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

 

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.

The situation of the mentally and physically disabled in Bali

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

Karma

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

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

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

Education

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

Traditional believes

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

Infrastructure

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

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

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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Give Chakrii a second chance!

We are super happy to present our new project! 🙂

Chakrii needs our help to get off the streets! Being without his family, he has been living on the streets for many years. Help him to leave the streets of Chiang Mai’s red light district, and to get back to school.

Click here for more information.

How travelling has made me eco-conscious

I started travelling pretty young. First with my parents in Europe, than in a school-enrolled programme to Mauritania. After that I could not stop, I have returned to Mauritania, been to Cameroun and Central America. I currently live in Bali and have travelled other countries in South-East Asia. Each country and culture I discover has impacted me. This is my story of how travelling has made more humane and more eco-conscious.

Why I have reduced my waste production

When I started diving and hiking, when I visited the nicest beaches and went through amazing cities, I started realise that waste is everywhere. I saw plastic bottles swimming in the ocean as if they were fish, and I saw plastic bags flying through cities and forests as if they were butterflies (sadly, that is how plastic backs are called in Nouakchott: Mauritania’s butterflies). I really don’t want to see the waste and more important: I don’t want it to be there. I want to see real fish and I want to see real butterflies. When I explore nature and cities, I want to see the beauty of it, not trash mountains. Even though in certain parts of the world much waste is recycled, big parts of trash always end up in the oceans and forests. For me, reducing waste has become the only way to keep the oceans and the forests clean.

Why I have reduced my general consumption

When travelling you realise that you do not need much. Everything I actually use fits in my backpack. I have come to realise that I do not need most of the objects I used to possess. Why do I need a smartphone, a tablet and a laptop? It takes space in my backpack and it’s heavy. I have also learned that a pair of hiking shoes and a pair of flip-flops is more than enough. I do not need a whole wardrobe of cloths. It is ok to wash your cloth more often and wear them every week! Why do I need a new bikini every year? It is expensive and I rather spend money paying for a local guide that shows me a secret track in the forest than for a new handbag.

Why I don’t eat meat and fish

I stopped eating fish when I started diving. I enjoy to see the fishes underwater so much that it started to make me sad to see them on my plate. Little by little, I got the same sadness when I saw meat on my plate. I remember when I was travelling in Cameroun, I had a piece of meat in a laid-back jungle village for dinner. I do not know what kind of animal I ate and if it is was an endangered species. I felt really guilty afterwards and started to decide that I will not eat wild animals any more (later I became a vegetarian). In my first years of travelling I wanted to taste everything new. Now I think sometimes a new taste is not worth it, if I don’t know if it is a right thing to eat.

Why I don’t go to the zoo any more

I used to love to go to zoos and aquariums. I have always been a great animal-lover and seeing all these cute and exotic animals, looking at them and studying their behaviour was something I really enjoyed. I have been to zoos in many parts of the world and I think I decided to stop going to the zoo when I was in a public zoo in Merida, Mexico, where animals live in tiny cages and are visibly psychotic. It made me really sad to see them and I realised that it is not right to keep another living being in a cage, even if it is big and well equipped. Instead of going to the zoo, I prefer going to animal sanctuaries now. The animals are still not free, but I like the idea of supporting associations which rescue animals out of terrible keeping conditions. It is always better if the animals can be released into the wild, but sometimes it is not possible. I have been to this amazing camp in Northern Thailand where formerly badly treated and tortured elephants were given a peaceful life. This is the kind of “zoo,” I want to support. Most of all, I enjoy seeing wild animals during my hikes. It is difficult to find them and sometimes I have been disappointed by not seeing any, but when I see a wild animal it is so much more exciting. The best wildlife I ever saw were spider and howler monkeys during a hike in Guatemala. When spotting a wild animal, it is always a kind of achievement that gives me a special thrill. There are many animals you cannot see in wild, because they are difficult to find or they are dangerous. But I rather not see a tiger in my life again than go to one of those tiger attractions in Chiang Mai where animals are probably drugged and badly treated.

Why I ride a bicycle as much as possible

I have always enjoyed to ride a bicycle. It is free, it gives me a little exercise and it makes me explore my city much better. However, in Chiang Mai I have started to wear a mask when riding my bicycle. Air in Chiang Mai is very bad and sometimes (depending on the season and weather) it is hard to breathe, even though the city is located in the middle of nature. This has encouraged me to rethink my way of transportation. When travelling, taking a plane is often unavoidable. But now, I will rather take my bicycle than my motorbike – even when it is hot. If possible, I will rather take the train than the plane – even though it takes longer. As I enjoy breathing fresh air and riding by bicycle without a mask, I felt that I should adapt my way of transportation.

Why I use organic cleaning and body products

Many times when I have travelled, I saw locals (and tourists) soaping themselves in rivers, lakes and seas, leaving behind them a puddle of foam. I saw water evacuations spilling used water right into the nature. I have been to a beautiful lake in Guatemala which is – how I learned afterwards – completely polluted and close to die. I have been to waterfalls in Thailand which could have been mistaken for foam parties. I realised after one month that the used water of our house in the middle of Chiang Mai, goes directly into our garden. This is when I decided to use organic cleaning and soaping products. My house, my laundry and myself have never been cleaner.

Why I started being a humanitarian

I am not only concerned by nature, but also by other humans. When travelling to Western Africa, Central America and South-East Asia, I have not only seen stunning nature, but I have met amazing people. Some of them helped me and some of them needed help – sometimes both at the same time. Lesly and I have created Omakua in order to support persons, families and villages in particular needs. This is my way of giving back to the people whose countries I enjoy travelling through. Travelling and being immersed into different cultures also made me more tolerant and sensitive to other people’s problems. Sometimes it is difficult to understand and accept a local tradition and I have to admit that I have come around traditions I do not personally approve of. But everybody and everything on this planet is unique – humans, animals and plants – and everybody and everything deserves a place to live safely and happily. For me it is differences which make our planet so special and enjoyable.

Why I am much happier like this

When I started exploring the world, my way of travelling was different from how it is now. All the experiences made me understand things, and I think that travelling has made me a better person. It is not only travelling and the amazing things I see that make me happy. It is also the values I have acquired through travelling. It has been a process and I am sure that I have not reached the end of it.

“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.