.” The wheel chairs are adaptable in many ways what seems practical, but what does not correspond to the needs in Thailand. The technology is too complicated for many recipients. Further, the wheel chairs are more fragile with all the “jan-ken-pon.” Don has told his concerns to the constructors, but no prolific adjustments had been made so far.

Don and Piranan not only supply wheel chairs since 1993, but also medical care, education and moral support to disabled persons in Northern Thailand.

The moral support seems to be an important point. As disabled persons are often disregarded, their self-esteem is low. Don has shown us books – mainly for children – which the foundation distributes in order to show disabled persons that they are just as important and that they have the right to a dignified life.

The meeting with Don was very moving for us. The situation of disabled persons in Thailand is precarious, especially in rural regions. Even though there has been improvement over the last years, many still have no access to necessary care and are socially isolated. Don has told us so much more, but this article is already long enough. If you have any further questions, please contact us or write an email to Don.

Duang Prateep Foundation: Working in Bangkok’s Khlong Toei Slum

This week, we have met with Mr Khantong from the Duang Prateep Foundation which works in Bangkok in the area of the Khlong Toei Slum.
The habitants of Khlong Toei are struggling with several problems:

  • No legal claim of residence and fear of relocation
  • Unaffordable education costs, no leisure activities for the young
  • No secure employments, no fair wages, long working hours
  • Drug consumption and traffic, prostitution
  • Elderly persons living in precarious conditions
  • Fire risk in the slum

Mr Khantong has explained to us several of the issues in detail and we could visit DPF’s kindergarten and a part of Khlong Toei.

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Khlong Toei is divided into 42 different communities which are headed by different “leaders.” Mr Khantong explained to us that DPF has to go and talk to the leaders to be given “approval” before implementing a project or talking to the slum dwellers. DPF has been working for more than 40 years in Khlong Toei and knows the area, the leaders and part of the population very well.

There are a lot of NGOs working in Khlong Toei, many are catholic missions. But according to Mr Khantong there is no “religious problem” between the Buddhists, Muslims and Catholics and no missionary work from neither religion. The NGOs discuss their agenda between them in order to make their work as efficient as possible. There is a division between competences as the NGOs work on different issues in the same area.

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Khlong Toei is situated close to Bangkok’s harbour and thus to the harbour’s industry. The area is a swamp and when we were visiting Khlong Toei we could see than most houses are built on water. When we asked if there are no health problems linked to the proximity of the highly polluted water and the habitations, Mr Khantong said health issues are “under control.” Local health volunteers work in Khlong Toei and during our visit we saw several posters for health prevention.

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Mr Khantong, however, said that many slum dwellers were complaining about stomach problems. DPF researched the origins of the health problem and found that many people drink unclean water. He explained that most houses have access to drinking water of individual or community water filters. One problem, according to Mr Khantong is that the filters are not changed regularly and thus lose their efficiency. A new water filter costs 2,000 Bath (50€) which is a lot of money for the slum dwellers. DPF is working on changing the filters within the limits of its financial resources.

Mr Khantong has talked about several problems DPF is working on.

One main problem seems to be the “selling of fatherhood.” In order to have a Thai nationality when born, the children’s parents need to be domiciled in Thailand for at least five years. Certain men “sell” their signature on the birth certificate to foreign women for 10,000 Bath in order to facilitate the child obtaining the Thai nationality.

DPF also works with elderly people. We were surprised to learn that many elderly people refuse to leave Khlong Toei. In certain cases, their children have managed to leave the slum and want their parents live with them in a nicer neighbourhood. Mr Khantong explained that the elderly often refuse their children’s offer, because they do not want to leave the familiar environment and their friends. DPF supports the elderly of Khlong Toei in health issues and organises gatherings with food, music and dancing.

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DPF also works in drug prevention as the consumption and traffic of drugs are a major problem in Khlong Toei. When we were visiting Khlong Toei we have observed that Mr Khantong was smelling the Pepsi bottle of three young boys. When we asked what he was doing, he explained that the young sometimes put a drug into their drink, so nobody in school will recognise they are consuming. In this case, the bottle only contained Pepsi, but it was troubling to learn that even the young take drugs at school.

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DPF takes care of children which find themselves alone, because both parents are in jail. DPF feeds the children and makes sure they go to school.

Mr Khantong has talked about much more issues in Khlong Toei and what DPF is doing. This article is too short to enumerate them all. In the end, we would like to talk about DPF’s kindergarten which is an amazingly well organised project.

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When visiting the kindergarten we were amazed by the well thought-through equipment and the beautiful and caring decoration of the building. We both thought that we would have liked to be in such a kindergarten. Mr Khantong explained that the kindergarten is a Montessori kindergarten. It prepares the children of Khlong Toei for school, but also teaches them daily customs like growing plants, cooking, sewing, cleaning and so much more.

We were really amazed by the kindergarten. Check the pictures below, they explain better than words.

Before ending the article, we would like to say how inspiring the visit with Mr Khantong was. He really took a lot of time to show us around and explained a lot of things. DPF’s work is truly amazing and even though, the visit of the slum was a little difficult, we could see that Khlong Toei’s community is organised and fights for its rights. This is thanks to the work of DPF and the other NGOs.

Visiting the Raks Thai Foundation in Bangkok

This week we have decided to visit a bigger NGO than last week. We have met with Prasong Lertpayub, the director of human resources of the Raks Thai Foundation.

Raks Thai is a Thai NGO, affiliated to Care International (Raks means “care” in Thai.) Mr Lertpayub admitted that the work in a big structure has advantages, but also disadvantages.

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For example, Raks Thai had to adapt its logo to the one of Care International. Further, the work of Raks Thai is supervised by Care which means additional administrative work for Raks Thai. Mr Lertpayub has further compared the structure of Care International with the UN: The one contributing to most money, is the one making the most important decisions. In South East Asia these are mainly Care US and Care Australia.

But the work in a big organisation has advantages as well. Means and knowledge can be put together and used commonly, the NGO is more renown and cross-border projects can be financed.

We have further asked Mr Lertpayub if the military putsch has brought any consequences for the work of NGOs. He said there are no major differences for Raks Thai. He could, however, imagine that NGOs which work on political topics, or topics relevant to policy, could feel more pressure.

Raks Thai works on several projects in different area like victims of violence, addicts, HIV, education, agriculture, forestation and others.

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Raks Thai also works with Burmese immigrants who want to settle in Thailand.

This is a subject we were very interested in, because Mr Lertpayub did not speak of “refugees,” but “work migrants.” There are currently thousands of Burmese refugees in Thai refugee camps which only wait for their repatriation. Many leave the camps in order to work in Thailand, for most of the time under illegal conditions. Without a work permit, most are exploited.

We have not insisted on the subject, because the topic is not one of Raks Thai’s main subjects. Raks Thai already makes an amazing work in different areas. Further, there a more specialised NGOs like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.

Refugee camp Ei Tu Hta, IDP-Area bordering Thailand near Mae Sariang, Birma

At the end we have asked Mr Lertpayub how one can officially register their NGO in Thailand. This would be an interesting step for us, because we would benefit from the one-year visa “O” instead of extending our tourist visa every three months.

A registration is possible at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Ministry of Labour. But according to Mr Lerpayub the proceedings are complicated, protracted and actually not doable without the help of an English speaking Thai person.

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Mr Lertpayub told us than many, especially small NGOs, work with tourist visa and cross the border every three months in order to extent the visa. We have decided to do the same for the moment.

The meeting with Mr Lertpayub was interesting for us in two regards: We now know that it is possible to work with Burmese refugees without risking an expulsion of the country and we have learned that we can work for Omakua using our tourist visa.

Mr Lerpayub has further connected us with the Raks Thai team in the North (Chiang Mai). We will be able to visit a project of a big NGO directly on the field.

Meeting “Friends For All Children Fondation” in Bangkok

Today we met with Saovanee Nilavongse from the Friends For All Children Foundation (FFAC) in Bangkok with two additional centers in Chiang Mai and Nong Kai. FFAC is a private, non-profit organisation which exists since 1977. FFAC’s nurseries provide residential care for children who may need temporary or permanent homes due to family difficulties. Some of the children can return to their parents or relatives, some remain under the care of FFAC until adoptive parents are found.

We have sent an email to Saovanee and she immediately responded to us and invited us to visit one of the nurseries. She is a lovely and very dedicated woman. We talked to her a lot and visited the centre. This kind of transparency is what we expect from a NGO. We have emailed a lot of NGOs, but only a few responded and invited us. This was a first big asset for FFAC! Thank you so much Saovanee for receiving us.

Saovanee told us about the importance of residential children’s care in Thailand. Certain children are abandoned by their parents due to several reasons. Poverty is one of the main reasons. Many parents cannot take care of their children and are forced to give them away. We were particular surprised to learn that in Thailand many children are abandoned due to physical malformation or mental handicap.

Saovanee explained that in the Buddhist religion – which believes in reincarnation – physical or mental handicaps can be often seen as a “punishment” for the previous life. Certain believe that handicapped persons have been “bad persons” previously; helping them could bring bad Karma for you.

Saovanee told us that she has been lucky in the past to receive donations for FFAC. Even though she explained, some times are harder than others (FFAC had, for example, move to a smaller house due to lacking funds for paying the renouset of the bigger h) she has received very generous donations, mainly from foreigners. If you want to contribute, you can make a donation of any amount.

FFAC’s centre in Bangkok currently counts 11 children. Most of them came after their birth and have never experienced anything else than the orphanage. Even though Saovanee and her team take really good care of the children, this will never substitute a family.

If the children cannot go back to their parents, they are giving to adoption after one year. The adoption progress, however, is very long and most children will have to wait two to three years before going with a family. Especially for handicapped children an adoption is difficult and in some cases FFAC takes care of them their whole life.

It was very inspiring meeting FFAC. Unfortunately we will not stay in Bangkok long enough to put together a project helping FFAC, but we will go to the centre in Chiang Mai, where we will stay longer and see if and how Omakua can contribute to FFAC’s amazing work.

We have learned much more about FFAC than displayed in this short article. If you have any further questions about FFAC you can email us or FFAC directly.