If you slept safely in your own bed last night then you're more fortunate than Foto and his family. Foto is only 7 years old, has never been to school and can't read or write. His family was forced to leave their home in Suphan Buri and ended up on the streets of Bangkok where he and his sister, aged 9, resorted to begging. Together with their mother and father they slept on the banks of the canals or outside Hua Lamphong railway station. During Thailand's Covid-19 lockdown in March life became even harder for the family as the deserted streets meant fewer opportunities to beg for money.
It was at this time that Foto first called in at The Hub, a centre for homeless children managed by Childline Thailand. Foto is short for his age. Wearing a blue t-shirt, three-quarter length trousers and oversized sandals, his eyes peered over his face mask with a heart-melting plea for help. The team initially supported the family with daily Survival Bags that were distributed as part of an emergency fundraising campaign. More than 500 support packs containing food, medicine, cleaning products and face masks were given to homeless children when the Hub was restricted from opening its doors due to Covid-19 lockdown regulations.
Soon after meeting Foto, The Hub team also noticed that he was suffering from a serious medical problem. After contacting the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security they were able to trace the case history of the family. Foto had previously been to hospital with a bladder infection but, sadly, his parents had opted not to take their child for further treatment, instead keeping the small medical grant for themselves.
The team also noticed that the little boy would often wet himself or arrive at the centre in dirty underwear. Khun Kaew, The Hub's Manager was closely involved in the case supporting Foto and his sister "It soon became apparent that his parents were incapable of looking after their children," Kaew said. "We alerted the authorities and Foto has since been taken into care. Usually, we do everything we can to support keeping the children and parents together, but sometimes the danger to the child is too great."
The Hub opened in January 2011 and offers much needed support to children and teenagers in the centre of Bangkok. Most homeless children gravitate to the Pomprab district, and the railway station in particular, when first arriving in Bangkok. They struggle with the danger and isolation of sleeping rough and the centre helps by providing food, showers, medical support and education.
Covid-19 may be contained in Thailand, for now, but these are still troubling times and two months of business and school closures has dealt a blow to some of Thailand's poorest families. For those living on the poverty line, the sudden decline of tourism, and the closure of commerce, services, bars and restaurants has had a devastating financial effect.
Alongside The Hub centre, Childline Thailand Foundation also runs a 24-7 contact centre (Saidek 1387) which provides free support and counselling via a freephone number and messaging services. The contact centre has experienced a significant increase in contact from children this year, from an average of 614 calls and chat sessions per month in 2019 to 2,235 in April 2020. Calls and messages related to mental health now account for 26 percent of all requests for help.
Life can be lonely on the streets and many children suffer from depression as a result of neglect. They may have left home to escape abusive situations and have no other family or friends to look after them. 99 percent of the children who visit The Hub have experienced some kind of abuse, whether it's physical or mental.
All too frequently this year, the team at The Hub has met new children who have recently taken to the streets. When Pink, aged 12, was at school in Pattani province, she told her teacher that her dream was to become a doctor and help others. However, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, her family became destitute and fled their home town for Bangkok. She stayed in a small room with a relative who worked as a security guard, together with her father, pregnant mother and 12-month-old baby sister. The family decided to not enrol Pink in school, instead using her to look after her infant sister while her father succumbed to alcohol and drug abuse. Pink's dream to be a doctor now felt like a distant reality.
Eventually after suffering physical violence at the hands of her parents it became too much for Pink to bear and she ran away from home. Fortunately, she found The Hub who supported her when she had nowhere else to turn. Pink received meals, showers and medical care at The Hub as well as attended counselling sessions and activities with other vulnerable kids.
Volunteers from the local area, international schools and the Thai and expat communities play an important role in supporting The Hub, particularly through volunteering and fundraising. The Hub's volunteers help to ensure the children can enjoy a range of educational and recreational activities – from computer skills and sports to day trips and camping.
Earlier this year, many of the children took part in a thrilling fashion photoshoot with a leading Thai brand, Greyhound. The day was primarily for fun and allowed the wannabe models to express themselves in cool street wear. Pink took part that day and looked particularly fetching in a black baggy shirt, leggings and boots.
Childline's professional team of youth workers reviewed Pink's case and worked with the authorities to assist the family and attempt to reunite her with her parents. Initially Pink was sent home but escaped and returned to The Hub just two days later. Her case is currently under consideration by the Child Protection Multi-Disciplinary Committee.
About Childline Thailand Foundation (Saidek 1387)
Childline Thailand aims to provide long-term solutions to improve the lives of children and help them to transition from street situations. In times of crisis, whoever you are, it's important to know that "there is someone who cares and can help." For many of Thailand's children, Childline and The Hub is that "someone". Each one of our staff is qualified and trained in child psychology/sociology and has dedicated their careers to helping children in need. We are available 24/7, through the contact centre (Saidek 1387) and The Hub centre in Pomprab district, and we are always ready to help.
If you would like to discuss ways that you can help, please contact Ilya Smirnoff at email@example.com
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Series Editor: Christopher F. Bruton, Executive Director, Dataconsult Ltd, firstname.lastname@example.org Dataconsult's Thailand Regional Forum provides seminars and extensive documentation to update business on future trends in Thailand and in the Mekong Region.