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.

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.

Sustainable tourism with Laetitia

This week we have decided to write an article about Laetitia Bisiaux, a young French woman we have met in Chiang Mai.
Laetitia has been in Thailand for two years. She has got enrolled with an organisation which aims at the protection of gibbons which disappear from Thai forests due to the destruction of their habitat and illegal poaching. The project is super interesting and if you want to learn more about it you can visit the organisation’s website.

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The reason why we have decided to write an article about Laetitia is however not her commitment to gibbons, but a second project she is currently enrolled with and which aims at the establishment of sustainable tourism in a village one hour from Chiang Mai. The project is called Active Conversation Travel (ACT) and has been established in a Thai-French cooperation. Laetitia is currently creating a guest house and will propose responsible tourist activities in cooperation with the village dwellers.


The project aims at developing the local community with the creation of jobs, the preservation of the forest and the respect of local traditions and the conservation of nature. Thus, Laetitia will propose activities in cooperation with the local population like cooking schools, workshops on the cultivation of local fruits and vegetables and on Thai traditions like boxing, but will also offer activities like planting trees, hiking etc.

In Thai villages, poverty often leads to the destruction of the natural habitat with poaching and illegal deforestation. In return, the destruction of nature enhances poverty in the middle and long term. A vicious circle. Once the forests are deforested and burned and once the soils are exploited, the population is left without any resources.

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One must know that the eco-conscience is not very developed in Thailand, especially in the rural regions. Nevertheless, the respect of the environment is important in the fight against poverty, especially in the North of Thailand where agriculture is one of the main resources.

In order to raise awareness among the population for the protection of the environment, Laetitia regularly organises workshops in schools so as to concern the youngest for the issue. The goal is to explain to the children and young adults why it is important to respect and protect nature and animals. The workshops go on for several days and include walks in the forests, role plays and other educative activities.

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Laetitia is currently raising money for the renovation of ACT’s guest house. If you want to support Laetitia and ACT, you can make a donation on leetchi.

For more information you can always contact us.

The Moken people in Thailand

After the Tsunami in Thailand in 2004, numerous NGOs started to implement reconstruction and development projects in order to come to the aid of the affected people.

Especially the South of Thailand has been hit by the catastrophe:

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One of the most concerned population are the Moken. These people are traditionally fishermen who have been living at the seaboard which is why they have been particularly hit by the Tsunami. After the tsunami, the Moken became a NGO priority in the region.

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The Moken have been living in fisher villages at a 200km coastline between Phuket and Khura Burri. Their living space has changed drastically after the tsunami. Much territory which was populated by the Moken before has been bought by real-estate companies; entire fisher villages were rehoused.

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What happened?

For many decades the Moken people have been living at the seaboard. They were perfectly accepted by the other locals and the royalty. They paid property tax, but as their ground was regulated by the right of use, there are no deeds of property.

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After the tsunami the Thai government has made it clear that affected people of the coastline will be resettled. This decision was also influenced by the real-estate and tourism sector.

To implement reconstruction projects, the NGOs needed these deeds of property. As there were no deeds of property, it was easier to simply rehouse entire villages than to deal with the Thai legislation. Like this the populations which have been living at the coastline were resettled from one day to the next and lost their access to the sea. The NGOs did not consider this. Reconstruction was evaluated more important – wherever it was possible.

The Moken had the choice: Staying at the coastline without anything or leaving the coast with the prospect of a new house and compensations.

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Four years after the tsunami, the village of Kokhloi for example, is crowded with hotels. The fishermen are not allowed any more to put in their boats at the beaches, because they are private property now.

Furthermore, the NGOs’ work included the supply with boats at fishing equipment for the Moken. The NGOs have chosen small boats and fishing nets. For the fishermen who are used to fish offshore, the 5 meter boats were not adapted to their way of fishing. Many of the fishermen were forced to change their activity; others ran into debt because they had to buy new fishing nets and put expensive petrol into their boats.

Reconstruction without considering the needs of the local people has thus created a state of instability which has not existed before 2004.

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With Omakua, we want to do things differently.

We want to help people with small projects which are adapted to their way of life. Our main point is the communication with the local population. This will take time, but we are convinced that this is the way to achieve development while respecting the local traditions and ways of life.