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.

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.

Women empowerment at Wildflower Home

We had an amazing visit at the Wildflower Home, thirty minutes East from Chiang Mai. Wildflower is a “Good Shepherd” run foundation which offers women in need and their children a place to stay. Wildflower currently hosts nine women and seven children with a maximal capacity of hosting twelve women.

Violence against women remains a severe problem in Thailand, especially because many do not talk about it. We met with Sister Siripawn who told us that many women do not come from the Chiang Mai area itself. It would be embarrassing for the women if their friends and family learn that they feel the need to move out from home into a women community. Most women come to Wildflower by themselves, but sometimes Wildflower is contacted by hospitals.

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We were amazed by Wildflower in so many ways. One main goal of Wildflower is to make women strong and independent. Community is an important point, too. The women work and life together, share daily tasks and look after each other’s children. For women who come from an unstable background this environment helps them to build new self-confidence.

Wildflower is also a farm. The women grow vegetables and fruits. There are pigs, ducks, chicken and fish. The whole farming process is all organic and no chemical products are used. Wildflower is not only good for women, but also for the environment. The institution is pretty much autonomous and can even sell some farming goods.

 

The women learn how to farm vegetables and livestock, but Wildflower also puts a focus on the creative side of the women. The women make embroideries, had bags, create handmade cards and paint. Thus, they learn that they can do something and earn money with it. One volunteer at Wildflower told us however that the marketing process can be improved.

Wildflower further teaches the women English, administrative skills, problem solving, business management and the legal situation of women in Thailand. This gives the women self-confidence and the strength to deal with problems once they have left Wildflower.

Wildflower has a small kindergarten and school. Starting in high school the children can go to the local school in Bor Sang.

Usually the women stay between three month and one year in order to get back on their feet. Sometimes they can go back to their home villages, but sometimes they start a whole new life. Siripawn told us about a woman who lived with Wildflower and has now a chicken farm with 50 animals.

The women have learned about organic farming, recycling and law. When living on their own again they keep these good habits and can even spread the word among the rural population. The environmental impact of farming in Thailand is really bad as there are hardly restrictions on chemicals and no awareness within the population.

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We wondered beforehand if Wildflower, as a Catholic institution, only takes in women with the same believe. Siripawn assured us that religion is no point of criteria for Wildflower. There are currently Catholic, Buddhist and Muslim women living with Wildflower. Everybody can life their believes and is free to pray to their god and celebrate their rituals.

From our visit, we can only say that Wildflower makes a very good job in empowering women. Community and strength are promoted. They offer volunteer positions if you are interested.

We will keep in touch with Wildflower and maybe can support one or more of the women in their future projects.