Just after Christmas there was a horrific fire that swept through a squatter community in Klong Toey causing 300 slum houses to burn down and making numerous families homeless. The slum is under one of the expressways and it took something like 30 fire trucks about three hours to get the fire under control. It didn’t help that the gas canisters people used for cooking were exploding and sending fire balls into the sky and, to make matters worse, rescue services couldn’t get to the fire and ended up having to go onto the expressway to put it out.
At the time members of the BWG visited the site and offered to help where they could – people had been so generous that they were asked to wait till the site was cleared and then to give some money to help with the re-building of the area. So yesterday I met up with Julie and Louise and headed over to the Human Development Foundation (HDF), also known as the Mercy Centre, which is responsible for coordinating the relief effort.
The HDF is run by a man called Father Jo and what they do is incredible. It began as a single nursery school aimed at providing the slum children with a basic education and then grew into an umbrella organisation for 31 schools - 30 nurseries and one primary, all located in the slums around Bangkok (So far they have educated more than 55,000 children and there are nearly 4,000 students currently enrolled in these schools, taught by 110 teachers). There is even a ‘Special Kids’ programme which gives exceptionally bright children, that want to pursue higher education, financial help to continue their studies up to university level. Then, after arranging medical care for some members of the community, a regular service was set up three times a week (every Monday, Wednesday and Friday), until the HDC procured enough money for a medical clinic that now provides pre-natal and post-natal care, as well as general health care, seven days a week. It doesn’t end there…..they have also set up the ‘All-Slum Savings and Loan Programme’ to help fire victims rebuild their homes before developers can move in, they run vocational training and employment programmes (This involves giving slum mothers, who cannot afford to leave their homes, sewing machines and fabric and then selling the products they create in exhibitions and fairs), The Mercy Centre also cares for HIV carriers and Aids victims and serves as a hospice for the terminally ill so that they can die in comfort and dignity. (Told you what they do is incredible). Father Jo has written a book called 'The Bangkok Slaughter House' and it is about the lives of the people that live here - some stories are happy, some sad.........If you buy a copy your money will go towards improving the lives of these people.
We were shown round the centre and then headed out to the fire site to see what was still needed. I knew I was going to visit a fire site and had prepared myself for that but wasn’t prepared for what I saw. The site had been cleared of all the big pieces of debris but it wasn’t what I would have called cleared by any stretch of the imagination. The architect who is putting together a plan for the new site was telling us that they are just going to build over what is left (!!!!) but that no building has started as yet because there is a stale mate between the company that actually own the land and the Government. There is no-where else for these poor people to go!! The Government have unofficially pledged 30,000 baht per house to help re-building but the company that own the land are sending people to stand watch and it’s possible that anyone who starts building will face arrest.
Oh my God - You should see how these people are living. The Klong Toey district office has put up temporary shelters for the homeless families to stay inside the compound of the Klong Toey flat – they have no water, no electricity, no sanitation and the entire place is infested with rats. No-one should have to live like that!!! We signed a check on the spot for 70,000 baht and we will go back in a few weeks time to see how they are getting on.
I went home and designed a volunteer form and wrote a paragraph explaining what my idea is and how it will work – I hope that I will be able to make a difference!!