I went to Thailand in January 2013 with a christian aid agency called Compassion to learn more about their work in Thailand and to meet our church partner in Ban Piang Luang - which is very high in the mountains, close to the Myanmar border. I had the privilege of meeting many families, churches and Compassion staff, learning more about their struggles and their joys. I learn a lot about God and I saw and heard many miracles and many other things that broke my heart. 

At the start of this year as I was sitting in a tutorial at university (I study a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy) and one question the lecturer raised was, "As an OT working in a slum, what might you be able to do to optimise a child's occupations and participation? Who would you talk to?" To answer this she said that she would involve engineers to fix the smoke problem and governments to give them housing. But I don't think the answer is that simple... After my experiences in Thailand, my first thought was that I would talk to a leader in the community and ask them what they felt needed to be changed and include the community in the process of making the changes to their environment. Wouldn't that be more beneficial to the community?

Now I can completely understand why Westerner's think they can march into a village and 'fix' everything because I think we all have this missionary kind of view and we have the drive to help people in need. And that is perfectly fine, but when it comes down to it, we can't really interfere - well at least in the initial way we want to. 

In Thailand, I visited one Chinese school in a very small village that had boarding facilities for boys and girls who had to travel far distances to receive their education. We were shown the facilities these children had, like where they sleep and wash. I think this was the hardest thing I saw on the trip... I struggled with this a lot at the time and still think about it today.

There was one room (about 20 square meters large) for boys and one for girls. The floor was concrete and the children may have had one pillow or a blanket and some had a toy as well. This village becomes extremely cold at night time - they would freeze on the concrete floor with limited blankets and pillows. Then there was the communal washing room. There was a large concrete block filled with dirty water and the children would remove their clothes and tip water over themselves with a little bucket to shower. The toilets (squat toilets of course) were not private and there were 3 sinks. The floor was absolutely covered in mud and the smell was almost unbearable. 
The teacher showing us around the school said that when the children first arrive at boarding school, they cry every night from being away from their family and because they start school at such a young age.

This school really left an imprint on my memory of Thailand. It shocked me and to be honest, I did have thoughts about wanting to change these children's living conditions. I thought that it was so horrible and unfair that these children are living in such terrible conditions everyday. But then I remembered that as foreigners, we can't simply walk in and change what we think needs changing and do it ourselves. The community needs to be asked what they feel is required. Perhaps the boarding facilities is at the bottom of their priorities? How could you possibly know unless you asked? Then if you do go ahead and change something that a village wants changed, you have to include them in the process as well. If they don't make the changes themselves, there's really no point. They won't know how to use it, it won't have meaning to them as a community, and it won't help bring the community together. Just because we are 'wise, rich westerner's', it doesn't give us the right to change their ways of doing things to suit our knowledge and cultural backgrounds.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't do anything to stop poverty, that's not the issue at all. We just need to seriously think about what we are doing and work with communities to help them change how they want to change. It's not about what we think is best for them.

I know this concept is difficult for people to understand, so I'd love to hear any comments you have on this issue or any questions you have about my trip :)

Sorry this week's blog was a bit less light-hearted, but this is an issue I feel strongly about and want to share with everyone so we can work together to make the world a better place.

H xx

The Washroom

Sleeping room