ScandAsia followed along when the Danish Church in Thailand visited Human Help Network Foundation Thailand (HHNFT) at its Learning Center / Asean Education Center (AEC) for migrant children in Pattaya on 8 November, 2023.
The church had been in contact with LEGO, which had agreed to donate toys to the school. With 11 kg of LEGO bricks, as well as clothes, games and homemade waffles, the Church Council set off for Pattaya. Here they were greeted by about a hundred children in their recognizable pink uniforms, who broke into Christmas carols that were clearly well rehearsed, and by a warm staff who welcomed the guests with handmade gifts.
And there’s a very special reason for the pink uniforms.
Pink is a memorable color
HHNFT created a safe shelter in 2014 to house the children of migrant workers who needed a place to stay during the day while their parents were at work. Because unfortunately, there are serious risks when children are left at home – such as kidnapping, abuse and in the worst cases murder, Deputy Director Siromes Akrapongpanich told ScandAsia.
People have previously criticized and questioned why the school has not chosen to prioritize vulnerable Thai children versus migrant children from Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar to name a few. But Siromes explained that this mindset is the mentality of many, and therefore migrant children are often forgotten – and are thus the most vulnerable group.
So HHNFT simply wanted to be the place to take care of this minority. And this brings us to the eye-catching pink color scheme. The bright pink color is meant to remind the children of the school, and thereby serve as a ‘good memory’ in the midst of a perhaps otherwise turbulent childhood.
Lunchtime: Like a family gathering
At school, the children receive a large, free lunch every day. And if there are leftovers, it is sent home with the kids in a lunch box. It’s worth noting that for some children, the meal is the only one they get during the day. The oldest kids help out the youngest ones during lunch with bringing the food to the table. It feels very much like watching a family cooperating with one another in a home.
The kids sit patiently and wait until everybody is ready and placed by a table. Then teachers and kids say a prayer, and lunchtime kickstarts. Children are allowed to eat as much as they please, and when they finish, they get up to play – giving space and time for those who wish to sit for a little longer and eat.
There is simply enough time.
A shelter and a stepping stone
In 2016, it was decided that the site would expand into a school, so the board established a curriculum. One of the first things children learn when they arrive is how to differentiate between good and bad people, hygiene and the difference between safe vs. harmful touches. After their safety has been given value, the children are taught general, theoretical education.
And the result is good. Children who have previously set foot in the school are now doing internships at well-known organizations and have jobs. They now function as role models at the school’s Hall of Fame, to ensure the kids that good opportunities are ahead of them.
In fact, 9 children will receive the school’s first legitimate diplomas in March 2024. Diplomas, that are recognized by Thai authorities and have even earned praise for the children’s achievements.
“They thought we were an international school at first. When we told them that we are a safe shelter for vulnerable migrant children, they were particularly impressed. But there is nothing to brag about. This place is a necessity,” Siromes said.
One might question what good it is, if a child can only stay temporarily due to family moving for work. But to the Deputy Director it is very clear.
“We might not be able to give them a full education. But at least we’ve given them a safe place to stay for two months.”
Everything you see is donations
Since its inception, the entire school has been created entirely on the basis of donations and sponsorships. The biggest partners are German companies such as Lufthansa, who in fact visited the school right after the church.
“Everything you see right now has come from donations. Our volunteers, the building, the uniforms, the chairs. Everything.”
Siromes then explained how the school values sustainability, which is why they make sure to always document its development, so sponsors can see that their donations do make a difference.
Because donations matter. Big or small. They are the ones that shape the school and give something to the children’s daily schooling.
That’s why it matters to the school when the Danish church contributes with clothes and 11 kg of Lego bricks. And that’s why it matters when the Church Council physically shows up and bakes Danish waffles for the school’s children.
Because it’s initiatives like these that keep the school running and allow the children to thrive. And for them to experience that they are not forgotten.