Happy children at the Blue Dragon’s Children Foundation

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

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

Who are the Blue Dragon kids?

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

Read article about trafficking in Vietnam here

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

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

What does the day care centre offer?

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

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

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

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

Volunteers needed!

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

 

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

 

The sad reality of child trafficking in Vietnam

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

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

Child labour in Vietnam

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

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

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

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

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

Women’s trafficking into China

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

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

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

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

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

 

Meeting with Roelien from the Asia Center Foundation

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

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

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

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

The Patong Child Center

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

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

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

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

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

Plans for the future

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

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

The religious aspect

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

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

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

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.

Being barefoot with Solemen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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.

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.

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.