Monday, March 30, 2009

Bangkok Poverty

I was visiting schools in Thailand for 6 days last week and for 5 of those 6 days stayed in Bangkok. One night I was talking to a teacher-friend of mine (who is Thai) and she asked me what were some things I did not like about Thailand. First, I told her what I did like: the Thai smile, people's hospitality and friendliness, fresh fruit year-round, Buddhism, reading about Thai history, etc. I then told her what I did not like: corruption, poverty, etc. But when I said poverty she stopped me and said poverty was not necessarily a bad thing. I agreed with her. However, I explained to her that what I meant by poverty was seeing homeless children on the street in Bangkok or a mother sitting on a sidewalk breast feeding her child at 11 at night. Seeing these sights was absolutely heartbreaking for me. It was not like I had not seen stuff like this before but now that I have a child, seeing someone about the same age or a little older than my son sleeping on a sidewalk overcomes me with a profound sadness. Believe it or not, I did not give these kids or young mothers money. I wanted to help them, but in the end, I thought that giving a larger sum of money to an organization for getting kids/mothers off the street would be best.

I wanted to learn more about how the disadvantaged in Bangkok live so I bought two books at Asia books, one book was called Bangkok Boy by Chai Pinit and the second was Welcome to the Bangkok Slaughter House by Father Maier. The first book was the autobiography of a male prostitute from rural Thailand who moved to Pataya and then Bangkok. Below the title on the cover of the book is written "The Story of a Stolen Childhood" and you expect that this will be the autobiography of how this poor fellow was victimized. In the beginning of the book, though, Chai (It seems that just about everyone in Thailand uses their first name) writes that the reader should not feel sorry for him and he was writing this story to come to grips with his past. After reading the book, I felt less sorry for the author and more sorry for the people he victimized. I thought that this book shed some light on why some people choose to enter the sex industry, but will not tell you much about how people are forced into it.

The second book I read is about Father Maier's work in a Bangkok slum. Father Maier togther with Sister Maria Chantavarodom runs an organization called the Mercy Centre which runs a orphanage for children who are HIV Positive and also creates schools in the slums. The book consists of the stories of the children in the orphanage or who live in the slum. All the stories are sad but also instilled some hope in me. The reason why is because no matter how dire the situation the children found themselves in, most of them did not give up in their pursuit of happiness and neither has Father Maier. After reading the book I decided to give a small donation to the Centre.

3 comments:

Doddy Novarianto said...

I do appreciate what you have done in Bangkok -donating an orphan's house. I'am a teacher in Indonesia which, in some extense, has similar situation with Bangkok's. I hope people in prosperous countries, like Japanese, give more advantages to developing countries. At least, in education field, we can share knowledge and experience on how to courage our students for better life in the future.

JH said...

Hi Doddy,
Thank you for your comment. I actually went to Bali, Indonesia last August and participated in Asia TELF. I also visited an orphanage called Anak Anak Bali there and had a very good time with the kids. We read some English picture books and talked.
I saw your blog and it had some interesting games. I will try to use some of them in the future.

steve harman said...

I do appreciate your writing in this topic.