From village life to underworld, education against poverty

Volunt2Thai – Education Against Poverty

There are many reasons for why children, adolescents and young adults leading innocent lives at some point slip into a world of drugs, violence and prostitution – the underworld. This applies to the Western world as well as to Thailand.

There are some basic requirements that must be met in order to prevent this from happening and for young people to be able to pursue a selfdetermined path in their lives. Training and support of their unique skills and talents is the key to self-determination for the youth.

Social competence is very important in Thailand and is taught under the influence of Buddhist society and family. Thai girls are brought up to be good women and good mothers and the boys to be good fathers.

But not everything always goes well in life. Be it personal illness, an accident, a miscalculation, a bad harvest, dysfunctional family relationships, drugs, alcohol and gambling addiction or the sudden death of a family member, these are all reasons that drive families into poverty on a daily basis in Thailand. There is little protection, and in many cases owned land has to be pledged and the family is in danger of losing their only source of income.

In rural Thailand, the transition from being a child to becoming an adult with the associated responsibilities typically doesn’t go smooth and steady. Kids that had been Junior High School students the day before drop out of school when they reach a certain age to suddenly find themselves in a position in which they are expected to care and provide income for their families. Boldly many leave their villages and families to find work in Bangkok or in the nearest larger town. The typical age at this point is 15-16, sometimes even younger.

Now consider this: You are a Junior High School student from rural North-East Thailand – typically a girl, but the same applies to boys – and you are now in a position in which you either start working in the fields full time for almost nothing, or you find work in the cities to support your family, which many have done before with good success.

You leave your home with good advice from your parents, but are totally unprepared for the professional business world in the cities. You are lacking basic knowledge and training due to inadequate education in schools and the knowledge gained from home is typically useless in the tough and competitive business world.

To study further in High School or even University is unthinkable at this point because the money just isn’t enough. Helpless you submit to your fate, you have to fight and find a way to sustain your family, but what way to go?

Tourist hotspots offer an apparent solution. Many have heard that there is money to be made and that the demand for young women and men is great there. Naive and driven by good will you reassure yourself that you will make it somehow and you leave for the unknown…

With good intentions you arrive at the destination; be it Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket or Koh Samui. You share a room with others, typically three to four people or even more stay in one small room. You quickly connect with others who have the same background and the same problems and who share the same fate and suffering and you turn to them for advice. You try to keep a good appearance every day and go looking for a job. The pressure is high, because most of the little money you have, was already invested in the journey to get here.

At some point your money runs out… You have to take any job, even if the compensation is low and working hours are long. Maybe you can borrow some money from roommates or friends to buy food and pay rent, but you know that this is just a quick fix that only puts more pressure on you and potentially gets you in trouble. You work hard every day but in the end you can hardly support your own life in the expensive tourist areas.

You walk around the streets and you can see the strangers at full tables. They have money, they can afford anything, they sit with young girls and boys, they go shopping and they seemingly have everything. Passing by you see foreigners counting their cash… You think of the people at home that you love and that need the money so badly.

Returning home without money is not an option, you have to keep face, you have to come back with cash. Sex for money “…Well, that’s how it is now” you say to yourself. You just let it happen. Those who have been here for a while have experience and they show you how it’s done. It can’t be that hard, at least you are young and have a beautiful, healthy body, so use what you have. You can’t do anything else anyway.

The lack of education does not allow for other options and therefore self-determination. This kind of helplessness lets you forget about yourself and about your fears. Two or three days without money and food make it an easy decision. You just do it like all the others have done it before you.

Having just been a kid, adored by all around you, you now have to suddenly learn that your cuteness is an asset.

“Sex sells”, so you better be sexy. This breaks the young peoples’ psyche in the long run, because even though it is still exciting and thrilling to be sexy in the beginning, you are now reduced to your body, you forget your selfesteem and psychological barriers are disappearing.

Additionally you cultivate a distorted worldview and a wrong picture of the West through the strangers that you see. They are here on holiday, they behave like they own the world and have nothing to worry about. How would you know what holiday in a foreign country is and how people behave when they are actually back home…

So you pull yourself together. You are tough. You start as a “Coyote-Girl” and boost the sale of drinks with your company. You quickly learn that you can make much more money, much faster if you put in more “effort”. You are asked to “come along” every day by customers, at some point you give in to the temptation. You think about the money and about the people at home.

Bars pay an attendance fee to always have enough girls or boys “in stock”. A “wide variety of choice” for the customer is important. The bar offers company, you have friends, you can learn English and there’s party every day. You can quickly forget your worries and you finally make good money. The months go by and soon it is daily routine. After two years women are burned out physically and mentally. Drugs help to escape reality because at this point nothing matters anymore anyway. A distorted reality, no normality, but the money rolls. …

Guys also slip into this shady environment and the underworld offers great potential for them too. They join gangs, sell drugs, start to steal, or become “runners” for shady businesses. The struggle for money is omnipresent and determines the day-to-day life of so many of these kids.

Simple manual work in the daily wage, for example in construction, simply does not earn enough money to provide for the family at home. Only very few young women and men can keep up with the manual labor for many months.

A home with a healthy family, embedded in a functioning village community where young people can go home after a “defeat” in the business world is not often available. Often entire families are ruined by alcohol, poverty and disease. The lives of the children are then subject to constant worry from early on. They find neither protection nor education. Poverty rules their lives even to the level of food shortage.

Pattaya and the other locations are options that bear financial success for some, analogous to “from rags to riches”.

But most are destroyed by mental and physical disease and drugs, or they end up in prison along the way. They all have the dream of a better life. They are driven by the wish to not disappoint and let down the people who love them. It really is a kind of self-sacrifice out of responsibility which brings the girls and boys to Pattaya.

How can Volunt2Thai counteract this development?

The presence of Volunt2Thai volunteers, aims at changing the lives of the people in the villages sustainably over the next 10 years. The education in foreign languages coupled with a general understanding of the world and insights into foreign cultures will have a positive influence on the generation of the now 6-year-olds, including their parents, which will accompany them in their growth.

The fact that the project will draw attention to the region, will also lead to a long-term economic development in the villages. The fundamental objective is to ensure that the children of the villagers in adulthood have equal chances as their peers in the West or from wealthier families here in Thailand – chances for self-determination and career choice, even on an international level.

The positive experiences and interactions between “Westerners” and Thais create positive memories.

As a volunteer you are a role model for the society that you come from and you give the villagers a more positive insight into Western culture. You will leave positive impressions that will create openness to the formation of social bonds and friendships. English is and German will soon be taught as a foreign language through our volunteers in the local schools. This is a valuable cultural exchange that leads to intercultural understanding and provides the kids here with a very valuable and unique set of communicative skills.

Through our project, young people from this region get an improved education and good basic values by learning hand in hand from the Thai and the Western cultural perspectives. Stereotypes that have built in the heads of the locals over the years based on unilateral tourism will soon disappear. The long-term direct relationship between education and prosperity will be widely understood and appreciated here soon and misconceptions like “money growing on trees” in western countries will disappear.

The elementary school students of today are the working generation of tomorrow. Depending on their track of education they will be the next generation in the labor market in 10 -18 years.

We want to create best possible conditions for their future and enable them to prosper by equipping them with confidence, knowledge of foreign languages and a broad understanding of the world as well as intercultural experience.

By creating these conditions and as the project grows it will also lead to direct economic development in the villages and the whole region will eventually benefit.

It is important to learn foreign languages and to participate in intercultural exchange, in order to increase one’s chances in the global economies. The volunteers benefit as well, as they too further develop their expertise in various areas and they deepen their communicative skills and cultural as well as emotional intelligence.

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