Friday, May 25, 2012

School Begins... But Not For Everyone

Schoolboys having a laugh at the ting tong farang

In May - right about this time - school bells ring throughout Thailand to announce the first of two annual school year terms. I think most of you reading this would agree that not only is education the key to most anything worthwhile in life, and that everyone ought to have the opportunity to earn that knowledge.

School kids in Udonthani
The Thai agree, and although since Sukhothai times (1238–1378) there has been an educational system (of sorts) in place, there was much more of an emphasis placed on it over a wider range during the reign of King Rama V, including the first schools built in 1871. Their efforts have vastly grown since then.

Although the Thai put more into education than many other countries do - nearly 22% of their national budget, compared to, say, Great Britain and France, at 11% - there are often costs that must be paid by the families of the students themselves. Uniforms, shoes, miscellaneous fees, transportation, lunches, snacks and some supplies are still the responsibility of the student's family. 

Many lower-income families simply don't have it.

Not to go all "Sophie's Choice" on you, but if the choice had to be made between food for your three children or schooling for the seven-year-old, what would you choose?

A basic day laborer, a grandparent raising a child because one parent disappeared and the other died can't afford school fees, even if it means being in violation of the national directive to send your kids to school, and there are countless other stories. Most of you know what medical bills can do to finances, especially anything above the common cold. Yes, there is public health care in Thailand, but it is very basic coverage.

Now, I may be about to lose some of you today, but as this is something I truly believe in - and I haven't brought it up like this for two years, since the first post about it in April of 2010 - I'm asking that you stay with me today and read through this and give it some thought, will you?

A child at the daycare in the Kho Pai slums of Pattaya

The kid in the photo above has an opportunity most living in abject poverty do not.  They spend their day with close to 70 others at a clean, supervised daycare center adjoining the Kho Pai slum area of Pattaya.  Their stories are all somewhat the same, and none of them have a hopeful future.

The uniform they're wearing was sewn by a volunteer for the charity that runs the place with donations from people like you and I (although I do far more for the PSKSP directly).  Their mother and father do basic labor or scavenge in the dump for items that can be recycled or otherwise sold. There is no money to send them to school for a decent education, which means that they will continue the legacy of a humble life of menial labor and be vulnerable to all of the pitfalls so many in poverty fall prey to: alcoholism, abuse, addiction, and worse.

Schoolgirls sharing a laugh after seeing their picture

The girls giggling in the picture above have the opportunity to break the cycle of unhappiness so many from poorer families do not have.  There are precious few guarantees in life, but there are some things that give some more of a fighting chance than others. More importantly, if they have a chance to earn what we'd call a decent living, their children will probably have funds to get an education, and that most likely means their grandchildren will, too.  It's rather like tossing a pebble into a pond and watching the ripples spread out.

Lunchtime at a school in Pattaya
Can you tell which of the boys above lives in a home you wouldn't house your pets in?  Neither can anyone else, and in a world of peer pressures and the likes that helps level the playing field. All most of us need is a chance, and that's why I'm posting about this today.

Another daycare child
Some have told me "there are children starving here where I live, too - why should I send money to Thailand?"  My response to that is this:  we can't save the world, but we can save little pieces of it. If you wish to do that via a shelter in the city you live in, that's great; I applaud your efforts. If you want to hand out food to people on the street, that's fine, too.

Some years back I read about a UK-based charity called the Pattaya Street Kids Support Project.  Their website link is at the end of the post today.  They're certainly not the only charity out there that keeps administrative costs down next to nothing, but I can't name many others. Their organization is completely transparent, and financial reports are shared freely with sponsors.

Monies I donate to support the handful of kids I've been privileged to watch growing into responsible young men and women goes directly to where it ought to go, without a percentage shaved off here or there.  I've met the man who founded the charity many times, and was pleased to learn early on that he's the real deal.

Funding varies, depending on the age of the child sponsored and the schooling they're receiving, but figure it costs about $120 per year.  Many of us weedle away more than that on needless junk in a single month, with nothing of any substance to show for it.

The Pattaya Street Kids Support Project is not part of any religious or other group. On their website it clearly states: "We are a secular charity and do not support or promote any religious organisation. We are always prepared to consider working with any organisation in bringing help to children in need on the strict understanding that any such help is given unconditionally and does not involve the preaching, promoting or acceptance of any religion."

Give it some thought, will you?  Take a look through the site - especially the Kids Needing Sponsors page, and see if there isn't enough charity in your heart to make a lasting difference for one small piece of the world. The time to act on this is now - school is starting, and many will miss out.

If this doesn't look like the charity for you, no penalty accrued - do some research and find another wherever you like - and I'll try not to bug you about my favored group for another year.


Rob Stewart said...

Thanks for reminding us of this charity. I've donated a half-dozen times, and plan to be more active in future.
I do enjoy your blog, especially the Thai Smiles. It's tragic to think that these bright and smiling kids could have their futures dimmed for a lack of a few dollars.
I hope to visit Thailand again in the autumn, but in the meantime will have to live vicariously through your adventures.
A deep and heartfelt Wai to you, sir!

Anonymous said...

I am priviledged to recently become inolved with this project and world confirm excellent transparancy.Unlike many charities, you really do see where your monay is helpng.This gives me a very satisfying feeling,of making a small difference.
On clicking"kids needing sponcors" it is alarming to see so many reaching out to us,for pennies a day. I wish I could do more.

khunbaobao said...

I truly appreciate the comments. Like I said, there are people in need around the globe; I'm just thankful I can help a little in a country I've become so fond of.

It's meant a lot to me to see the kids working their way towards a better future. It's really the kids doing the work - we just help them by providing the tools.