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

 

Phuket – Between slums and five star resorts

Many of the NGOs on Phuket work with children and women. We have met with Roelien Muller from the Asia Center Foundation, who gave us insight into the humanitarian situation on Phuket.

Read our article about the Asia Center Foundation here.

Phuket is one of the favourite tourist destination of many foreigners that come to Thailand. Beautiful beaches, good food, cheap prices and a pulsing night life are why many “get hooked” on Phuket. But Phuket also has its dark sides. While cruising around the island, Lesly and I came across the poorer neighbourhoods on Phuket. Dirty apartment towers and slums co-exist with five star hotels and beautiful villas, drawing a contrasting picture of Phuket.

Roelien told us that when she arrived in Phuket, there was one big slum close to the Patrong area. However, a road has been built through the slum, destroying the accommodations and forcing the families to find a new place to life. Today, there is not one big slum on Phuket anymore, but several smaller ones that are dispatched around the Patong and Katu area. On the spot of the former big slum is now a shopping mall.

After the slum has been destroyed, efforts have been made to build low-cost accommodation for the poor. However, the apartments are relatively expensive, with three to four thousand Baht per month, according to Roelien, which is seventy to one hundred euros. The apartments are not maintained and have started to rot away years ago. Some families don’t even have a bathroom!

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Many of the families living in Phuket’s slums are not originally from Phuket, but come from Myanmar or other, poorer regions of Thailand, like the North-East. The situation of the Burmese in Thailand is a difficult, complex and important topic, which will be treated in a different article.

Many of the Thai migrants that come to Phuket are unskilled. Phuket is an expensive island to live on, compared to the rest of Thailand, and many families struggle to make ends meet. Sometimes the women start working in bars, out of lack of alternatives. From there on its “downhill,” like Roelien said, meaning prostitution. Some parents also recycle garbage to gain money, are motorbike taxi drivers, cleaning ladies, have laundry services or fruit cars. However, the income remains very low.

Further, drug addiction is a big problem in Phuket’s slums. Whether the drug addiction leads to living in the slum, or whether the living and working conditions, as well as the low income and life quality lead to drug addiction is not important. Many people living in the slums struggle with addiction to alcohol or other drugs.

The life in slums is especially hard for children. Often they are neglected because they parents work all day or are drug addicted and cannot take care of their children. Even though school is mandatory in Thailand until age 15, a lot of the slum’s children drop out of school when they are old enough to do small jobs and earn money. Or the parents do not care if the children go to school, or they take their kids out of school on purpose for them to work.

It also happens that the children are abandoned or raised by relatives. Some parents are in prison, others run away because they cannot deal with the pressure. Roelien also talked about a high suicide rate. According to the WHO, in 2002, nearly 5,000 people killed themselves in Thailand. I have, so far, not heard that suicide is a big problem in Thailand and will inquire on this topic.

Conclusion

While Phuket is a holiday island of cheap fun for some, it also is the hard reality for others. There is nothing wrong with enjoying yourself, but keep in mind that you are lucky and try to do something for the less fortunate while you are here. If you want to make a donation to the Asia Center Foundation, click here.

The situation of the mentally and physically disabled in Bali

We were not surprised to learn that the situation of mentally and physically disabled in Bali is similar to those in Thailand. Sarah Chapman, who is part of the outreach team of the NGO Yayasan Solemen Indonesia, told us some of her experiences, and it sounded pretty much like what we have heard in Thailand.

Karma

The main religion in Bali is Hinduism. The Balinese religion and culture is rich and beautiful: All the temples, ceremonies, sarongs, and flower offerings. It is stunning. Ok, there are also parts of Bali religion, we do not appreciate, like animal offerings.

Just like the Thai Buddhists, the Balinese believe in Karma. Thus, being born with a physical disability means bad Karma, and disabled people are hidden (sometimes locked) away. They are considered a shame for the family

Read this article to learn more about the situation of the disabled in Thailand.

Education

But Karma is not the only reason why people hide their physically, mentally and psychologically disabled family members. There is also a great lack of education about these diseases. Many do not know that psychological illnesses can be treated with medication. People with psychological disorders are often locked away because they are a threat to themselves and to others.

Traditional believes

Further, many Balinese prefer to rely on traditional medication and rituals to treat mental and physical diseases. Even though, one should not underestimate the power of traditional and natural remedies, certain diseases cannot be treated this way.

Infrastructure

Besides Karma and education, another main problem is the health infrastructure. Sick people are often not taken to a doctor or a hospital, because the village is too remote. Sometimes, the village people do not know where exactly the next hospital is, and how to get there. Most of the times, the journey to the hospital is too expensive. The families do not know where to stay close to the hospital, and simply cannot afford to stay away from work for a couple of days.

Solemen does field trips to reach the remote villages, and to help the families bring the ill to a doctor. To read more about Solemen click here.

Happy New Year! Omakua review 2015

2015 was the year, we started Omakua on the field in Thailand. We have started blogging about NGOs in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and have realised two amazing projects. While most experiences we made were 100% positive, there have been ups and downs all along the year.

Meeting amazingly dedicated people

For our blog we focused on meeting small scale NGOs, and have met so many dedicated people. Saovenee Nilavongse from the Friends For all Children Foundation, who dedicates her life to disabled children, in only one to mention.

Read our blog articles about NGOs we have encountered

We had to change our strategy

While our initial plan was to meet people in need during our travels, we rapidly realised that is not as easy as imagined – at least in Thailand. Most of those being in need do not speak English, and many not even Thai. Further, Thai people do not necessarily voice their needs, and it is difficult to know who needs what. We changed our strategy and cooperated with NGOs which have been in Thailand for many years, and which know the needs of the people. This was a very good alternative.

Projects – two successes and one setback

We thought to be able to realise more projects in one year, but as it turned out identifying needs, setting up a cooperation with other NGOs, and preparing and realising even a small project takes a considerable amount of time. For working in Thailand, one must be patient.

Both projects we have realised have been an amazing experience. Worachai Intakaew who works for the Community Development Centre in a village close to the Burmese border, and with whom we worked on the project “A bathroom for Jun” has been the most committed partner we could have asked for. Further, working with the CDCE on project proposal writing has been a very interesting experience for Lisa.

We also learned that development work can sometimes be frustrating. After weeks of effort, our third project “Sunshine for ARK’s dogs” has been cancelled four days before its realisation.

Read what happened.

Religion does not make people good – people chose to be good

Before coming to Thailand, we imagined that Buddhist people are keener to humanitarian work, even though their main motivation might be good karma. However, most NGOs we met have a non-religious or Christian background, and were led by foreigners. The only Thai-led NGO we met was the FFAC, and the only Buddhist one the Foundation to Encourage the Potential of Disabled Persons.

We learned that many Thais consider unfortunate people deserve their faith for bad actions in their previous life, and prefer donating to temples for good karma. We have even heard of cases where monks advise against donating to charity, and call for donations to temples. It seems like Buddhism as an institution – just like most other big religions – is about one thing: Money. And we did not getting started on corruption.

We had a very happy year 2015

Thailand and its people have welcomes us so warmly, and we are grateful for every experience. We have had great support from our families and friends whom we would to thank very much <3. We had the chance to see beautiful landscapes, temples and animals, and have met amazing people. Sometimes life was busy between our respective jobs, the work for Omakua, visa-runs and immigration offices, but we appreciated (almost) every moment of it. We became vegetarians and started a zero waste lifestyle which we do to our best, giving the conditions in South East Asia. 2015 has been the year of positive change, new experiences, small and big adventures.

What does 2016 bring?

In December we have moved to Bali and will continue the work for Omakua from here. We have spent the last three weeks figuring out accommodation, visa stuff and where to get a decent internet connection for our jobs. Lesly is currently working on redesigning our website and blog which will look awesome! We are also working on a project in cooperation with Urban Light (Thailand) which will soon be presented on our website.

 

We both wish all of you a very joyful 2016, full of happiness and good health!

What happened to the project “Sunshine for ARK’s dogs“?

In cooperation with Blue Tail International we established a project for the dog shelter ARK. The goal was to build an outside enclosure for sick dogs which for now live in small cages. The sick dogs cannot leave their cages, because of a contamination risk for the other dogs.

For more information, read our blog article about Blue Tail and ARK.

We spent a lot of time and effort for the preparation of the project. We have visited ARK multiple times in order to determine the location of the enclosure, take measures, set a budget, and to find a volunteer engineer who could help us with the construction of the outside enclosure. We then presented the project on our website and conducted a social media campaign in order to collect the necessary funds.

Sadly, the project has never been realised. Four days before the scheduled construction of the enclosure, the owner of ARK Dip has stopped all cooperation with Blue Tail and Omakua.

Even though we have been very sad about his decision, we understand Dip’s decision.

The Thai government has recently conducted several raids in different animal shelters and NGOs in Chiang Mai with the goal to find illegal workers. The goal was to chase down foreigners who get paid for their work in Thailand, without having a working permit.

Many NGOs in Thailand employ volunteers and workers which are in Thailand on a tourist visa. Many NGOs do register, because it is difficult and costly for NGOs to be officially recognised. Further, work permits can be expensive, too.

We do not pay ourselves with Omakua, and we thus do not fall into the category of illegal workers. Nevertheless, we understand that Dip does not want to continue to work with us.

In Thailand, the law and what happens on the field are two very different things, and corruption remains wide-spread. We think that Dip was scared of possible consequences if foreigners are seen on the ARK territory, even if it would have been legal.

It only needs one person with bad intentions and some pictures of foreigners building an enclosure, to Dip could have been pressured into paying a bribe. Many shelters in Chiang Mai have demanded their foreign volunteers and employees to stay away from work for a certain time, even those who actually have a work permit – just in case.

We have heard stories before from other NGOs which were asked to pay a “tax” which does not exist on paper by local authorities. Luckily, in the mentioned case, the person had high-placed contacts, and could continue the work after some phone calls. Dip clearly does not have the same contacts.

We have been touched very much by the whole situation, because everybody loses. First, the dogs which will stay in their small cages and will not be able to go outside, then Dip who will have to find new sponsors if he decides to build the enclosure in the future; further, the waste of time and effort for Blue Tail and Omakua, and the disappointment of our donors and volunteer engineer.

 

Our research for articles about the raid in Chiang Mai were fruitless. You can find below links to articles about similar incidents:

http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2012/02/17/armed-thai-officials-raid-wildlife-rescue-ngo/
http://www.bangkokpost.com/archive/activist-says-60-70-parks-staff-raided-his-house/279857

 

It is important to underline that this is our point of view of the situation. The article does not reflect the opinion of ARK and Blue Tail International.

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.

 

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.

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.