Kallaya Chermue calls herself a product of a broken family. Born to hilltribe parents who later separated leaving their child with a stranger in the neighbourhood, at only eight years old Kallaya was kicked out of the house and has since been forced to live by her own wits.
"Some said my father had become a drug addict. Some said he had already died," said Kallaya, now 19. "After my parents broke up and went different ways, I was left with an old lady who actually had a family of her own. Finally I was driven from her house as I earned nothing for her family and so could not help them with family expenses."
Born in Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district, Kallaya wandered aimlessly until she reached Mae Chan district where she began to work at a lychee plantation. Due to her parents' lack of knowledge, they did not process Kallaya's birth certificate and she therefore had no identification documents even though she was born in Thailand.
Having lived without a family, home and proper education, Kallaya labelled herself a "stray kid".
Her life completely changed after the Childlife and Community Ministry Foundation, also known as Baan Nana, started lending her a helping hand and gave her an opportunity to work at the foundation. Basically, Baan Nana provides assistance to poor and underprivileged street children through accommodation and education. Its mission is also to help prevent child labour, human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children by raising public awareness. The majority of children at Baan Nana are from ethnic minorities who live in Thailand, Myanmar and along the border.
Having lived and worked at Baan Nana since she was nine, Kallaya made many friends, most of whom are also street children who shared pretty much the same destiny as her.
"Homeless children are not just an issue in Mae Sai," said Kallaya. "They are, in fact, a national problem."
In order to raise public awareness regarding the issue of street children in Thailand, Kallaya and four other girls from Baan Nana have joined hands and produced a six-part documentary, Tang Pan Kong Beera: Cheewit Rai Rak Kong Dek Re Ron (Path Of Beera: The Rootless Life Of The Homeless).
Kallaya, the scriptwriter, said the documentary is aimed at reminding all Thai citizens of the fact that the issue of abandoned children has long existed and that this social problem needs immediate action.
"A lot of people think the issue of stray children has nothing to do with them because these poor and needy kids are not their family. But this issue is far more serious than most people think," said Kallaya. Aired on Thai PBS, Tang Pan Kong Beera is told through the life and experience of Beera, a homeless Rohingya boy born in a major drug-producing area in Myanmar. Seeking a better future, Beera decided to cross the Thailand-Myanmar border and was later assisted by staff at Baan Nana where he met Kallaya and the rest of the documentary production crew.
The scope of Baan Nana, however, was too small for Beera. So he again decided to move out to experience the real, challenging world. In Mae Sai district, Beera became involved with drug-trafficking and this situation forced him to run away. He headed to Bangkok and there he became a victim of human traffickers. Beera was drugged and taken to work on a fishing boat, sailing in Thai, Malaysian, Singaporean and Indonesian territorial waters.
"Though the documentary is only about a homeless boy who later became a drug addict and who encountered many terrible things in life, it speaks for all other stray children in Thailand," said the scriptwriter.
Prior to the production, Thai PBS arranged for Kallaya and four other crew members to join a citizen journalism workshop in Chiang Rai's Mae Fa Luang district. The workshop enabled them to gain more knowledge regarding documentary making and the basics of how to be a citizen journalist.
The entire production process took approximately one month. All the crew travelled to several risky locations _ including Bangkok's Sanam Luang, Pattaya and the Thai-Malaysian border _ where they could see with their own eyes how homeless children lived a hand-to-mouth existence.
Documentary producer Charoenkool Chaliewkriangkrai said that working with these five girls was one of his most inspiring experiences.
Even though they all came from different backgrounds, they all possessed a good spirit which tremendously benefitted the way in which they communicated and sent their message across to a wider audience.
During the shooting, the crew travelled to several risky locations where they could see with their own eyes how homeless children lived a hand-to-mouth existence.
''Although the issue is quite serious, they could express it in a lively yet emotional way,'' said Charoenkool.
''And I think that is the real highlight of this documentary piece.''
During the production, Charoenkool had an opportunity to collaborate with several NGOs and foundations whose mission is to improve the quality of life of street children.
To him, Tang Pan Kong Beera marks a good start _ a beginning of a working system committed to providing a good future for homeless children around the country so that they can grow up and become good citizens.
''In the past, we have seen some movements among activists who work for homeless children as well as in the media. But this documentary has brought this issue to a larger scale. Homeless children do not just mean migrant children _ we should instead pay attention to children in general. This documentary might lead to some sort of thoughtful discussion which might, hopefully, bring about real changes,'' said Charoenkool. When it comes to the root cause of the street kids issue, Kallaya said it all springs from the family. The quality of life as well as financial status of each family plays a crucial role in shaping a child's life as well as his or her attitude towards society and relationships. To tackle the problem, it needs to start at the family level.
''We need to talk to parents, give them time and information,'' said Kallaya. ''There is no need to wait until children escape the family. Particularly for children in risky areas like slums, they should be provided with helpful activities and a creative space where they can express their thoughts and relieve their pressure.
''And, most importantly, children must be handed the right opportunity,'' she added. ''Children's voices must also be heard. We all know children are our future. But my question is: Do we consider street children as our future too? This is the question that needs to be thought about and answered.''
Tang Pan Kong Beera: Cheewit Rai Rak Kong Dek Re Ron (Path Of Beera: The Rootless Life Of The Homeless) will be aired on Thai PBS, on Thursday at 10pm. The last episode will be aired on Nov 15. All previous episodes can be viewed on http://thaipbs.or.th/
The documentary production team, from left, Roongnapa Muelae, Arser Weimae, Chamue Deejong, producer Charoenkool Chaliewkriangkrai, Kallaya Chermue and Arpaew Mayer.
About the author
- Writer: Arusa Pisuthipan