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.

Arrived in Bangkok

We have arrived in Bangkok and start our work for Omakua. At first we will make contact with local NGOs in order to learn more about the humanitarian work in Thailand.We want to know where help is needed and what difficulties we might encounter. Besides, we have started learning Thai. But it will take a little while before we can actually have a conversation.

 

Monday, 9 February, we will meet the Foundation Friends for all Children (FFAC). They work (as the name suggests) with children. You will learn more about FFAC once we have met them. 🙂