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Category Archives: Local Communities

A Second Chance in the Klongtoey Slums

Young Phet is one of the lucky ones. Now 2 years old, he is being raised by his great-grandmother, and growing up with the stability and support of family.

Phet, 2 years, Second Chance Bangkok

His great-grandmother, Yai Phat (below left) lost two of her sons when they were young. One drowned in the river by the temple at the age of eight. The second, Phet’s grandfather, died of an illness in his twenties and asked her to bring up his baby daughter following his death. Phet is the daughter’s son (again below right).

Yai Phat, Second Chance BangkokPhet with Yai Phat, Second Chance Bangkok

It is stories like Yai Phat’s, and the desire to help those less fortunate than themselves, that inspired Jodie and Chris to move with their daughters in 2007 from Australia to the slums of Klongtoey.

Living in the middle of the largest slum community in Thailand gave them direct experience of the issues and harsh realities people face on a daily basis. They set up Second Chance Bangkok, a shop selling used clothing and household items at the lowest possible price to those who can pay and donating to those who cannot.

Proceeds from the shop generate employment and fund other projects that support families in the slums. These include youth and kids’ clubs, support for children with special needs, education scholarships and medical programmes.

I visited Jodie, Chris and their family (below) to get a glimpse of life in the community.

Jodie & Chris, Second Chance Bangkok

Yai Sanga loves to spend time with Jodie’s daughter, Millie, whenever she can (below). She has lived in the slums for 40 years and watches out for Jodie’s family, keeping an eye on their place when they are away.

Her family lived through the fire that ravaged the slums 13 years ago, rendering her and many other people homeless for years.

Yai Senga & Millie, Second Chance Bangkok

Kaew and Millie are great friends. Kaew lives with his grandmother, Ba Lit, and his three siblings, including his elder sister who is blind as a result of an attempted abortion. His mother is a drug addict and is in prison much of the time, so it falls to Ba Lit to raise the children. She earns money to feed the family by collecting recyclable items from the streets.

Millie & Kaew, Second Chance Bangkok

Grandparents are the backbone of society in the slums. Khun Somsuk rocks his grandson to sleep while his wife naps on the floor.

Somsuk rocking baby, Second Chance Bangkok

We moved away from the house to see the Second Chance Bangkok shop and the extensive work they are doing there. On the way, we encountered this small group singing and playing makeshift instruments on the train line that backs onto the slums.

Music on the train line, Second Chance Bangkok

Khun Noy lives by the rail track and rarely gets further than this bench during the day.

Khun Noy on bench, Second Chance Bangkok

Leaving the train line, we met a group of grandmothers who collaborate to raise an abandoned child from the community (below).  The baby has fallen asleep with a formula milk bottle in his mouth – one of the key causes of rotten teeth among young children across the economically deprived areas of Thailand.

Looking after abandoned baby, Bangkok slums

Increasingly immobile with cancer, Khun Id watches life in the street from his window above.

Khun Id, Bangkok slums

He was watching this little boy, Bang. The boy’s mother, barely a teenager herself, has difficulty meeting her growing baby’s needs. When we stopped to ask about him, we were asked if we’d take him in.

Baby Bang, Bangkok slums

We return to see the mixed groups of local people who congregate in the square outside Jodie’s house in the late afternoon.

Young boys debate the rights and wrongs of the world (below).

Boys debating in the Bangkok slums

Loan sharks are greatly feared and given a wide berth as they wait for their ‘clients’ to return home.

Loan sharks in the Bangkok slums

As we leave, we meet Manao (with her cousin below), who is raised by her alcoholic grandmother.

Manau and her cousin, Bangkok slumsManau in the Bangkok slums

The grandmother accompanies Chris to the Klong Prem Prison each week to visit her son. Chris runs a weekly shuttle, taking people from the community to visit family members there. He also runs a support programme for inmates in the psychiatric unit, and visits prisoners with HIV/Aids.

For more information on Second Chance Bangkok, please visit their website http://www.scbkk.org/, send an email info@scbkk.org or call Jodie on +668 1131 3258.

Thailand Tattoo Festival

Nothing can fully prepare you for the crazed and frenzied activity of the Thailand Tattoo Festival or Wai Khru (‘honour the teacher’) ceremony at Wat Bang Phra temple.

This extraordinary event takes place 50kms west of Bangkok and draws thousands of people each year, most notably those who make a living as policemen, soldiers or members of Thailand’s criminal underworld. The sak yant tattoos from this temple are considered to have magical powers that protect the bearer from knives and guns. People gather to receive new tattoos and recharge the potency of their existing ones. The tattoos are based on Buddhist texts, mythical creatures, and numerology charts.

The next few photographs are inside the temple where people wait patiently to receive tattoos from the monks.

Wat Bang Phra Tattoo Festival, needle to create tattoo

These are created by striking quickly and repeatedly with a long needle.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, creating tattoos

Each monk is assisted by volunteers who hold the skin taut while he works.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand

Another view from above.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, tattoo view from above

Tattoos are popular with laymen (left) and monks (right) alike.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, back tattoosWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, monk tattoos

More tattooing (left), while the man on the right, his tattoos complete, waits for the festival to begin.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, needle creating tattooWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, tattoos on man's back

‘Anyone for rice?’ Crowds stock up from great vats of curry and rice (below) before the festival begins at the auspicious hour of 9.39am.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, making rice

As the crowds grow, many people fall into a trance and become possessed by the spirit of their tattooed image. They charge through the crowd as enraged tigers, monkeys, snakes and other animals (below), letting out roars and cries as they attempt to charge the shrine where senior monks are praying.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, man chargingWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, man roaring

Tension mounts as people contort their faces and bodies into their animal spirit (below), erupting in all directions.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, contorted man in crowd

A man is caught near the stage (left). A mad charge through dense crowds (right).

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, caught by the stageWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, running through the crowds

People are oblivious to anything in their path (below).

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, man running through crowd

Chanting follows and all is calm for some moments (below).

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, men chantingWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, man chanting

The scene then mounts in intensity with a great surge towards the stage. Volunteers and plain clothes policemen seek to calm those who are overcome by the spirit of their tattoos by vigorously rubbing and pinching their ears.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, rubbing ear

The treatment starts to take effect.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, rubbing ear

Until finally the man is calmed.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, rubbing ear, calm now

The festival draws to a close as monks spray holy water from the stage, dispersing the crowd (below left). A man in prayer watches the final moments from a safe distance (below right).

Wat Bang Phra Temple, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, ThailandWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, man praying

Muay Thai Kickboxing

Muay Thai Kickboxing

Saenchai has the presence and charisma of Mohammed Ali. I met him in July 2010 when I photographed the international Muay Thai tournament in Nakhon Pathom Stadium, Thailand. Eight nations were represented: Thailand, Japan, Spain, UK, USA, Iran, France and Germany.

The meticulous preparation had elements of the physical, spiritual and ceremonial. Physical in the oiling, massaging and knuckle-binding; spiritual in rituals such as putting hands together in prayer to attract auspicious energy; ceremonial in the donning of the headband, armbands and garlands before performing the arresting Wai khru Ram Muay dance to show respect to the teachers and trainers before the tournament.

The fights were brutal and suffocating, as one might expect. But more striking were the breathtaking speed, agility, and above all, grace.

The fighter representing Thailand was the charismatic Saenchai, the current World Lightweight Champion who has won the Lumphini Championship in three different weight divisions and is viewed as one of the best Muay Thai fighters in the world. He is a man with tremendous presence, composed and gracious, no movement extraneous, and from the first moment it was clear he was in a class of his very own.

Binding knuckles in preparation for the Muay Thai tournament

Wrists and knuckles of the fighters are bound for protection before the tournament (photo above).

Multiple Lumphini Muay Thai champion, Saenchai, prays for auspicious energy (below left). Fighters wear ceremonial headbands and garlands as they pay respects before the fight (below right).

Saenchai prays for auspicious energy Muay  Thai fighters wear ceremonial headbands and garlands

Saenchai shows his agility in avoiding a powerful kick.

Muay Thai - Saenchai shows his agility

Fighters have a few moments to cool off between rounds.

The English fighter cools down between rounds.

The Japanese opponent attempts to defend himself against Saenchai’s attack.

Attempting to defend against Saenchai's attach

Brutal and claustrophobic combat.

Brutal and claustrophobic combat

Saenchai – charisma and grace in the ring.

Saenchai Muay Thai - charisma and grace

The Iranian champion, is ‘encouraged’ by his coach between rounds.

Encouragement from the coach!

He receives stitches – without anaesthetic – before the final against Saenchai.

Stitches without anasthetic before the final.

The final fight between Thailand and Iran.

Muay Thai Saenchai's winning strikes

Spectators feel the force of the blows (below left and right).

Muay Thai spectator (1)Muay Thai spectator (2)

Saenchai’s winning strike, securing his victory as tournament champion.

Muay Thai Saenchai's winning strike

Seemingly unscathed, Saenchai stands calm and proud in victory.

Muay Thai Saenchai in victoryMuay Thai Saenchai in victory

Pattaya street workers find new beginnings

The day Khun Nok (below right) gave birth to her second baby, she had a choice.  She could send him upcountry to the poverty and hardship she faced as a child and return to work on the streets of Pattaya. Or she could stop working on the streets and keep her son – and therefore sever all contact with her family whose principal interest was the money she earned. In the end she chose the latter.

Khun Nok arrived from Isaan in the North East of Thailand three years ago aged fifteen. Last year, living rough with her first baby and three months pregnant with the next, she came to an orphanage asking them to look after her child so she could return to work on the streets. They introduced her to the Tamar Centre.

Khun Phon runs the card-making centreKhun Nok, mother of two

Everyone has a story to tell.

Khun Phon (above left) suffered cruelty throughout her childhood. A violent marriage followed in which both she and her children were abused. She went to Pattaya, started working on the streets, became an alcoholic and fell into depression. Now her life has changed. She completed the three-month training program at the Tamar Centre and earns a living by running the card-making centre. She knows what it is to have nothing and can offer support and compassion to the people who arrive at the centre. Most important of all, she lives with her children. “For the first time in my life I feel good about myself. I have a good relationship with my children and can be a mum to them now”.

The majority of the prostitutes in Pattaya, a city on the Gulf of Thailand, are single mothers like Khun Phon trying to support their children and families. Others, like Khun Nok, are young girls sent by their parents to earn money and transfer it home. If the parents in their hometown acquire possessions or wealth, the girl is praised and no questions are asked. If not, she is deemed a disgrace and cannot return home.

The Tamar Centre was founded by Nella Davidse, who still runs it today. She told me of its origins. It was opened 1999 by Project Life Foundation and there are now two locations: the Tamar café and training centre in the shopping district, and the Outreach Centre in one of Pattaya’s most notorious bar streets.

The objectives of the organisation are two-fold: to provide a new life and purpose for girls on the streets in Pattaya, and to educate their families in the villages of Isaan, north east Thailand. The latter involves prevention centres that educate relatives as to the realities of life on the streets in order to stem the flow of young girls arriving for work.

At dusk I set off with Nella to capture life at night. The centre wanted photographs that they could use for fund-raising and for educating the families. We arrived as people were preparing for work and stayed to document an evening in Pattaya.

Preparing for work, PattayaGirls preparing for work, streets of Pattaya

Street workers in Pattaya, Thailand

The Outreach Centre in Soi 6 (known as “soi sex”) has a hair and beauty salon, which is run by Khun Jing and Khun Fa (below), now fully trained beauticians. It offers a constant presence to the 600 prostitutes working in the 60-odd bars on soi 6 and a reminder that there is help and a way out.

Beauticians in the Outreach Centre, Pattaya

The centre provides counselling and advice, health check-ups for pregnant women, and free English classes three afternoons a week.

Free English classes for street workers in PattayaTeaching English at the Outreach Centre, Pattaya

The main Tamar Centre runs a three-month program for women who have left prostitution. They are given professional training in baking, cooking, hairdressing, card making, sewing, and computer studies. Graduates of the program are offered jobs in the centre or given assistance to find the equivalent work outside.

The food in the bright and immaculate cafe on the ground floor is fresh and delicious and the baking irresistible. Who could say no to a thick slice of apple pie or Snicker cheesecake?

Tamar Cafe, PattayaTamar Cafe cheesecake, Pattaya

Chocolate Brownies bring happiness to all!

Making chocolate brownies at Tamar Cafe, Pattaya

Khun Nittaya chops fresh vegetables in the pristine kitchen.

Preparing vegetables at the Tamar Cafe, Pattaya

The crèche on the third floor of the centre provides childcare through the day for the babies and toddlers, and after-school care for the older children. The mothers and children live nearby in sheltered housing provided by the Centre.

Children at the creche, Tamar Centre, PattayaChildren at the creche, Tamar Centre, Pattaya

Khun Nok's baby, Tamar Centre, PattayaBaby at creche in the Tamar centre, Pattaya

Girl, 7 years at creche in Tamar Centre, Pattaya

Everyone we spoke to expressed the same sentiments: they are now providing for their children and living life in a way that gives them purpose, self-respect and hope for the future.

And Khun Nok? She is blooming and full of life, and as she blooms, so do her children. They are all learning to smile, to laugh easily, to feel safe. Best of all, Nok is learning to dream – to dream of a better future for herself and her children.  She’s applied to an adult education centre in Pattaya and begins studies this October. Nok has hope now, and because of that hope, everything is possible.

Khun Nok and her son

Please note all names have been changed.

Further details are available at http://projlife.com/tamarcenter/ or visit the delicious Tamar Bakery & Restaurant at 124/130-131 M.10 Thirdroad, Pattaya, +66 (0)38 415 432.

Hope for the Elderly in the Bangkok Slums

Funny how you can see someone on a weekly basis for almost a year and have no idea what they do for a living. So it was with Linda Herrmann who I knew from choir, who is director of Project Life, a Bangkok slum charity in Thailand that seeks to help the poor and vulnerable of Thailand.

As part of Project Life, Ruth Centre was opened only two years ago as a place that provides support and community for the elderly across ten slums on the outskirts of Bangkok.  Conceived, created and run by the inspiring Khun Noi, the centre’s purpose is to bring previously isolated people together in self-supporting communities.  Khun Noi and her team visit over 200 people in the local slum communities once a week or more.

Khun Noi from the Ruth Centre visiting Khun Yai Buang

Khun Yai (grandmother) Buang is 72 years old, seriously ill and has no hope of recovery.  Isolated and lonely she had lost the will to live until The Ruth Centre re-united her with her daughter, who now takes care of her.  Khun Noi visits regularly to chat and read books to Khun Yai Buang, an event she loves and looks forward to every week.

Khun Noi offers support and comfort Support and new hope for Khun Yai Buang

Earning an income for Khun Yai Sanom, 73 years, consists of collecting rubbish from the local streets and dumps in the community to sell whatever she can.  A diabetes sufferer, she is nevertheless somewhat fortunate in that she receives a government pension of ThB 500 per month (US $18), which she supplements with around ThB 100 (US$3) in garbage sales.  “I may be 72years old, but I’m still beautiful” she exclaimed.

"I may be old but I'm still beautiful!"The home of K Yai Sanom

Khun Yai Sanom

Songkran, or Thai New Year, was approaching, and Khun Yai Faa was mending a sarong she wanted to wear for the celebrations.   Left by her husband many years ago, she has struggled with alcoholism and TB for much of her life.  With the help of the Ruth Centre she’s been doing much better and recently rediscovered her love for reading; ‘especially history books’.    Asked if she minded having her photograph taken she replied ‘chawp mahk!’ (I love it!) with gusto.

Khun Yai Faa in her home in the slumsK Yai Faa examines her sarong for the Songkran celebrationsRe-discovering her love for history books!

Another regular stop for Khun Noi is to Khun Somjit’s home, where his grandson lay on the ground and could not be awakened during our 20 minute visit. K Noi  provides support and help to keep his place clean and hygienic, a task that he finds almost insurmountable.

K Somjit and his grandson in their home

K Somjit in his home in the Bangkok slumsK Somjit

A husband and wife team were preparing food for their local catering business as we passed. ‘We’re both good cooks so we just take it in turns.’

"We're both great cooks!"

On our way back to the centre, we walked past a group of kids who were playing on a pristine pool table. A resourceful father in the community had saved up and bought it to rent out as a source of income.  Of course, it also has the added benefit of providing a place for the kids to gather through the day and hone their (admirable!) skills.

Pool fun in the slums of Bangkok

Planning the next shotAnother cracking shot!

Volunteers at Ruth Centre work without judgement or financial reward, providing support and a measure of dignity for the most vulnerable people in society.

Please note all names have been changed.

Working Communities in Bangkok Chinatown

Mr Heng in Bangkok Chinatown is a most welcoming man. Not content with serving me home made juice and bottles of water, he took great care to brew and serve some reviving Oolong tea… perfectly timed at the point where I had grown weary and wandered down an enticing alleyway and towards his mechanic shop. He beckoned me inside, observing quickly that I looked tired (why keep such observations to yourself, after all?). We drank copious cups of tea while attempting to communicate in my extremely limited Thai. The tea kept flowing and I was most grateful for the opportunity to rest for a while.

Mr Heng serving tea in China Town, Bangkok

Starting this week I set out with a project in mind to photograph ‘Local Communities’. My aim: to capture portraits and images of diverse groups and communities, from people within a specific locality, to various social and cultural gatherings which thrive within the Big Mango. I chose to start with working communities in the backstreets of Chinatown, Bangkok.

It was fresh and clear on Monday morning as I headed purposefully towards my destination. Many people in Bangkok will be familiar with the main thoroughfares of Chinatown and I’ve certainly had my share of trawling shopping streets and eateries there. This time, I wanted to wander freely and discover quiet alleyways and hidden gems away from the noise and bustle of the main street. These narrow arteries are still madly industrious. No dull, utilitarian workspace here, but a vibrant blend of strong and vibrant colours and smells.

Along the way, I captured a few irresistible images of the fabulous colours around me.  For starters, a man in royal blue polo shirt, under a royal blue awning, fringed by royal blue shutters on either side of his shop. Man in blue, Chinatown, Bangkok

Another man wearing a dark red sweatshirt, working directly in front of a perfectly matched painted wall. And another in an oily blue shirt fixing an oily blue engine – with matching oily blue bucket placed strategically in the foreground.

Man in oily blue, Bangkok ChinatownMan in red, Chinatown, Bangkok

Then, just as I’d settled into the theme of matching colours I spotted an exhausted welder seated between brilliant green shutters, wearing an even brighter and more brilliant pink top.  Fabulous.Pink man between green shutters, Chinatown, Bangkok

How easily people break into a smile and humour the ‘farang’ with the camera, Thailand must be one of the most welcoming and tolerant places on earth.Man laughing leaning against green shutter, Bangkok Chinatown Woman on red chair, Bangkok ChinatownLaughing man in blue shirt, Bangkok Chinatown

This lady didn’t speak but seemed keen to be photographed. When I asked her if this was ok, she simply moved towards me with a friendly smile. I took that to be a ‘yes’ and she seemed most pleased with the results."Go on then, take a picture!" Old lady smiling in Bangkok Chinatown

I found Mr. Achoon sitting on his chair at a busy intersection. He was a remarkably engaging and spritely character for his eighty-five years.Mr Achoon, Bangkok ChinatownMr Achoon in yellow chair, Bangkok Chinatown

What a pleasant way to start a project on Local Communities. And what better setting than the richly diverse and colourful working communities of Bangkok China Town.