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!

Hi Bali!

We have arrived in Bali one week ago, and we have moved to a shared house close to Canggu. Our first impressions of Bali are amazing, and we can’t wait to discover the island and its inhabitants.

For now, we still work on a project in Thailand which will go over the period of one year, and which we can supervise from Indonesia. There will be more information on our website soon.

After the holidays, we will start to discover the humanitarian stakes of Bali with you on this blog.

See you soon!

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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.

 

“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.

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.