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.

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.

 

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.

IMG_9083_lesly
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.

IMG_9049_lesly
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.

IMG_8999_lesly
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.

IMG_9065_lesly
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.

IMG_9087_lesly
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.

IMG_9079_lesly
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.

IMG_8975_lesly
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.

Mae Kah 136

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.

Mae Kah 115

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.