Author Archives: DEPDC/GMS

An ordinary day at the Swimming Home

This might sound a bit boring at first, but for many of you, this is something you do not know much about. What does the children at the Swimming Home do everyday? When do they start their day? When do they come home after school? What sort of activities do they do? Do they have any daily duties? Here is your answer!

P’Kwaang wakes up the children at 6 am every school day. It is then time to get ready for school, while some of the older children might do some agricultural work. Some of the children help P’Kwaang in the kitchen preparing breakfast. When all this is done, they can enjoy a self made breakfast after their morning showers. As most children and youths, they have to be rushed to school even though they wake up two hours before it starts.12422483_10153686900287419_1641766249_o

They are back from school around 4 pm every day. At this time of year, they get an hour be themselves before they join the English activity group at 5 pm. Normally, they have a swimming lesson with P’Kwaang every afternoon after school. They learn how to swim properly, they get to play around in the water and feel the healing power of water surrounding them. During this cold season, it is too cold for the children to participate, so we hope the weather gets a bit warmer again soon.20150805_161250 - Copy

The English activity group consists of games and songs, trying to make it more fun to learn English. There are some writing activities as well, to make them remember the vocabulary better. They are all gathered in one group, which makes the range of levels quite big. The older kids are of big help looking after the youngest and helping them do the different activities. They serve almost like substitute teachers.

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After the English activity group, they have some time to do what they wish. The youngest prefer playing around, pretending to be superheroes or play football. The youth spend a lot of time reading.20150909_185643

Their homework is done both before and after dinner, depending on the workload. As with breakfast, some of the children help out in the kitchen to make dinner. All of this fills up the day, it is not much time left.  All that needs to be done is to take a shower and go to bed around 9 pm. Is it much different from what you would expect?

Meet an International Volunteer: Katie!

The International Department would like to introduce Katie, who joined us the beginning of December 2015. Katie is a Sociology and Anthropology major from the University of Oregon. She spent years working with NGO’s in her home state specializing in the areas of drug and alcohol dependency and mental health. She lived and taught English in South Korea for four years and now owns a Yoga studio in Oregon, USA that she opened 18 months ago.  She is excited to support the mission of DEPDC through her non-profit, ESL teaching, and yoga teaching experiences. During her first months in Mae Sai, Katie has been busy starting an after school yoga program for the HDS students, teaching morning English classes, co-writing reports to donors, and managing the social media accounts.

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“University was my first exposure to the social issue of human trafficking. Some years ago I set out on an extensive backpacking trip through SE Asia where I became even more aware of the large scale atrocities committed by this injustice. It was then that I began research into organizations that work on behalf of victims and at-risk persons. DEPDC/GMS was first on that search list. After reading through their website and gaining further information on their methods of prevention I knew this was the perfect place to volunteer.”

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“My background has provided me with many resources that I hope to offer during my time here at DEPDC. I am honored for the opportunity to be a part of the DEPDC team. The work they do, the possibilities they provide and the mission they are committed to continues to inspire me. I have only been here a short while but already I can see that the staff and students will be teaching me much more than I could ever hope to teach them.

If you would like to find out more about volunteering with the Development and Education Programme for Daughters and Communities Centre in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (DEPDC / GMS), please see the information within the main VOLUNTEER tab and on the drop-down Opportunity tabs.

Hear from a volunteer: US university student

First off, I want to express that being here in Thailand is a dream come true. As a child, I always dreamt of helping others in a meaningful way to bring light and hope for those in need, which is exactly what DEPDC/GMS has allowed me to do. I come from a third world country, El Salvador, and I know from first-hand experience how difficult it can be to reach your goals when you do not have the opportunity to receive a good education and a good quality of life.

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I was fortunate enough that my father migrated to the United States, which allowed my three sisters and I to attend school. Nevertheless, we experienced the effects of a broken family as many Thai students do. My mother was a dressmaker/tailor and that was how I was able to obtain my school uniform, as she handmade them. Despite my struggles, I realized that education is the root of positive change and success, so I pushed myself to exceed academically so that I can one day give back to society.

Like many of the children in DEPDC/GMS, I had to start working at a young age after the death of my father. My first job was cleaning offices but after only two weeks, I realized that I could be doing more with my life. With the little English I knew, I applied at a retail store and eventually rose to manager while attending school full time. Although it was difficult and exhausting, I would constantly remind myself of my aspirations. This mindset, as well as my parents’ and sisters’ support, is why I am here today helping children in Thailand. Every time I see the children – eager to learn – I see the same potential that I saw in myself. So every time you come across those who are less fortunate, please know that they have the potential to one day achieve their goals.

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Giving even just a little bit of hope to children around the world is better than not helping at all. One step at a time, networking, building connections, using media to raise awareness and passing on the voice of children who lack the opportunity of education WILL transform the lives of others. If we come together to prevent human trafficking and bring light to the life of children in marginal areas, we will significantly improve the lives of at-risk-children around the world. You do not need a reason to help people, it is the humane thing to do; it is a calling that lives in the hearts of humanity.

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Human trafficking is a global issue, in which support is vital to make a positive change. We can drive the movement against human trafficking by raising awareness, building connections, and getting people involved. My time at DEPDC/GMS has taught me that even if you cannot change the whole world, one person can make a difference.

Hear from a volunteer: US human trafficking professor

As I sit at a dining table in the open air lobby of my hotel in Mae Sai I ponder how did I get here? I am a program director and instructor from the University of Maryland. I run our undergraduate Criminology and Criminal Justice program at a satellite campus and teach courses on criminological theory (the causes of crime), research methods, and human trafficking. I am a trained criminologist with a background in program evaluation.

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I spent many years in school, have researched and evaluated many criminal justice prevention programs, and have taught hundreds, if not thousands, of students. Never in my wildest dreams did I envision this moment, sitting at a hotel in Mae Sai. And yet, it feels as right as anything ever has. My colleague, Christine, and I are attempting to catch up on emails and grading while the 11 students we have brought with us complete their fourth day of teaching English at a state-run Thai school. We will travel as a group this afternoon to DEPDC/GMS to continue our volunteer work, painting a house, and playing with the amazing children we have met.

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The planning that went into this trip was immense. After teaching a course on human trafficking for several semesters, I became frustrated with my inability to show the students what human trafficking really is. No lecture, book, article, or documentary can replace seeing the complex pushing and pulling factors that lead to this international issue. I casually met with the University of Maryland Education Abroad office in the summer of 2014. From that point, Christine and I worked to develop course content, itineraries, and logistical plans (and there were many!). We selected a wonderful provider, CIS Abroad, to assist with the design and implementation of the program and, a year and a half later, here we are. As we are approaching the end of our two-week plus journey I have a few reflections.

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First, planning a trip like this for students has been challenging, frustrating at times, and yet one of the most rewarding professional experiences I have had. I see the students’ minds bubbling with information, questions and frustration as they digest the magnitude of the issue, and I see their empowerment as they join together in the important work of DEPDC/GMS.

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Second, I am astonished at my own personal growth. While I have travelled abroad, and volunteered abroad, this experience is unlike any other. I know my most powerful way to prevent and reduce human trafficking is to educate and increase awareness through my students and community. The more I see, the more individuals in the field I talk to, and the more perspectives I understand, the better job I can do. I can combine cultural sensitivity with a keen critical eye to express the issues in a way that promotes understanding and action. I can’t take every student to Thailand but I can carry the emotion, passion, and commitment I have gained back to the University of Maryland and pass it on.

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My final reflection is my unexpected affection for the Thai way of life. While I miss my family (especially my two young kids), my bed, and my routine, I have settled into life here. Returning to the hustle and bustle of home, especially the start of a new semester and the cold weather, may be a shock to the system. I feel calm and happy in Thailand. Perhaps it is just the needed reprieve from my normal busy schedule but perhaps it is more. The spirit of the people I have met, in spite of the challenges they face, the fights they must win, the struggle to build a better future for themselves and those around them, is contagious. Perhaps I will go home and choose to smile instead of getting mad. Perhaps I won’t but I hope I am reminded of that option every so often.

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Thank you DEPDC/GMS for allowing us to learn from you, for allowing us to help you, and for showing us the compelling force that comes with a positive spirit and determination.

Recent and important news on human trafficking in Thailand

Two important things have happened recently which demonstrate the seriousness of the human trafficking problem in Thailand and the importance of anti-trafficking programs like DEPDC/GMS. First, Major General Paween Pongsirin, Thailand’s top human trafficking investigator, applied for political asylum in Australia, saying he feared for his life after his investigations implicated senior Thai police and military figures in Thailand’s human trafficking industry.

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Second, the Associated Press published a report exposing the extent of forced labour in Thailand’s shrimp and seafood industry, which comes despite years of Thai governments pledging to seriously address the issue. The report also stated that some of the seafood produced from these plants made it to shelves in US stores. These events highlight the ongoing severity of human trafficking in Thailand, and emphasise the major need for anti-trafficking programs that understand the causes of human trafficking and ways to prevent them – like ours here at DEPDC/GMS.

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As we talk about often, human trafficking is caused by various elements, all of which need to be understood to properly address the problem. These include sexism that devalues women and girls and normalises their exploitation. It also includes the undervaluation of education, which leads people to neglect its vital role in each child’s developing future. However, as we’ve discussed on this blog for a long time, the bedrock cause at the heart of the issue is poverty. No doubt, sexism and undervaluing education play their part, as do corruption in communities and the poisonous influence of gangs and mafia, but poverty lies at the core.

When poverty and desperation become extreme enough, people can be capable of remarkable mental gymnastics to justify letting their children and loved ones be exploited for the financial benefit of the family. In situations like this, sexism and devaluing education even become ways to dismiss the clear depravity of human trafficking by diminishing the worthiness of its victims and disregarding education as a long-term alternative and prevention strategy.

Clearly, all of these issues need to be addressed, such as by empowering women and young girls against sexism, empowering children against being viewed as property to be used as the family sees fit, and providing safety from the gangsters and corrupt officials who look to prey on at-risk children. However, poverty remains the key issue, and only by giving our children the ability to live economically independent, self-sufficient lives, and developing the communities in which they live in order to reduce poverty, can we hope to most effectively prevent at-risk kids like ours from becoming victims of human trafficking.

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Because of this, we’re proud to say that, for the last 26 years, that’s exactly what DEPDC/GMS has done. It’s not easy to prove that prevention work such as ours is effective. We can list honours and awards that we’re extremely grateful to have won, but it takes time and research to be able to prove that our program does what it’s designed to do. Well, after 26 years, we’ve gathered our research and we’re able to say that, of the thousands of daughters and sons who’ve passed through our program since 1989, more than 97% remained safe from human trafficking after completing our program.

Some have even gone on to accomplish more than we could have possibly imagined, such as one who was able to go to university in the US, now owns their own Thai and English language school, and gives presentations on statelessness to the UN. They deserve the credit for these achievements, which they managed to gain despite major disadvantages. We’re just glad to have been able to help them be the person that they had within themselves to be – a future which unfair circumstances might have otherwise stolen from them. This is what we’ve done, it’s what we do, and it’s what we’ll continue to do for the next 26 years so long as there are children who need and deserve our help. We hope that you’ll be with us for the future as you have been for the past.

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If you’d also like to give your support, we’d love to have you on board! If you’ve ever considered getting involved and volunteering, please don’t hesitate to visit the volunteer information page on our blog and get in touch. We always love having more members in our international family, and your help will go further than you can imagine. Or if you can’t volunteer but feel like you’d like to make a contribution, please visit our GlobalGiving donations page here to pick which of our programs you’d like to contribute to, like our sustainable agriculture project or our lunch program. Thank you for reading and we wish you all the best.

Children’s Day DEPDC Style!

Last Friday, the centre was full of laughter, cheers and music as everyone celebrated the national holiday of Children’s Day. The students and staff spent days preparing for the celebrations and festivities. On the morning of the holiday it was clear that all of their efforts were a huge success. This year we had an extra layer of excitement as one of our volunteer groups from the USA was also able to participate in the day’s events.

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The day started around 9am with a few speeches from teachers about how the day was going to unfold and thanks to everyone for coming. First on the agenda were the games and activities. Different groups of students had creatively designed games and activities that were enjoyed by all age groups! Each included a small prize and each participant received something even if they didn’t technically win. Plenty of games were played throughout the morning and the games continued to get more interesting as the day went on. Probably one of the most entertaining games was watching people compete in a timed race to see who was the fastest to eat an orange, drink a box of juice, blow up a balloon until it popped in their face and then use only their mouth to find a dime hidden in a pile of flour.  You couldn’t help but find yourself laughing!

Around noon everyone took a break from the games to eat a great lunch and set up for the gift exchange. In the days leading up to Friday, students and staff each brought a gift to the center to be wrapped and used for the exchange. Teachers didn’t want the students to spend a lot, seeing as they don’t have much to begin with, so they weren’t allowed to spend more than 20 Thai baht (around $0.60), while staff and volunteers were allowed to spend up to 50 Thai baht (around $1.50). Once the gifts were wrapped they were all put into the same pile so no one would know who purchased what.  On the day, the gifts were perfectly arranged on the stage and one by one each student, staff and volunteer had their name called to receive their gift.  On top of that, they received an extra gift provided by generous donors. These gifts included blankets, stuffed animals, journals and a few other exciting items. In between the gift giving a few groups of students gave some stand out singing performances.

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Around 3 pm everyone joined in on the clean up. Shortly after, the students collected all their treats and presents and got on the school bus. Smiles lasted into the final moments of the day. Asking students how they enjoyed their holiday, the response was almost one in the same, “Really fun!!”. I think all of us who were fortunate enough to take part in the festivities would agree on that!

If you have ever thought about donating or volunteering at one of our centres, please don’t hesitate to visit the volunteer information page on our blog and get in touch, or visit our GlobalGiving donations page here to pick which of our programs you’d like to contribute to. Thank you for reading and for keeping up with what’s going on at DEPDC/GMS, just keeping aware makes a meaningful difference.

International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development

The 5th of December has a significant meaning for DEPDC.  It’s a little-known but very important UN day, the International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development, which has a special place in our hearts here at DEPDC/GMS.

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We are very excited to honor this day as this week we welcome two different groups of volunteers from Kaya based out of the USA. The first group of twelve students, from the University of Missouri, arrived earlier this week. The second group of 14 students, from the University of Maryland, arrived just today.  Over the next couple of weeks these dedicated groups of volunteers will help teach the children English, paint our playground equipment, clean up around the center and, of course, take some breaks to play with the kids!  We are so appreciative of their work and the joy they bring to the children. The center is alive with a lot of hard work and laughter.

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We’d like to commemorate the UN’s day by thanking all the wonderful volunteers we’ve had at DEPDC/GMS from Thailand and abroad over the past 25 years. You’re too many to count, but you all know who you are, and we couldn’t be what nor where we are without all of the help you have given us over the years.

There are so many things that volunteers have done for DEPDC/GMS since it was founded by Khun Sompop, both as groups and as individuals, short-term and long-term. Volunteers have helped to build the Half Day School (HDS), shelters for at-risk persons throughout Northern Thailand and learning centres for hill tribe kids in Mae Chan, just to mention a few. They’ve taught the kids to read, write, cook, sew, build, fix and respect themselves and one another as equal human beings.

And not least of all, they’ve shown the kids and the staff at DEPDC/GMS that there are people all throughout Thailand and around the world who care about them and are willing to come and help them and DEPDC/GMS to make a positive difference in the world. The effect of knowing that there are people who care about you is more profound than people may realise. Especially when you come from a disadvantaged background, knowing that people care and are willing to come and help can make a world of difference.

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If you’ve ever considered getting involved and volunteering, please don’t hesitate to visit the volunteer information page on our blog and get in touch. We always love having more members in our international family, and your help will go further than you can imagine.

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Or if you can’t volunteer but feel like you’d like to make a contribution, please visit our GlobalGiving donations page here to pick which of our programs you’d like to contribute to, like our sustainable agriculture project or our lunch program. Thank you for reading and for keeping up with what’s going on at DEPDC/GMS.

Merry Xmas, Happy New Year, and welcome back to a member of the family!

To all of our wonderful friends around the world who are celebrating the Christmas and New Year period at the moment, we hope you enjoy this holiday season, whatever you’re doing and wherever you are! Family’s a big theme for us here at DEPDC/GMS, and we hope that this message finds you safe and happy with family and friends. From here at the Half Day School, the staff and children all send their love and wish you all the best.

Christmas isn’t particularly big in Thailand and the Thai New Year is in April, but we also have our own reason to celebrate. A former volunteer has come back to rejoin the family! Matt was with us from July 2013 to June 2014 and has come back for two months after finishing the university year back in Australia. He’s always up for a game of soccer with the kids and doesn’t mind being told to cut his hair and shave his face, even though he probably should!

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Matt’s been helping our international volunteer coordinator Jorn teach English, helped prepare the centre at Mae Sai ahead of DEPDC/GMS’s 25-year anniversary, and has been heading down to one of our other centres in Mae Chan on weekends to help out with the kids at the Swimming Home. He can only stick around for two months before he has to go back home to study again, but it’s good to have him back while we can! There are always jobs to be shared around DEPDC/GMS and any extra hands are always welcome.

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He’s been running a new pen pal program with the kids and his friends and family from Australia. It’s been great for the kids to feel so connected with people around the world, and they’ve been really excited to try out the English they learn in class with their Aussie pen pals. It’s great to have volunteers return, it really reinforces the family atmosphere that we try to build and cultivate here at DEPDC/GMS. You never really leave, you’re always a part of the family and you can always come back any time.

You’re also free to join any time! If you’ve ever thought about volunteering, , please don’t hesitate to visit the volunteer information page on our blog and get in touch. Or if you’re thinking about making a donation, please visit our GlobalGiving donations page here to pick which of our programs you’d like to contribute to, like our sustainable agriculture project or our lunch program. Thank you for reading and for keeping up with what’s going on at DEPDC/GMS. All the best and happy holidays!

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