For more than twenty years, World Children's Fund has been providing educational opportunities and food relief for impoverished Thai children and their families. Children in the program often live with an elderly grandparent or single mum without the resources to provide adequate food, housing, education, or medical care.
The WCF supported pre-school is the initial step in the program located in Phuket, Thailand. The pre-school serves 45 children ages four to six. The program gives children living in poverty an educational head start. The children enroll at age four and spend three academic years at the learning center. After completing the pre-school program, they often become scholarship students as they progress through primary, high school and on to university or vocation training.
“A big part of what we do is open the children’s imagination. We start talking about life dreams and their potential at a very early age. What do you want to be? What can you do to reach your goal if your parent or caregiver cannot help you?” says Roelien Muller, WCF Asia liaison and director of the program. “When you are born into poverty, you often don’t have a vision for the future. We are teaching them about academics, achieving good grades, how to create life propelling habits, providing scholarships and sponsorships, and demonstrating that they can make a difference for themselves and their families. We are now seeing children who started in the pre-school graduate from university.”
“A big part of what we do is open the children’s imagination. We start talking about life dreams and their potential at a very early age. What do you want to be? What can you do to reach your goal if your parent or caregiver cannot help you?”Roelien Muller, WCF Asia liaison and director of the program
Supplemental food provisions and emergency food bags are delivered each month to individual homes to assist with the survival of families and caregivers who have students enrolled in the WCF supported programs. Food kits include tins of fish, fish sauce, chicken or pork, rice, noodles, cooking oil, eggs and hygiene items, dishwashing liquid, shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste.
“Sometimes, they literally have nothing. Not a grain of rice. Parents and grannies cry with relief when we arrive with a bag of food,” says Muller. “When you don’t have food and you can’t feed yourself or your children, you don’t have the energy to think about the future. By relieving some of the financial burden, it opens the door to work with caregivers and children to think about life goals,” says Muller. “We can start planning for tomorrow.”
In addition to providing education and nutrition programs, World Children's Fund also supports and maintains a separate safe house. The safe house provides full-time care to children formerly forced into exploitative work or living in dangerous conditions. These children and their siblings are often identified through the early education program and are rescued from abusive and unsafe situations. Some of the children are former garbage collectors living in the trash dumps, or in the woods in shacks without toilets, water, or electricity. Children living in the safe house can pursue continuing education in a stable environment. They receive consistent care, meals, and access to clean water and hygiene products. Their overall health and well-being improve dramatically. Basics like electricity allow them to study and complete homework assignments in the evenings.
The key to the program’s overall success is early intervention. The pre-school provides daily pickup and drop-off shuttle service, nutritious school meals and snacks, and teaches life skills in tandem with education. The learning center campus consists of a block of five classrooms with an activity room in the center. The property has a separate building with kitchen and dining facilities. Learning opportunities are presented on premise through play-based activities. The school also has its own chicken coop and garden. Children learn how to care for animals, collect eggs and they discover health and nutrition by tending and eating from the lush garden filled with papaya and banana trees, green leafy vegetables, lemongrass, green beans, passion fruit, Thai herbs, and eggplant.
“These children come from primitive living environments. They don’t have the chance to learn necessary skills at home,” says Muller. “People move to Phuket from small villages and other provinces to find work in tourism, believing they can clean hotel rooms, sell trinkets to tourists, and create a better life. They end up living in shacks being bitten by mosquitos and barely surviving from day to day. Most of the adult caregivers don’t have a formal education. We have many older grannies trying to take care of numerous children.”
“These children come from primitive living environments. They don’t have the chance to learn necessary skills at home.”Roelien Muller, WCF Asia liaison and director of the program
To compensate for the lack of stimuli at home, the curriculum is filled with outdoor activities on the lawn, singing, field trips, class time, craft and art projects, music, and sports. The children learn how to dress themselves, wash their hands, brush their teeth, and implement other good hygiene practices. They learn how to fold up their mats after nap time, take responsibility for the things they use at school during the day and tidy their play areas. They learn how to bake simple things, use an eggbeater, a stove and how to boil a kettle. A school nurse provides care on campus and health checks at home, following up on personal hygiene, answering questions, and helping to educate the children and their caregivers about nutrition.
Teachers prepare homework packages for the children to take along after school to keep them busy in the evenings. The children receive solar lamps so after the sun sets, they can color draw, read, and practice their numbers.
When the children complete pre-school, they are emotionally and intellectually prepared for the next steps in their lives. In Thailand, primary education is offered through government schools, but according to Muller, “the fees add up.”
The average family, single mom, or granny cannot cover the extra school fees and costs for uniforms, handbooks and supplies, extra classes, tutoring, and the basics required for enrollment. As children graduate from pre-school, they receive scholarships and financial support to assist them through the Thai education system.
The program continues to serve the children throughout their educational journey by offering weekly life skills development classes. The classes are held on campus and geared toward primary and high school students, like the “Seven Habits of Effective Teenagers” and offering music classes and workshops on media and presentation skills, child protection, bullying, and issues like conflict management. Program administrators also reach out to caregivers and offer workshops on basic parenting skills, financial management and budgeting, and provide opportunities to talk about a child’s life and goals.
“Most people here have no vision for the future because they are trapped in the present. When you don’t have a goal, it’s impossible to know what to do next. For some care givers, these workshops and discussions are eye opening,” says Muller.
World Children’s Fund is grateful for every supporter who has made this life-changing program possible. Your partnership brings strength to the hands and feet of the staff who implement these programs and serve these children each day.
“You can see the long-term impacts,” says Ruth Lam Kendrick, World Children’s Fund International Vice-President. “It is all about multiplication. We start with one child and the influence grows to impact families and ultimately communities.”