This Socktober we are encouraging students to learn what life is like for children from Thailand, specifically those from slum areas in Bangkok, the bustling capital.
Thailand is bordered by Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and China, with coastlines on the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. Like Australia, Thailand is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy, which means its head of state is King Maha Vajiralongkorn but its lawmaking and governance is done by an elected parliament. Unlike its neighbours, Thailand managed to avoid being ruled by Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, French or British colonisers throughout the era of Western imperialism in the region.
Thailand is known as the 'Land of a Thousand Smiles', a country renowned as much for the warmth of its people as for the warmth of its weather. For this reason, and for its abundance of beaches, resorts and beautiful nature, over 30 million tourists per year normally make their way to Thailand. The enromous hospitality and tourism industry, combined with sizable financial and agricultural trades, makes Thailand one of the biggest and fastest growing economies in the world.
Despite this, Thailand also exhibits staggering wealth inequality. In 2018, the wealthiest 10% of Thai people held over 85% of the nation’s wealth, while the poorest half of the population accounted for under 2% of all wealth. Around 7% of the Thai population of 69,480,520 people live under the poverty line.
Sadly, Thailand is also a major centre for human trafficking, particularly of children and vulnerable people. Sexual exploitation constitutes the majority of cases of trafficking, and it is now the primary form of modern slavery in Thailand. The children most at risk are those living in poverty in city slum areas, especially if there is nowhere safe to stay during the day when their parents are working.
Many organisations and missionaries are working to eliminate some of the root causes of these issues, focusing on alleviating poverty through education.
The Good Shepherd Sisters Kindergarten Centre
The Good Shepherd Sisters have been supporting communities in need in Thailand for over 55 years, starting in Bangkok and eventually expanding their work to other provinces including Phuket and Chiang Rai.
The Sisters have a mission to build partnerships that promote the dignity and human rights of all, especially women and children. Among the many programs run by the Sisters in the bustling capital of Bangkok is a kindergarten for children from an urban slum where many simply cannot afford to send their children to school. The kindergarten offers two life‑changing services for both local women and their children: firstly, the Sisters provide a loving education in a safe place, catering for essential needs; and secondly, this allows the parents to freely work and earn a living for their families without fear for their children’s safety.
Run by Sister Chalaad Sungkalurk R.G.S., the kindergarten aims to help children from families in difficult financial situations receive education that promotes mental, emotional, social and educational development; provide a safe environment for these children; and lastly, promote collaboration with local families.
“If the children have a chance to study or prepare well
to go to school, it will be very good … for them. We try
to support them, and not only for education. Mind and
body have to go together for the children to develop.
I believe that if we really and truly help them with love,
they will grow nicely and will have a good future.”
– Sister Chalaad Sungkalurk R.G.S.
Through Socktober, students can learn more about how they can be missionary and support children in Thailand and around the world through prayer and fundraising to have the same opportunities we are afforded here in Australia.
The impact of Covid-19
Across Australia since the pandemic began schools, churches and businesses have been disrupted, shut down, and forced to adapt. It is the same in Thailand, where Sister Chalaad says the danger of Covid-19 has forced the Good Shepherd Sisters' Kindergarten Centre to temporarily shut for the safety of the children and their families.
"I would to inform you that the situation of Covid-19 has rapidly increased the number of infected people; our Kindergarten Centre is temporarily closed during this time until the situation improves," Sister Chalaad wrote to Catholic Mission. "Our place has been closed until the end of the month, and I hope the Covid situation will pass soon.”
Illustrating her point, in the Mother and Babies Home, also run by the Sisters, six mothers became COVID-positive. Two are receiving treatment and three other women recovered, but tragically one passed away in hospital.
In Bangkok, the situation is just as desperate, with many people left alone to die in the streets without proper care. Those who can access and afford healthcare are struggling to find a place in the overwhelmed hospital system, while the situation for those living in poverty is especially dire. Without adequate connections, financial means or government support, they are left with little hope if the virus reaches them.
Sister Chalaad and the Good Shepherd Sisters are continuing their work with this local community, performing what outreach they can to assist affected families with financial, food and medical needs, and continuing education support for very young children who are waiting to return to their Kindergarten Centre.
The sisters are encouraging the children to express their feelings through drawing.
Above: A drawing by a child from the Good Shepherd Sisters' Kindergarten about life in a pandemic.
Mission in 360
Immerse yourself in our focus project, the Good Shepherd Sisters' Kindergarten Centre, and get a feel for what daily activities look like for the children and the staff. Our immersive 360° virtual reality technology has captured the surrounds of the kindergarten as the children pray, play with a sockball, and sing the national anthem. Check out each video and see what things you notice.
Prayer time at the Good Shepherd Sisters Kindergarten Centre
Prayer is the basis of all things at the Good Shepherd Sisters’ Kindergarten Centre, and each day the children come together with the Sisters to give thanks for the blessings of food, medicine, education and most of all, each other. Join them and consider what you are thankful for today. Click and drag to change your perspective of the kindergarten.
Singing to welcome a new day
In Thailand, it is customary for everyone to begin and end each day by singing the same song. The song was written and composed in 1939 and its words speak of unity, patriotism, peace and sacrifice. It is played on radio and television at 8am and 6pm every day, and the children and staff at the Good Shepherd Sisters Kindergarten Centre stand and proudly sing. Can you guess what this song is? Click and drag with your mouse to turn around and see why everyone is facing the same way.
Time for a quick break and a chance to play with friends. Immerse yourself in playtime at the Good Shepherd Sisters Kindergarten, and see what kind of games they play for fun. How do they differ to our games here in Australia? Can you spot Catholic Mission’s iconic sockball? Click and drag with your mouse to follow it around the playground!
Kusa and Samorn's story
Kusa has been a special blessing to his mother, Samorn. In her younger years she had experienced a difficult life, with very few people taking the time to care for her properly. Shortly after Kusa was born, Samorn realised she had to get away if her son were to have a chance at a better life. After consulting a doctor, she made a decision to start again and save Kusa’s life. Samorn moved with her son to live with the Good Shepherd Sisters. She now attends the Fatima Training Centre while Kusa learns at the kindergarten.
“I want him to finish school, even if it’s just middle school,” Samorn says. “He told me he wants to be a soldier.”
Above all, Samorn wants Kusa to be able to work and support himself and eventually his own family. At the stall she runs at the local market, Samorn taught her son how to sell fruits, clothes and the toys he no longer wants. She hopes to use her own experience to give him the best life she can.
“One day in the future, I will tell him my story, so he understands where we have come from.”
For now, Kusa and his mother enjoy the love and care of the Good Shepherd Sisters. They receive assistance with accommodation, food,
medicine and education, all of which are supported by funds raised through Socktober. Most importantly, Samorn understands the guiding motto of the Good Shepherd Sisters: “One person is of more value than the whole world.”
How your support can make a difference
Without all of our support, the life-saving service that Sister Chalaad and the Good Shepherd Sisters provide could not continue.
Thailand is a rapidly developing economy, and the government is working to improve support for parents who require childcare for their children. However, there is not full coverage, and in Bangkok, families who cannot access childcare support are those most at risk.
For a single mother in Bangkok, freedom may be extremely limited. Without access to childcare services, she may have to choose to either stay at home, care for the children, and earn no money; or go to work, provide for the family, and live in fear for the safety of her children. It is a choice no parent should be forced to make. In Bangkok, where there is a heightened danger of exploitation and trafficking, it is crucial that every child, especially the very young, are cared for in a safe environment.
The Good Shepherd Sisters are providing that essential service with their Kindergarten Centre, and through Socktober, we can keep it running. Here's how: