A hand-up, not hand-outs for youth and families in Thailand

I was able to visit 2 organizations meeting needs of those in the Bangkok community that are disadvantaged or are affected in some way by HIV – both organizations give a hand up not a hand out. The first organization, Siam-Care, provides economic and educational opportunities while the second organization I met with, Step Ahead, provides business training, personal development, and micro-loans for existing entrepreneurs.

At Siam-Care I met 2 young women, one is studying finance and the other an international law student. One of the young women had been brought in at 12 years old for support by her “adopted” mother because she lost family from HIV/AIDS. She now financially supports her siblings. The other young woman was an orphan and studies law because she is interested in law and justice. We discussed that if they were not at Siam-Care they would be at higher risk for trafficking and or abusive work situations. Many youth migrate uninformed to large cities like Bangkok to support their families or themselves if they don’t have families. With the support of Siam-Care they can stay in school, receive education and support, and aim for professional careers like accounting, medicine, and law. The last youth I met was a young man that a relative brought in because his mom died when he was 5 of HIV and his father passed away when he was 2. He is now in school, part time working at KFC, and studying to be a computer programmer. He also is interested in giving back and volunteering – he even asked about volunteering for GlobalGiving!

The issue is that it is free to “sit in a classroom” but families have to pay for everything else including books, uniforms, and even specific haircuts. If the students don’t have this, they can’t attend.

Step Ahead is located near a slum community of Bangkok, Khlong Toei. After meeting staff and seeing the gorgeous purses that women are able to make with Step Ahead in order to earn income, I accompanied the founder, John, and a staff member to meet those receiving mentoring, training, and microloans. Additionally, Step Ahead hosts basketball and event days for local youth.

Working through local districts, Step Ahead first hosted meetings to reach out to the community. In the slums, people either live in tall government projects that have about 250 rooms and about 1500 people per building or they live in shacks between buildings through winding alleys. These homes are made from bits and pieces of scrap metals and wood all stacked on top and in between each other. Walking through Khlong Toei, John explained that the situation is much better than it was before. A few years ago I would have seen sewage-filled alleys. The first Step Ahead micro-entrepreneur we came across was at her stand selling confectionary items.  She said she uses the loans to buy “stuff to sell”. Another woman has a restaurant serving food through a window facing the alley. Finally, we came to a family business close to a pond turned into a sewage and trash dump.  Outside of their home were bathtubs filled with water and chickens’ feet. This family processes chicken feet to be sold at the market.  The family told us that the helpers (who come to de-bone the feet) and the buyers have not been coming as regularly – and they did not know why. One member of the family was a single dad of 3 kids.

We continued to walk through the community meeting local citizens and observing their daily lives.  Because of the support of Step Ahead the local citizens can continue to run their businesses and not have to go to loan sharks that charge high interest rates while emotionally and physically bullying their loaners if money is not repaid back on time. Despite difficult situations, economic instability, and families affected by HIV/AIDS everyone was hopeful, inspiring, and committed to making theirs’ and others’ situations better.

Find out more at: Step Ahead and Support 100 Thai Prisoners And Families With HIV

A change-agent in TB and HIV treatment for impoverished communities… a visit with Global Health Committee

Feb 29, 2012: I met with Dr. Sok Thim, co-founder and Executive Director, and Ung Prahors, Deputy Director, of Cambodian Health Committee in order to learn more about and visit the Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital providing health care for impoverished communities affected by Tuburculosis and HIV for free, and visit the Maddox Chivan Children’s Center, a social and educational care center for children infected or affected by HIV/AIDs.

The day started with an introduction and background of Cambodian Health Committee and how it has developed into the now, Global Health Committee, in response to an expansion and replication of the successful local model of treatment and care. Dr. Sok Thim, co-founder, shared his inspiring story about surviving the  horrors of Khmer Rouge regime and the life-path that brought him to his experience and expertise in medical care via HIV treatment for impoverished communities (beginning in Cambodia-Thailand refugee camps with USAID). Through his experiences and developed expertise as well as Dr. Anne Goldfeld’s work as Senior Investigator at the Immune Disease Institute of Children’s Hospital Boston and a member of the Infectious Disease Division at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, together they created CHC. Even against all obstacles (such as refusal to mold program design and mission in order to fit bureaucratic demands) they persevered, and 10 years later earned the recognition they most deserved from local and international community. CHC’s model was so effective that its research has been published in the National Science Journal as well as is being replicated for Cambodia’s Ministry of Health. CHC has been asked to work with government hospitals and staff and is now focusing on improve quality of medical care through staff training.

In waiting play room with kids and families

I was able to meet several of the children who were being treated by Cambodian Health Committee, as well as their families. One woman was there because one child had HIV and the others did not – so the CHC made sure her and her baby were taken care of as well in order to accomodate for their long trek to get treatment for her child.  This waiting room was specifically a play room for kids waiting for treatment and care – full of toys, books, and tv!

CHC provided transportation for her to get to school and to the hospital. This was a major hope for Cambodian Health Committee to get more vehicles to safely transport their patients to receive treatment on a regular basis.


Gifts from the U.S.

We went up to the main CHC hospital office, and I was able to see the CAMELIA headquarters – a published research collaboration between US, French, and Cambodian clinicians and scientists. The office was an open space used for meetings and tracking HIV and TB cases all over the country on a giant, pin-board, wall map – with color coding to signify different types of medicine-immune cases. I learned that they also have field staff and social workers that go into the communities and work with patients once they can be returned to their homes. CHC believes that the best way to heal is under the least stressors and in their homes (as long as it is safe to go home for families) – as opposed to the traditional belief that patients should stay 100% in the hospital under observation.

with Cambodian Health Committee Staff and government staff

The staff I met explained that because of CHC they were able to provide care and treatment that they would not have been able to with the government program and budget. Cambodian Health Committee was able to fill the gaps and work synchronisticaly with the Cambodian Ministry of Health, supporting each other’s research, treatment, and care for their patients. Another staff member said that because of CHC support, they were able to revamp and improve facilities which were previously very old.

At the end, we visited the Maddox Chivan Children’s Center which provides active educational, medical and nutritional support for over 300 children from 179 families and provides lunch for approximately 130 children each day (source:Global Health Committee).

Kids playing soccer

Nap time

This was so cute, during the tour we came across nap time, it was adorable to see them all peacefully resting after a long day of school and play!

The MCCC playground and artwork done by Friends International beneficiaries! (Click here to read my post about FriendsInternational)

with Maddox Chivan Children’s Center kids

It was so wonderful and joyous – as soon as the kids heard the word picture, they came running and piling on top of each other to be in it. By the end of taking this shot we all were falling over and laughing so hard. The whole time the kids were coming up to me to say “Hello! What is your name?!”


with MCCC Staff and Kids – please note the angry birds picture in the middle. Kids love Angry Birds here!

It was a delightful and incredible day spent with the kids at MCCC as well as with the committed and driven staff at the hospital and Cambodian Health Committee office. On a personal note, it was difficult to witness people suffering through HIV and TB, but after seeing the care and research behind their treatment, and despite the patients’ difficulties, their strength and ability to smile and laugh still – was inspirational and soul-moving.

Some future goals for GHC that Dr. Sok and Prahors shared with me included (1) replication globally, (2) a 10-year program in human resource development medical training specifically for poor-family and communities care and support (this is to change the atmosphere with medical care in these communities to focus on staff attitude to create quality service), and (3) more vehicles to safely transport patients who have little to no way to go and receive care and treatment at the hospital.

A little side note – yes this is Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt with Global Health Committee head staff (including Dr. Anne Goldfeld). Angelina and Brad are supporters and funders of GHC programs as well as helped create the Maddox Chivan Children’s Center (named after their adopted son, Maddox, who is from Cambodia) and the upcoming Zara Children’s Center in Ethiopia (named after their adopted daughter Zara from Ethiopia). To learn more about Angelina’s participation click here.

To learn more about Global Health Committee: Click here.

Jacqueline
GlobalGiving InTheField Traveler | Texas

Jacqueline is an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving and is now making her way across Southeast Asia. Jacqueline has lived all around the U.S., Central America, backpacked along Australia’s eastern coast while volunteering for the National Park Service, western Europe, and traveled around the world. You can also follow her via Twitter.

For more information about GlobalGiving, click here

Breaking the cycle of poverty and preserving Cambodian arts -My day with Kasumisou Foundation

My day began bright and early with Juana – from Peru she is the local staff for the Family Support Program, Kasumisou Foundation. On 20 February 2012, over a breakfast of fruit, we discussed  a brief overview of her work and the day’s itinerary. I would be visiting several families benefitting from Kasumisou’s FSP program (those affected by HIV) and then visiting the Apsara Arts Prgoram where youth and orphans can learn traditional Cambodian dance, drawing, and music while not in school and during summers (instead of being on the streets).

The first family lived in a Buddhist Temple Pagoda that looked like this….

After the PolPot regime (Khmer Rouge) Buddhist temples began to welcome Cambodians without homes re-settling back into the city after being scattered among different provinces looking for their lost loved ones and for places to live. (Please Google the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge if you are not familiar.. I was able to visit the “Killing Fields” and the Tuol Sleng Museum, and will share photos in a later posting).

The first family consisted of a young boy, Pirron, affected by HIV and his grandmother who took care of him after his mother passed away due to the virus.  I asked her what her life was like before she was taken in by the Kasumisou foundation – she had been a beggar. Homeless and penniless she took in her grandson after his mother passed and was desperate because he was dying. At a local church they were introduced to Juana and  the Kasumisou foundation, and they were given a small stipend to pay for rent, for food, and education for the young boy. The conditions were she had to stop begging. When I met this family I would have NEVER imagine what they had gone through. She was proud of her grandson’s studies, smiling, and welcoming. I asked what hope she had for her grandson in the future, and she said for him to finish his studies and become a professional. He responded he hoped the same and loved working with electronics and electricity. His favorite subject was math. She now has a home, electricity (no running water yet), and with therapy the boy has lived to the age of 15. She now sells snacks and candy to the local community.

With Pirron, his grandmother, and FSP staff at their home

Now meet these two young girls who not only lost their mother due to HIV but have been constantly affected by it, and were adopted by their mother’s friend. One wanted to be a doctor “to help (listing everyone in her adopted family, the Kasumisou staff, and sponsorship family who is paying for her education) for free of charge” and the younger one followed with wanting to be a nurse “to help all of Cambodia”. One loved to read and the other draw. Her favorite thing to draw was.. Angry Birds! I was astonished and had to see her drawings- they were amazing. I told them how kids in the US also loved Angry Birds! At the end of the visit she gave me her prized angry bird and tom and jerry drawings. They practiced their english with me and showed me some of the dance and song they learned at the Apsara Arts program. These were two sweet and educated young girls with hopes and dreams. I asked Juana what was the likelihood of them receiving education to become doctors.. and she said the hope of Cambodia is for youth to graduate 6th grade, if possible 9th (14 years old). If they are very talented and have the funding then 12th. It is very difficult to attain vocational or university training here. That did not stop these girls from reaching for the stars.

Holding Smile’s Angry Birds Drawings

The final few families ingrained in me the strength of the human spirit. Sampao had been ostracized by her family when her husband died since she had HIV and was separated from her children. She was on her deathbed when Kasumso took her in and instead of accompanying her to die with dignity.. Juana was able to “accompany her to life”. When she never expected to live she now accompanies Juana home-visiting other families affected sharing experience and support. The next family was a mother and son both affected – all you could see was their joy and strength. The mother was able to work since she received therapy and he was a very naturally gifted artist – self taught drawing and painting with beautiful elaborate pictures of whatever he could get his hands on.  The final family’s mother had been blinded by the disease and was supporting her 2 young boys. Kasumisou provided her the opportunity to not have to turn to brothels to make money, but supporting her children through school and allowing her to focus on them.

Sharing fruit with mother and son during home-visit

How does it work? Kasumisou is no longer expanding but maintaining the current families. They support 110 orphans, 70 Family Support Prgoram families with 180 children,  4 in university and 3 in vocational school, and 9 orphans iving at the Apsara Arts Progaram. They provide food support, small stipend for rent/electricity/water, education, therapy whether it be for TB or HIV, and homevisit care- a holistic all-econompassing type of support to  break the cycle of poverty and provide opportunities for these youth otherwise without. The kids stay in the program for as long as they need. With hopes of focusing more on education for their children, their donor-focused funding is trying to find a way to become more sustainable.

The final leg of my site visit involved attending clases at the Apsara Arts Association.. a program for training youth whether oprpahned, poor or rich in traditional Cambodian culture. Kasumisou funds a summer program to allow their beneficiary children to spend their summers not in school learning Cambodian arts and not spend it in the streets. Kasumisou also donated the current training center.


Teaching Assistants performing (right is female dance and left is the male dance)


Please observe the 2nd child… the cutest 3 year old you have ever met

And I even was able to participate… I was dragged on stage even though I repeatedly oh-koon’d (thanked ) and declined but to no avail up I went…and then was guided with clear English 1,2,3’s throughout the entire dance…

Me attempting Cambodian Dance

It was wonderful to experience how those involved did not differentiate by age, race, or religion (some beneficiaries were Buddhist, some Christian, some “attended all temples to receive support and live long lives”) – it was about providing lives with dignity and breaking the cycles of poverty for future Cambodan generations. Although it is frustrating to see the common trend of constant dependency on dwindling donor support.. my hopes are that organizations find self-sustainability. Hopefully, these children will have the opportunity to attain all of their hopes and dreams… and even finish university.

About the staff I met: Juana’s background was in HIV family support in the US and for over a decade here. Sithen’s background is in accounting and business management supporting Kasumisou’s efforts with the Apsara Arts. Slim staff – but skilled, experienced, and dedicated. Sithen even went on to say if he ever has to take another job for some reason he would always be a supporter of and donate to Kasumisou.

To find out more about about Kasumisou Foundation click here. For more information on the Apsara Arts Association click here. The Apsara Arts Association hosts Traditional Cambodian performances on Saturday evenings.

 

Jacqueline
GlobalGiving InTheField Traveler | Texas

Jacqueline is an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving and is now making her way across Southeast Asia. Jacqueline has lived all around the U.S., Central America, backpacked along Australia’s eastern coast while volunteering for the National Park Service, western Europe, and traveled around the world. You can also follow her via Twitter.

For more information about GlobalGiving, click here