Thursday, April 24, 2014

They Were Going to Send Their Children Away for Lack of $20/month!

A few months ago one of our community engagement volunteers took us out to a migrant camp near a truck stop to meet a family he knew. They have 2 small girls ages 4 and 2. The father works very hard for the Thai land owner where the camp is located but they were still not making enough to get by.

This family was on the verge of splitting up because they couldn't make ends meet.

They wanted to know if they could send their girls to come and live at the Charis Home while they saved enough money to take them back to their very elderly grandparents in Burma to live so that their parents could both work and try to get ahead. This is usually the story. Parents are working to try and get ahead, to escape the abject poverty they left behind in Burma, and the poverty they are living in now, and children end up in orphanages because of how hard it is to do this.

The difference that they needed to make up, to make keeping their daughters a possibility for them was approximately 500baht/month. That's less than $20US!!!

Can you imagine having to give your children up over the lack of 20 extra dollars every month?

But the reason we went to talk to them was that they had already started to work on another plan, a dream really, but one we could help with.

The camp where they live is quite isolated. It's far outside the city and there is no where for people to buy food and other necessities without needing to hitch a ride into town, past police checkpoints, and then back again. So this enterprising couple wanted to fill this need. They would bring in boxes of supplies every week and sell them to the families in the camp. Buying in bulk and repackaging it themselves would help them to save on costs, and bring supplies to their neighbors at a better rate than they could get buying for a single family in the city.

The profit from providing this service would supplement their income enough that they could keep their little girls at home.

But they need start up capital. They needed enough to get started and purchase the first round of boxes for everyone, and build a small extension onto their house to store it all.

All they needed to borrow was $310US. They would pay it back plus interest over the course of one year. The interest we would use to bring training to their community, especially to the mothers of small children. We would train the mother to bring this training back to the rest.

Needless to say, we gave them the loan. They have been faithful in making their payments. They are incredibly grateful to be able to go into business for themselves and keep their family together.

You guys, this situation is repeated thousands and thousands of times over, all around us.

This is why all of our new projects are focussed on helping these families to stay together. It's less than $20 a month. 

Can you help us to do this?

There are plenty of children's homes. There are plenty of places willing to break up the family and take children away from parents, and grandparents, aunts and uncles in the name of helping them. There are plenty of organizations who's solution to this problem is to warehouse children. But there are very few that are fighting to empower parents and keep families together. If we don't do this we end up with a whole generation of children who have been raised by institutions. We end up with people starting families who don't know what families ought to look like, how families work.

You end up with parents who will drop their children off at an institution for 3 years while they go and work somewhere because they were left with strangers for years at a time when they were children, and so they don't understand why they shouldn't do it to their children as well.

The children in homes here aren't orphans. They are children whose parents are too poor to care for them, who want them to have the best chance at life and so leave them somewhere that has nice buildings, and toilets, and showers and 3 meals a day and school because it seems like it will be a better place than they can make in their family. They don't know how important they are to their children. They don't know that what a child needs more than showers and toilets is parents who love them and care for them individually. They don't know about the kids we see at the homes who have landed there after disrupted family situations and don't care to learn or study or do anything. They don't have anyone who cares how they do, or what they learn, so why bother?

If we can keep these families together, if we can teach these parents what they need to help them raise their own children, we can make the future brighter for each one of these precious children. Because, if we wouldn't put our own kids in an orphanage, we don't think it's a good option for these children either.

These mothers are learning about early childhood development, and how they can help their children to have strong minds.
We need you to help us keep providing the support to families in terms of training, education, and work day childcare, that will help them to be strong, to be whole, to be the safe place where their children grow up.

Here's how to donate.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What Poverty Is Really Like

Poverty is not knowing all the things I know. Here, in the migrant camps, all the basic information that I take for granted that I know, and can have access to, is wealth. All the reading I have done on nutrition, childbirth, parenting, how people learn, child development, the things I debate with other mothers in the US, casually, because we're all informed, and all have informed opinions, here, they are gold.

A migrant camp where we do community education.
I taught an expecting mother what her baby looks like inside her uterus this week, what a placenta is, how the baby is nourished and what happens after she is born. It was amazing! Mind blowing. She didn't know these basic things. She didn't know that the umbilical cord comes out after birth, along with the placenta. She didn't know that it doesn't hurt her or the baby when the umbilical cord is cut. She didn't know that she should eat protein to keep the baby strong.

If you took all my money away I would still be wealthy beyond words, because I have in my brain information:

  • how to keep my children healthy, 
  • how to make a water filter, 
  • how to treat different sicknesses, 
  • how to keep a woman safe and healthy during pregnancy and birth, 
  • how to give first aid, 
  • how to read and write in English, 
  • how to use a computer,
  • how to teach children

The list goes on.

Parents don't know how to help their children's brains grow and develop. They just hit them when they cry or keep talking to shut them up. They don't listen and answer questions. They don't let children explore and learn from the things around them. I know this because when I teach my class on how parents are teachers, and can help children to grow smarter and better equipped by talking to them, and listening, and being engaged with their children and showing and interest in what they are learning, they tell me that this is a very new way of thinking. They tell me what is usually done. I get to watch their faces as the interpreter speaks and can see as the thought takes hold.

I am wealthy because I am able to look at a problem, like water dripping somewhere it shouldn't, analyze why that is happening, and then come up with ideas that would fix it. I can do analysis. I can think about something and understand why it's happening and then understand how to change that something if I want to.

It seems pretty basic to a westerner, but it is not basic here. People don't do analysis. They don't try and understand why something is the way it. That's just the way it is. There is no way to change it, even if it is harmful.

I am rich! And it has nothing to do with money.

Everything I teach is a gift. Every bit of information I pass on is wealth.

And that's why we do community education.

Without education, none of the material aid we provide will make a lasting difference. We teach the adults, the parents, in order to be able to have a larger impact on the children, so that the next generation will have these things we take for granted. So that they can problem solve and think logically and find information that they don't already have. It's so they gain experience in making plans and then carry them out to completion.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

On poverty and child abandonment

A migrant family and their bamboo house.
"I think that if you do start a daycare in the migrant camp that you will have to be careful to make sure the parents understand that they need to pick up the children each day. Otherwise, some parents, they might leave the children with you and go somewhere else to work. We had that happen. Their parents were gone for 3 years."

"I would not have thought of that. Thank you!" I said. I know that many children living in orphanages have living parents somewhere, but it never occurred to me that they would do something like abandon their children at a daycare center, for westerners to take care of.

Then I asked her something that I've wanted to understand for a very long time. I thought that of all people she could shed some light on the issue. Her family sent her away to live with another family when she was very young. She lived in several orphanages after coming to Thailand from Burma, and she knows the situation of the local families more intimately than most people because she works with them.

"Why do parents leave their children with other people? Is it a cultural thing?"

"No, it's not culture," she responded slowly, thinking. "It's more because they are poor. If someone else feeds their children and watches them then they can go away and work and get more money. They think the children will be better off if they are somewhere that they can get food and go to school."

"Do they not realize how important parents are to a child's well being?" I asked.

"No, I don't think they do. I think they are only trying to live." She answered.

It's heartbreaking, the way parents will leave children behind, and not just with people who have good and caring intentions either. It's heartbreaking that they feel that they have to make this choice, to deprive a child of the most important thing to them in their growing up years, protective parents, in order to try and make ends meet.

I have learned since coming to Thailand that family burdens are large. No one just makes money for themselves or their small nuclear family. Every Burmese person I know who works in Thailand has a mother or father or other family in Burma that they send money to, to support them. Grandmothers and children and aunties and uncles and cousins, in this culture they must all be supported if you can. Try doing that on the average wage of $250/month.

So what can we do?

How can we help?

Well, that's why I was talking to my friend about a daycare. Because if we can help parents by providing a safe option for their children during the day, those children won't be left at an orphanage, or sent far away back to elderly grandparents, or left to fend for themselves in a migrant camp all day, with dogs, and open water, and nearby roads with fast moving trucks, while parents work.

If we can take care of these children during the day, and give their parents classes at night; in parenting, entrepreneurship, health and well being, if we can strengthen these families, and convince these parents that they are vital to their children's well being, then maybe we can end the cycle that breaks up families and leaves these children so vulnerable.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year From Thailand!!!!

Thank you friends for all that you do to care for the kids at risk in Thailand.

Without you none of this would be possible, and on behalf of the children you cared for and kept safe in 2013 we thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for caring enough to do something about their situation.
Launching a New Year Lantern

Our end goal, from the beginning of The Charis Project, has been to work ourselves out of a job. Part of that has been to enable orphanages to put themselves out of business by strengthening the community around them to the point that the orphanage becomes an unnecessary resource.

This year, we spent more time connecting with people who run orphanages, and the children who live in them, and the families who place their children in orphanages because they feel they have no other option.

Through this we came to the conclusion that our immediate goal hasn't been big enough.

It's not enough to work in a community with an eye to future generations being raised in families instead of institutions. The kids we are taking care of today, many of whom have some manner of extended family back in their home village who feel unequal to the task of providing for them financially, educationally, and emotionally,

they need us to help them grow up in a family too.

They need us to help their families, now, to be stable enough to keep them. 

They need to grow up knowing that family is best, and not thinking that leaving their children in an orphanage to be raised by someone else is an option.

So we are accelerating our timeline, and figuring out how to implement Phase 2.

Phase 1, create a self sustaining orphanage model, is well underway, and on track to being complete in the coming year.

Phase 2, to transition a self sustaining orphanage into a community center that provides support to families, both birth and foster, that the children in the orphanage at last go home to, is something we must now make happen.

In addition to that we are working out how to empower families in crisis right now, to help them stay together.

When we looked at this goal we thought, "This is impossible." But then we realized, everything we have accomplished up until now seemed impossible when we first started it, and thanks to you, it has happened.

So this important task, of keeping kids in families, and reuniting kids with families, is the next impossible thing that we are going to tackle in 2014. Thanks to support from you, we think we might have a chance of making it a reality.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Poverty and Sex Trafficking

What we read. A round up of links that inspire, challenge and inform our work at The Charis Project. We hope they will inspire you and move you to action in some cases as well.

The Women Who Sell Their Daughters into Sex Slavery

This is a heartbreaking piece on Cambodian women who sold their own daughters for sex, trying to dig out from under impossible debt levied by corrupt money lenders. It gets at the roots of the problem, and it's correlation to extreme poverty. This is why we say so confidently that our efforts to empower impoverished communities will preventing the trafficking of the children in those villages.

We're All Trading Our Lives For Something : Trade Up

"Our lives hold far greater potential than the comfort and luxury most of us trade them for. After all, these are temporal pursuits that can never be fully achieved. They move and shift rapidly with the world around us. They never fully satisfy. They are completely self-centered. And our lives can be traded for things far greater.
Our lives can be traded for significance, social justice, or spiritual pursuits. We can invest our lives into creating a more sustainable planet, beautiful art, moments of joy for others, or causes we believe in. We can help others overcome fear, heartache, or significant obstacles to joy. We can trade our finite resources for the desires and values held deep within each of our hearts – the purest passions unspoiled by the culture around us."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas, Charis and YOU!

Every year many of you wonderful people contact us and tell us all about how you would like to make a donation in honor of someone close to you. Your next question is always, "Is there anything you can provide that I could give to them in order to represent this gift in their honor?"

In the past we have provided a card of some sort but this year we are excited to be able to do much better than that.

Your gift this holiday season makes it possible for us to continue working to help the most vulnerable children in the world, kids in orphanages, and those whose families are so impoverished that they are on the verge of giving their children up in the hopes they will get a better life in a institution rather than the grinding poverty and hunger they face at home. Our work is to come alongside and lift up these orphanages and their communities, and these individual families within the communities, and empower them to bring positive change to the world around them. What better way to honor those you love than to help a child in their name?

We have 3 different gifts to send you to give to a loved one in whose honor you have made a donation this holiday season.

We have these adorable little handmade doll tree ornaments, dressed in traditional tribal clothing.

These cards were hand embroidered by women in the Mae-La refugee camp on the Thai/Burma border. Making these cards is one of their sole sources of income.

Finally we have a book that has inspired and informed us in our work and helps us to be hopeful about the direction of the work we do, and of people in general. We were given several copies of this book and now we share them with you.

Along with each gift will come a card explaining briefly what The Charis Project is doing in northern Thailand.

For more about what we do, please see our website.

If you would like to set up a recurring monthly donation please go here, click on the subscribe button for the project of your choice, and specify in the paypal checkout which gift you would like to receive.

Thank you for all you make possible through partnering with us. We wish you a holiday season full of light, joy, and life.

With love,
All of us at The Charis Project

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Importance of Family

I think my favorite thing about the make-shift family we have participated in forming up on the mountain at the children's home is the grandparents.

I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure from what I've seen so far that most kids growing up in some sort of orphanage or institutional care don't get to have grandparents.

But that's the beautiful thing about Baan Saeng Saiwan. It's not really an orphanage, or an institution, it's a family. A really big family with lots of kids.

You see, Juda and Jonah, our two house dads, are brothers. Their parents live in the same village as they do and come to the home often, just to be with family.

Grandpas's favorite spot in the shade.
So if you are there you get to see things like, grandma teaching one of the girls how to cook an omelet in a wok over an open fire. Or grandpa demonstrating the proper way to skin a chicken to a group of boys.

It is the most ideal situation you can imagine in an intrinsically unideal context.

And yet, it is because we know how often this type of thing isn't ideal that we are working towards what is known in the business as "de-institutionalization".

The model for self sustaining orphan care is not complete unless it also includes a plan to get children out of orphanages and back into loving families where ever and whenever possible, either by helping their birth families to provide better care, or by resourcing other families in the community to care for these children.

This isn't always going to be possible. So we will continue to work to make it possible for more children's homes to be like the self sustaining family at Baan Saeng Saiwan rather than institutions as well.

But our end goal is to always keep/put kids into families. Because that's what every child needs.