(Information for this article was compiled from material made available by the Duang Prateep Foundation)
The Duang Prateep Foundation
(DPF) is officially registered as a charity in Thailand and was founded in 1978. It grew
out of the efforts of the slum people to address the problems that have their roots in
poverty and deprivation.
The name "Duang Prateep" means "flame of enlightenment" and this flame is the Foundation's symbol.
The DPF has grown from humble beginnings in 1978 with five people working in a small office. Now the Foundation has over 100 staff and twenty full-time volunteers, with many part-time helpers. In 1992 the Foundation moved into a new permanent building, Thailand's first comprehensive and resource center for a slum community.
The DPF has grown in size but it has not lost contact with the community it serves. Most of the Foundation staff are slum dwellers themselves. The DPF works closely at all times with the eighteen area committees in the Klong Toey Slum, and with other slum communities. Committee chairpeople met regularly at the Foundation.
There is a constant exchange of information and opinions between the Foundation staff and the slum communities. Good contacts enable the DPF to respond to the needs of the people of the Klong Toey Slum and work with them for the common good.
The Foundation is also increasingly active in rural areas of Thailand. Foundation staff realize that the problems of the urban and rural poor are related, and the Foundation's sponsorship program is providing assistance to schools and children throughout Thailand. The DPF is recognized throughout Thailand as a representative of the poor people. Poverty is still too widespread and with an ever widening gap the Foundation still faces many challenges.
The Foundation has twenty-two projects which can be categorized into five areas of operation:
Special School for the Hearing Impaired
Lunch & Nutrition Program
Klong Toey Clean Project
Caring for the Victims of
Chemical Fires at the Bangkok Port
3. Social Services
Klong Toey Cooperative for
4. Human Development
New Life Project
Slum Children's Art Club
Greeting Cards Project
Youth & Young Women's Development
Senior Citizen's Welfare
5. Emergency Fund
Taking care of the victims of
fires or similar disasters
THE BANGKOK SLUMS
Thailand has a population of sixty million people. Nearly twenty percent of those live in slums. The slums provide homes for Bangkok's numerous low-paid workers.
For years Bangkok developed without planning. Clusters of shacks built by poor migrants from the country side grew up on waste land near sources of work. Employers had the advantage of a nearby pool of cheap labor, workers had affordable accommodation near their job.
But as the city attracted more workers, the slums became more crowded and more widespread. Since they were not legally recognized, they were not provided with standard utilities. In most cases there was no adequate drainage system or refuge collection and no clean water supply. There were no roads, simply a maze of broad-walks linking the house with the outside world.
There was no space for the children, and no schools. Many of the children had no birth
certificates. This effectively barred them from going to state schools.
Added to this, the slum people's houses had been built unofficially and were not registered. Legally, they could be evicted at any time. With no outside help, it eventually became clear that if slums were to be improved, they would have to be improved from within, by the people who lived in them.
Kindergartens lie at the heart of the Duang Prateep Foundation's activities. They began as a refuge from slum conditions and slum values for young children whose parents had to leave them while they looked for work. A local kindergarten with dedicated teachers who understood the children's background can make a big difference to family life.
Slum children who attend kindergarten between the ages of 3 and 6 are less likely to suffer personality disorders and will on average be healthier than those who don't.
The DPF started the AIDS project in 1988 at a time when AIDS was not widely recognized as a problem in Thailand. Since then the Foundation has been at the forefront of the campaign against the spread of AIDS in Thailand.
The DPF realized from the start that AIDS was not a threat confined to just a few "high risk" groups but must be a concern to everyone. Initially AIDS project staff found there was considerable irrational fear in the community with people suffering from AIDS symptoms being rejected by family and friends. Now the attitude amongst Klong Toey Slum dwellers has changed. People who have developed AIDS related illnesses are benefitting from home care administered by friends and relatives who have been trained at the Foundation.
Where a family is threatened by poverty due to the ill-health of a wage earner the Foundation has financed job-training or income generation projects. HIV-positive babies also receive special attention.
The Foundation's AIDS workers do not just work in Klong Toey. They have been asked to speak at meetings all over the country. They have also joined with local villagers in starting outreach projects in Northeastern villages.
YOUNG WOMEN'S GROUP
Teenage girls who leave school with only a limited education are an especially vulnerable group in slum communities. Parents still do not attach the importance to their daughters' education that they do to their sons' schooling. Even in households that can afford to keep their children at school, girls are often not encouraged to fulfill their potential, regardless of their talent.
Girls often have difficulty finding suitable work. At the same time they are attracted by the out-of-reach glamour of a consumption oriented society. The problems of finding work and the stress of adapting to adulthood are two of the factors leading to solvent abuse and other forms of addiction.
Unwanted teenage pregnancies are common; there are many unmarried mothers with inadequate means of support. Other girls want early marriage and pregnancy to give their lives
a sense of purpose. Many girls are attracted by the higher earnings of the sex trade, with all the risk that entails.
It was for these girls that the DPF formed a Young Women's Group to help them as they grew into adulthood. The young Women's Group has two branches; one in the Klong Toey Slum, and one at a small village near the Burmese border in Petchaburi, where mostly Karen people live.
Girls meet regularly to do handicraft work. They learn a wide range of crafts and can sell some of what they make, thereby providing an extra source of income for their families. The girls also practice singing and dancing and are often called upon to perform on important occasions.
In Bangkok they have launched a "Clean Klong Toey Slum" campaign to encourage slum dwellers to care for their surroundings. In Petchaburi many young Karen girls have now started to learn traditional weaving techniques. It was a skill that was in danger of dying out, being practiced by only a few elderly people until revised recently by teenagers.
There are regular contacts between the girls in Klong Toey and Petchaburi province. Once a year the two groups come together for a three-day camp, which is a mixture of play and serious discussion of issues of the concern to the girls.
The Young Women's Group does not use handicraft training simply as a way of "keeping the girls off the streets" and providing a source of income. The informal atmosphere of the group's meetings is the ideal opportunity to encourage in the girls a positive feeling for their
environment. They can discuss together the problems facing teenage girls and they can be encouraged to be responsible members of their community.
The Young Women's Group is proving effective in giving young girls an alternative to the streets and the unacceptable side of an aggressively business-oriented society. At a time when the Klong Toey community is seeing increased numbers of young girls becoming involved in solvent abuse, the role of the Group will continue to be an important one.
The pressures on slum families inevitably make their mark on the children. Many homes are "broken." Children may live with elderly grandparents who cannot support them; with casual step-fathers who do not care for them or perhaps with loving parents too preoccupied with earning enough for food and shelter to spare them the care and attention they need.
Social and commercial pressures combine to reinforce feelings of alienation: they are slum children and therefore no good; they will never have the consumer goods or lifestyle they are taught to admire.
The strong can hold out, if they have parents or teachers who can show them better values and help them value themselves as people. But not all slum children can be strong and not all have parents who can give them what they need. They could find some of it at school, perhaps, if they went to school. What they do find, in so many cases, is relief from the ugliness of their world in a bottle of thinners or addictive substances.
It is for these children, the children at risk from drugs, exploitation, abuse and crime that the Duang Prateep Foundation devised its New Life Project. The first thing it does, after consultation with the children, their families or guardians and sometimes the police, is to take them far away from the slum environment. Not permanently, but long enough for them to develop ways of coping with it and far enough to be sure that drugs are unobtainable.
The DPF has leased 191 rai (35
hectares) of farmland in the southern province of Chumphon. With the cooperation of the
local people (farmers, teachers, officials) over eighty children from the slum live and
work on the farm in a sheltered community. They learn farming and ancillary skills and
learn to live in and work together in a spirit of cooperation.
Caring for animals, watching things grow, knowing their contribution is important, all do their work. The effects of the New Life Project are discernible after only a few weeks. The children take the produce they have grown to market and have the additional satisfaction of making money from their efforts. For the first time in their lives, in many cases, they discover that they have a part to play in life and can play it successfully.
Although the DPF is glad to see some young people from the project find jobs in agriculture, its main purpose is not to train farmers; rather it is to build on the qualities that emerge in the total environment of the farm. Young people return from the New Life Project to the same challenges as before but now they are ready to face them with new courage and hope.
Not all youths from the New Life Project want to return to city life. Many want to continue as farmers. For them the Foundation is now developing a site in Kanchanaburi province for a self-supporting community practicing sustainable agriculture. The Kanchanaburi site is not just for youths who have been to the New Life Project. Any slum dwellers who want to return to rural life can also settle there and help the project develop.
The first task that the DPF undertook beyond education and child care was to help slum dwellers achieve official recognition for themselves, their children and their homes. A birth certificate and house registration are essential documents for all Thais. Without a birth certificate they cannot have an identity card; without an identity card they cannot go to a state school or get a job. Houses which are unregistered are technically illegal and the occupants do not have the right to essential public utilities.
This has meant that slum people have been denied citizenship rights and as a result they have tended to share the conventional outsiders view that they were second class citizens.
Their homes without drainage, water or electricity inevitably deteriorated, contributing to the squalor and hopelessness that characterizes slum living.
Now, with the cooperation of the Ministry of the Interior the DPF is able to provide a
continuing effective registration program which will help slum dwellers pay their full part as citizens in Thai citizens. In the past evicted slum dwellers were parked on poor land with no access to jobs and no support.
Today, however, the DPF is able to assist communities threatened with eviction in several ways. Since it is regarded by government agencies and slum communities as an honest broker, it can negotiate with landowners for suitable compensation for evicted families. It contracts funding agencies to provide loans for building materials and land purchases; and it helps communities to organize their own resettlement and rebuilding programs.
The DPF can follow up with assistance in establishing kindergartens, child care centers and other facilities for child and community development. In this way they are able to make inroads into the hitherto insoluble problems of urban poverty.
As an NGO that has amassed considerable experience, the DPF takes seriously its role of complementing local and national government initiatives in the slums. With its specialized knowledge of slum conditions and close contact with people in the community, it is now capable of influencing policy as well as responding to it.
However, the DPF remains first and foremost a peoples organization, identifying with the aspirations of poor communities. The DPF building in the center of the Klong Toey Slum area is the site of seminars, training sessions and workshops for local people and a forum where the slum community can develop contact with the outside world.
SPECIAL EDUCATION PROGRAM FOR THE HEARING IMPAIRED
Foundation staff carried out a survey in 1986 and discovered that many slum children were not attending school because of minor handicaps. Not minor to them of course; major enough to prevent them from receiving regular education.
By far the most common handicap was impaired hearing. There are private and state facilities for deaf and partially blinded children but they are very few and far between. In terms of access and cost they are out of reach for poor families.
Doctors working with the survey found that many children whose hearing is impaired are suffering from damage to auditory nerves. This kind of damage can often be repaired, at least partially. If the child can be trained to understand speech at an early enough age, they need not be excluded from the national school system. It was for these children that the DPF opened its school for the hearing impaired in 1986.
Each child is fitted with a hearing aid tailored to his or her individual needs. These hearing aids then remain the child's property for life.
Education is free in Thailand. It is also too expensive for many slum dwellers to afford. This paradox exists because of the many compulsory school items which have to be paid for, such as books, uniforms, shoes, and school-bags.
This means that many school children cannot afford to go to school. Often they work to contribute to their families' income. In addition to missing the education and social benefits of going to school they may be vulnerable to harmful social activities such as glue sniffing.
The Foundation's educational sponsorship program is currently helping over 2,500 young people from poor families to take their place in the state education system. Most of the children live in the Bangkok slums but some are living in rural areas. Some schools in rural areas are also receiving assistance from the DPF so that they can help pupils who are in need.
Children are studying at all levels, and there are now several ex-students whose sponsorship continued long enough to see them through higher education. The DPF wants sponsored children to stay in school as long as possible as higher education is the key to helping poor families raise their living standards.
Sponsors make an annual payment to the DPF. This is placed in an account from which all the expenses of the child's education are met.
Sponsorship program staff also manage an emergency fund to which sponsors are invited to contribute. It enables the sponsorship section to respond immediately to help any of the sponsored children facing a crisis such as one of the sudden emergencies that so often overtake families living on the margin.
Fire is a frequent hazard inthe slums but illness, injury or bereavment can all mean the family being left without an income. The emergency fund ensures that affected families will obtain assistance and sponsored children will be able to continue in school.
Many families are anxious for their children to attend school. Often they approach the DPF for help; sometimes the DPF hears about them from friends, neighbours or teachers. In all cases their Sponsorship Section workers visit the children at home, get to know their family background and ensure that those most in need touch with their sponsors.
Sponsors receive a school and financial report every year. Twice a year they receive a letter from the child they are sponsoring. The program provides an appropriate means of maintaining personal contact with a slum child and his/her family, and of making a contribution to slum development.
CARING FOR THE ELDERLY
The Duang Prateep Foundation is most closely identified with the work the Foundation does in support of children's education. The DPF, however, is a community organization for all people of the Klong Toey Slum. As part of the Foundation's commitment to slum dwellers of all ages, the Foundation has staff available to give advice and assistance to the elderly whenever it is required.
The DPF program for the elderly helps senior citizens in their dealings with bureaucracy, and medical personnel, and with any other problems that they may encounter. Thailand does not have a government welfare program for the aged, which means that in cases of hardship the Foundation will endeavor to provide financial assistance or any other essential costs.
The Foundation also has a social club for senior citizens from the slums. The club meets every Wednesday afternoon for exercise, handicrafts and other social activities.
During Songkran, an eye test service is provided free by two local hospitals. The hospitals perform cataract operations at specially discounted prices to senior citizens referred to them by the Duang Prateep Foundation. The Foundation has been able to sponsor many cataract operations and also provide glasses to other senior citizens. As a result people who were severely handicapped by failing eyesight are now able to fully participate in home activities again.
Under modern living conditions the role of the Foundation in helping senior citizens is
becoming more important than ever. The tradition of the extended family living together under one roof is breaking down under modern living conditions.
The elderly in remote areas are the most likely to be abandoned as youngsters desert their home villages and move to the towns in search of work.
In the towns the trend towards a nuclear family is also continuing. For the residents of Klong Toey the forced move from the slums to flats built by the National Housing Association makes it impractical to have several generations under one roof. Units completed in 1993 have a total area of only twenty-seven sq.m; not enough for two generations let alone three.
The extended family is still the best way to reduce the social problems that the elderly face. A loving home environment where the elderly can help the family and be assisted in return is preferable in every respect to being abandoned to a life alone. At a time, however, when children are increasingly neglecting the care of their parents the Foundation must work harder to fill the void that has been left.
The launch of the Klong Toey Cooperative for Community Service as a slum dwellers bank in 1994 was an important new initiative for the Klong Toey Foundation started the Credit Union with the hope that it will empower the urban poor with whom the Foundation works.
Twenty-one slum communities joined together with the Duang Prateep Foundation to start the Cooperative in January 1994 at a large meeting which was also attended by the finance minister.
The Credit Union represents a significant step forward for the slum community as it will give members greater freedom to manage their own affairs. Poor slum dwellers cannot obtain loans from commercial banks. Poor people also sometimes have small temporary shortages of money. Ill health or injury to the wage-earner can quickly drive poor families into deep poverty. The expenses connected with the start of the new school year each May also force many poor families to borrow money.
Traditionally poor people have no alternative but to borrow money from loan sharks during times of hardship. Such lenders have penal rates of interest of up to 4 percent each day, and they are often unscrupulous in their methods of dealing with late repayments. Poor people who borrow money from loan sharks are often trapped in a an ongoing cycle of debt as they struggle to repay their loans.
The Klong Toey Cooperative for Community Service will be lending money for various purposes. People will be able to borrow up to Bt3,000 to cover emergencies, and up to Bt100,000 to provide start up capital for a business or home improvements. Borrowers will no longer be confronted with the penal rates of interest they know from the past.
The slum dwellers bank will lead to the further development of the Klong Toey community. It will create a climate of saving, members will become accustomed to making monthly contributions. It will encourage people to improve their prospects in life. Most importantly the Klong Toey Cooperative for Community Service will bring the community together to tackle problems and plan for the future.
For more information contact the
DUANG PRATEEP FOUNDATION at:
DUANG PRATEEP FOUNDATION
LOCK 6, ART NARONG RD.,
BANGKOK, THAILAND - 10110
TEL: (66-2) 249-3553, 249-4880, 671-4045(8)
FAX: (66-2) 249-5254