Volunteering in Thailand

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” — Albert Einstein

Volunteering in Thailand has been an eye opening experience. Not only have I been allowed to see a culture for all that it is, I have been given insight to all of its problems and the people who are trying to make Bangkok a better place for everyone.

Home of Grace

So far, I have yet to talk about my experience volunteering in Bangkok. I wake up every morning around 7:00 am (out of preference, not obligation) and spend my mornings catching up with current events, cleaning, and getting breakfast. A taxi is called for me and my fellow volunteer around 9:00 am and we cruise across Bangkok for an hour to be dropped off in a village right outside the city (but to outsiders you’d think you’re still in Bangkok).

After arriving, I settle in to take care of housekeeping duties or helping with the nursery. Occasionally another volunteer comes to help with sewing handicrafts. I will help prepare lunch, clean the kitchen, and then prepare an English lesson for the day. Some days I helped sort donations, scrub walls, pull weeds, and even played host and serve refreshments for visitors.

For the most part everything is fairly relaxed. There is a language barrier with me and the women who stay there because many of them do not speak English or do not understand it well. There are three Thai staff members that work on a rotating basis and one full-time missionary who speaks Thai and English and stays most days with us but occasionally has to go to other places to work on other projects or attend meetings.

I arrive around 10:00 am and leave usually around 2:00 pm. The women that stay at the home have become pregnant in undesirable circumstances. They come from all walks of life and each have their own unique story. They can live at the house throughout the length of their pregnancy and can stay for two months or longer after the baby is born.
Home of Grace was established through the Lutheran Mission in Thailand through Finnish and Norwegian mission societies in 1987. There’s no single reason these pregnant women come to the home. Some had been molested by a family member, others are pregnant from a boyfriend they met in uni, some are from the streets and worked as sex workers and became pregnant through their work, while others still might have become pregnant by their husband but their husband denies the child. They come from every corner of Thailand.

I was told a story about a girl who came once because when she told her mother she was pregnant, her mother disapproved and told the girl she must have an abortion. At the time abortions were illegal in Thailand and quite costly (not to mention unsafe).

Whatever the case, Home of Grace gives them shelter and allows the women a safe space to work through their problems and the challenges they face. The home works with partner organizations in order to find vulnerable women and reach out to them as well as help with the costs for medical appointments and the hospital costs once the baby is born.

Many of the women keep the baby after it is born and very few end up putting the baby up for adoption.

It was a special place to see the deep challenges that burden the people from Thailand and how that translates to their everyday life.

Not to mention, I got to eat homemade Thai food every day which is something no one would ever complain about.

You can also check out my daily routine through this here video:

 https://youtu.be/8jjDJZNyo7g

To learn more about Home of Grace, click here.

Bangkok Slums

Due to my work with Home of Grace, I was offered an opportunity to see the nursery and kindergarten the Lutheran Church had established in Bangkok’s largest slum.

The Monday after I returned from the islands, I met with a lady named Margaret at 8:30 am (this doesn’t seem that early but after not arriving to Bangkok the night before until after midnight and then having to wake up at 6:00 am to make the commute, you’d be bummed about the time too!).

As I walked to the Tesco Lotus, I took in the surroundings. All I could think was there was no way a slum could be near this area. It was too nice! There was a shopping mall with a Chanel. I counted three Starbucks on the walk. There were multiple high-rise apartments and very expensive looking restaurants. Nothing about this area screamed poverty.

Yet, after meeting with Margaret, she simply walked me and another girl named Carol to the kindergarten which was about five minutes away.

The kindergarten is a school for children ages 3-6. A lot of their lessons are done together even though there are technically two classes. They offer an after-school music class, English lessons, and even have some computers for students to use.

The children were so happy. As we walked into the classroom, we were greeted with many hugs and smiles. All the little girls wanted to come up to us and hug us and hold our hands. To ask us our names they simply said “My name is?” which was quite an adorable language mix-up.

We sang songs with them and introduced ourselves. Margaret explained what they did and showed us around. The school was narrow but tall. There were three floors completed with an upstairs playground.

We were told how the children were unsure how to play with any of the playground equipment because it was so foreign to them. Their hand-eye coordination was lacking because on a daily basis they are simply told to sit or stand and do as their told. Imagination and motor-skills are lacking.

As we turned the corner to travel onward to the day care center, that’s when I see it. Piled rubbish, and a wall of shack-like homes faces me.

I didn’t know if it was rude to take photos, so I didn’t at first. We walked through a small alleyway that showed entrances to one or two roomed homes. Trashed was thrown everywhere. We came to a canal filled with garbage. The smell was unpleasant but not overwhelming due to the rains that wash some of the dirt away.

With such an narrow space to walk, we were kept from falling over the edge into the canals by a orange guardrail. Margaret said how the city had only recently installed it within the last year.

We walked through some of the government built buildings (much like the projects in the USA but less kept) and continued to what would be the heart of the slum: shacks built up under the highway. Why the highway? Because it offers protection from the elements.

Something like 350,000 people live in the Klong Toey slums but the actual number is unknown.

The day care was the nicest building in the area. It was large and green and inviting.

The children were so rambunctious, the way all toddlers are. The day care is a place for those three months to three years.

The goal of these two day cares are to care for the children of the slums and give them a chance at opportunity.

In Thailand, their education system leaves much to be desired. Children are faced with corporal punishmnet if they step out of line or talk when they are not supposed to. You can find one American English teacher’s insight here.

Several of the other volunteers I live with told me about this kind of punishment. Teachers will take a kind of stick and slap the children on their hands – sometimes gently, sometimes hard. When I went to the kindergarten, I noticed no such discipline mechanism and had to ask Margaret why this was.

She told me the school does not punish children in this way even when parents are displeased with the lack of corporal punishment. They believe it does nothing good for the children and have found other ways to keep children in line without any physical action. If a parent dislikes it, then they do not need to send their child there.

Their Stories

The stories shared with me were some of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve heard in all of Thailand.

There were three girls at the day cares. One was six, bubbly, continuously asked me my name and hugged me. She had a younger sister who was about four and they had another sister around the age of two. These three girls were being raised by their grandmother. She wanted them to have an education because she never got one. She earns money by collecting and selling recyclables. Their mother is a drug addict and routinely comes in and out of their lives. They had a younger brother, but their mother sold him when he was a baby – no one knows to whom but it was for the equivalent of around 30 baht or $1.

In Buddhism, a child born with a deformity means the parent had done something bad in their past life. To hide their shame, the parent will keep the child at the home – refusing to let him or her out for others to see them. One little girl at the daycare was wearing a pair of shoes (which was unusual because you are to take your shoes off when you enter a private space which meant she was the only one with shoes on). Margaret explained these were special shoes with weights in them. The child was born with a kind of cripple to her feet and the shoes were meant to keep her feet straight. During one of the home visits the day care staff does for the children, they discovered the girl raised funds for her to seek medical help and were able to get her shoes. If it weren’t for this simple thing, the girl might not have ever walked.

Many times girls are denied schooling. Uniforms and tuition are expensive and girls are viewed as less valuable than boys. In Buddhism, only men can reach enlightenment being born a girl means you have done something wrong in a past life. A girl the age of three was at the day care, she was the oldest of the group and should have been moved on to the kindergarten class but because she got a late start, they allowed her to stay in the younger class. During a home visit for her younger brother who was attending the day care, the staff at Home of Praise discovered her. She stayed at home during the day most of the time alone but from time to time she would be alone with her grandmother. Her grandmother would take objects and beat the child. She was covered in all kinds of bruises and scars when they found her. When the parents come to pick the children up in the afternoon, both the girl and boy pretend they do not know them or do not see them in hopes that they will not have to return home with them.

These are just a few of the stories of the children that use the underpasses of the highways as their playground. Home of Praise, same as any non-profit or NGO, cannot change deep seeded beliefs and they cannot change a child’s or person’s situation but they can offer opportunity that would not be offered elsewhere.
When Home of Praise was established, they did not establish any ties with the local population. They were advised not to make any with any of the gang leaders (which is who controls most of the slums) or leaders of the community because then not everyone would feel welcome. Margaret said in the beginning it was hard, because no one came. They felt unsure about these western transplants. Later though, the people came. The children came. And no one has ever tried to rob their schools or destroy their building. There’s a respect for them because they are a neutral party that accepts anyone and everyone – no matter what ethnicity, group, or religion. And to me, that is a beautiful thing.

To find out more about Home of Praise, check out this website.

 

We cannot do everything. We cannot help everyone. We can never be the sole savior of the world. But by not turning a blind eye, to uncover the truth and work towards a better future – that is how each of us become the small change we wish to see in this great big world. The key is to not do nothing, no matter how daunting the task may seem at first.

 

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