This Just In

December 11th, 2011 No comments

I know I said the last one would be the last post, but there is just this one more.

What a racket. People outside my house are banging on pots and pans. Firecrackers, some of them pretty big, are going off all over town. Add told me earlier but I forgot, it’s an eclipse of the moon. We’re up later than usual because of last minute packing for Myanmar, so we went out with the binoculars and sure enough…

A number of people from Add’s village, about 100 miles east of us, called Add to warn her to stay indoors tonight. There’s some tradition here that if a pregnant woman is out under an eclipse of the moon her child will have mental problems. Add does not subscribe to that belief, but her village neighbors were frantic and extracted promises from her. Add does believe in keeping those and so stayed indoors.

As soon as the eclipse reached its maximum the noise stopped. Sue and I enjoyed seeing this and no mental problems have turned up with us yet, although I think I’ll keep Sue under observation for awhile.

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In the Village

December 10th, 2011 No comments

Some of Mae Chan’s girls by her house. House one is behind it to the left. The wood pole sticking up on the left is to hold the line for temporary power for construction of the fourth house up off the road.

This is the last post for a month. Sue and I leave for Bangkok tomorrow morning to meet up with Gayle and Keith from Australia. We leave for Myanmar the 14th where Gayle and Sue will be training Buddhist monks and World Vision teachers in elementary school teaching methods.

I was just out at 7 this morning to run on the foundation road in the village. I can only run for a half hour now because of Achille’s tendon issues, and have to do some stretching exercises the doctor gave me before I run. The front steps and railings of our second house, Mae Chan’s house, are perfect for those exercises.

Mae Chan
Mae Chan

I talked briefly with Mae Chan as she left on her motorbike to help out at the school of some of her girls. Mae, say “ae” as “a” in “apple”, means “mother” in Thai, and that is just what she is. She has been with us the longest as a mother really loves her 7, soon to be 8 girls. They love her and are very secure with her. Of our families, hers has been together the longest and it does show. The girls really behave to each other as sisters.

We train our mothers to be just that, mothers, not only caregivers. Our girls learn that the chief authority in their life is not our staff psychologists and social workers, not our managing director or any other director, but their mother. No one can make an end run around their mother and ask the chairman of the board, who they see often, to get what they want.

Mae Chan’s life has not been an easy one, but it has made her tough as nails. Her girls get a great deal of freedom because all know the limits and have the safety and security of their home as a base for reaching out into life, and a mother that nothing gets past unless it should.

Mae Ui had just finished cleaning the third house. I thought it was already pretty clean, but oh well… Mae Ui and her girls move into it from the first house tomorrow, I think. The first house will become our new foundation office as well as our new crisis center under Mae Noi. We still have 4 girls with Mae Pai at a rental house. Walai says we can start our fourth house for them in our village when Sue and I get back from Myanmar in January.

The first house will be the temporary quarters for our foundation office until our main building. This building is not scheduled but should be coming in a year or two. In the meantime Walai claims she can get all our office, 8 desks of which 5 are the big wrap around type, along with some tables and cabinets into just the front bedroom in house one leaving the rest of the house for our crisis center. Our bedrooms are big, and Walai has proved very capable in all other matters, but I wonder if even she can pull that off. We’ll see when we get back.

Things really are coming together. It is so nice to be out at the village. It is in town but away from it at the same time. Very quiet. Sue and I will miss it until we come be back in a month.

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A Gala Event

December 9th, 2011 No comments

Girls from Nang Rong High School perform traditional Thai dance.

Any event in Thailand where I have to wear a dress coat is by definition a gala event. Our foundation was invited to the farewell dinner for the Nai Amphoe, the departing head for Nang Rong district, which contains Nang Rong city. The district head is somewhat like a county commissioner in the U.S. except that in Thailand there is only one, and his function and visibility within the district is quite a lot more than it would be in the U.S.

Volunteer Amanda presents roses to the wife
of the Nai Amphoe

It was a large dinner, outdoors as nearly all eating is in Nang Rong, served Chinese style. There were well over a hundred tables and we were originally at table 97. When we got there we discovered that someone had us moved up to table 11 near the front. Good thing we dressed up.

The guest of honor even remembered our names and greeted us at our table.

The whole thing was a bit long with a number of speeches . Fortunately none by any of us. There was also presentation of small gifts and entertainment. At our table were our volunteer Amanda, managing director Walai, director Tassani, our accountant Pissamai, Sue and myself.

So, is our foundation becoming political? As a foundation in Thailand we can’t, and don’t, take any position on political issues. We do, however, work closely with the government on many issues. The police bring abused women and girls of all ages to us for temporary and long term protection. We work with the government hospital, having some of our current residents referred to us from there. We remain on good terms with the head of social services of Buriram province who is also our former board member. The government shelters in Buriram, Surin and other provinces refer cases and people to us as well as ask our professional staff to investigate some of the cases coming to them for which we might be better suited. Our board member Tassani is well known in educational circles in our province and the Thai nation. There’s more, but that’s what comes to mind right now.

Tassani and myself presenting flowers to the Nai Amphoe.

So while not political we are on a “first name basis” with many government officials and offices, and will do our part to keep it that way.

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Harvest Time

December 8th, 2011 1 comment

Rice harvester on our low lying land. Our three child homes are in the background to its left.

After buying our 28 acres in Nang Rong, we raised about 40% of it about a meter and a half higher to match the level of the town surrounding us. This is where we’ll be building for the next few years. The other 60% is still at its original level and is still good for growing rice. We had a number of acres planted this year and finally got the rice harvester to visit us last Sunday. We took out some of the rice to feed our foundation families and sold the rest for the equivalent $1500.00 US. We’ll not get rich at that rate, but everything helps.

Yai Op, one of our elderly residents, with her garden area. She wants to make sure her granddaughter, also with us, eats right. A corner of our fish farm pond is in back of her.

In addition to the rice, we are growing vegetables right by where we are growing fish in our pond. The vegetables are nearly ready, but the fish harvest will wait until next year when they are bigger. We grow vegetables for our own people, but will probably be selling some fish next year.

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Another Blog about O.F.

December 8th, 2011 1 comment
Add and Amanda

Add, my daughter in law is in Nang Rong now. She hoped to join Nathan here but due to the unpredictability of the IRS, which employs Nathan, he is back in the U.S. already. They did have a week together before Add came. She needs to renew her passport and Thai national ID card, not to mention visit her parents who she has not seen for 6 years. Add returns to the US at the end of January. She is due in May when we will be back in Texas to see our newest grandchild.

She is currently visiting us. She is over at the foundation office right now helping Sue teach an English lesson. In fact, I have to interrupt this to go get them both, along with our volunteer Amanda for a trip to the new “big box store” of Nang Rong, Hokee. Back in an hour or so….

Since August most of our English teaching has been done by Amanda, our 22 year old volunteer from Texas. She will be here until mid February and is doing a great job. She did take six weeks off to go to India with Sue. You can read all about all this in Amanda’s blog. She’s been keeping it up since before she came to Thailand. I just found out about it yesterday. To get another point of view click here to see all the details, with pictures!

In Mae Ui’s house Amanda shows some pictures on her computer. Sue to the left. Yai Et, one of our elderly, to the right.

I’m not sure just any American could come over and work and live at our foundation like Amanda does, but it has certainly worked out well for her. She fits in great and does a great job living with people who speak only a very small amount of English. We do have some English speakers around here at the foundation, but none living in the foundation homes, except for Amanda. Add will be spending time out there now that she is here, however, and several are applying to come as volunteers before Amanda leaves.

One place her blog disagrees with mine is about mosquitoes. We hardly ever see them where I live in Nang Rong, but they do seem to have more at the foundation property lately. I think this is due partly to the wet rice fields which are just now dried out since the harvest. The other part is due to lack of screen doors on her house, which I will look into fixing tomorrow. It is still not up to the level of my son’s backyard in Austin Texas, but I think we can improve things even so.

I thought it humorous how Amanda was determined to pack her rain boots for Thailand. They must have taken up a lot of room. We don’t use boots here unless we are up to our knees in mud in a wet rice field. Otherwise we just have sandals. Your feet might get a bit wet, but they dry and it’s warm here. I’ll ask her today whether she has had any occasion to use them.

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Thailand Flood Assistance III

November 15th, 2011 No comments

“The prime minister said the “big-bag barrier” must stay, and ordered more pumps to the scene – but 200 Don Muang residents defied her and opened a six-metre gap in the wall to try to drain 20 housing estates.” – Bangkok Post 14 Nov 2011.

Repacking aid bags is nearly finished. The entire back of our office is full of them too.

The flood is still going on, and no one is sure how long it will continue. Various authorities have been making statements for the last month and most of them have turned out to be wrong. Sue comes into Bangkok airport on the 21st. I hope it is still open then. We have to get our Myanmar visa then. Will the consulate be closed due to flooding? Pretty hard to make plans. The stores are running out of all kinds of things.

Two days ago we left on our second trip to aid flood victims, taking the aid I already talked about . This time we went due west from Nang Rong to the south western part of Lop Buri province, near its capital city. Roads on the direct route were flooded, so we detoured quite a ways to the north and circled around, finally heading south east as we came in. We left Nang Rong at 11 PM. The GPS estimated we would arrive around 2:30 AM. We pulled in at 6.

On the way in we had to go slowly since the roads, being higher than most of the rest of the land, were taken up from one side to the centerline by various tents and other temporary structures. Some people were living out on the roads, others just moved all their refrigerators, motor bikes and anything else they did not want under water out there. I saw a lot of nice furnture items also. I hope the rains, which now are dying out, haven’t ruined them.

This was organized by the schools and teachers in the Nang Rong area, with assistance from our foundation. Our board member Tassanee is one of the main leaders of the local teachers associations and was the primary organizer of this event, just as she was of the one before. We used a large school song taew, like the one in a previous post, to transport the aid packages.

Another teacher from our area, a friend of Tassanee, has relatives in the middle of the flooded area. They are fortunate to have a large home on a raised area which has not been hit even though their next door neighbors were. That was where we distributed the aid packages to the people of two villages.

Our large truck could not come in here over the bridge, so we transferred half our load to three pickups. One is already empty in this picture.

We’re driving on the wrong side on the way to the second two villages. The road is a spillway with water flowing to the right, over the bank and into a canal.

After that we drove a short distance to another village area and distributed the rest of our aid bags to two more villages. Good order was kept by the village heads. They each had a list and checked off each family receiving aid. Bags were set aside for elderly and others who could not come to the distribution site.

Nothing is flatter than a rice field, so when they flood the whole area for miles is under water. Many homes built at the edge of the fields looked to be lake front property at first glance. We saw this from a longtail boat that took us out to view some of the flooded area. They only slowed a little when they crossed the roads, since those are usually the highest part of the land.

Lake front community? Partially flooded village. The expanse of water in the forground covers their rice fields.

Communities all over on the outside have been responding and taking aid into the flooded areas. Our area teachers are just one such. I did notice a Seven Eleven store just a few miles from where we gave out our aid had as much on its shelves as those in the Nang Rong area do. A lot of the major commercial supply lines are still working. If those trucks, which were coming into the area anyway, could have brought the aid it would have been so much more efficient. That is similar to what I heard about Hurricane Katrina in the US. The Walmart supply chain was working fine. When government aid and law enforcement officials needed supplies, they just went and bought them at Walmart.

Whether efficient or not, Thai people seem glad to help each other. The waters rise and fall slowly. People are rarely swept away. It’s fortunate not to have the large loss of life that is becoming familiar with the tsunamis and cyclones in this area. Still, a huge proportion of the Thai population will take a severe economic hit, and they don’t have insurance anything like we do in the US.

Certainly disaster relief is not the main function of Opportunity Foundation. It’s not anywhere in our charter. During this time in Thailand everyone who can is helping those in trouble. There is no reason our foundation should be any different.

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Are We Really Doing Good? II

November 13th, 2011 No comments

Child (and elderly) labor exploitation? Four of our girls and one elderly preparing a dish for dinner.

This is a continuation of the previous post. It is a lot longer than I thought it would be. Again, sorry for the length. I’m just answering all the points the ThinkChildSafe site lists. Again, if it is not in red, I did not say it!

Orphanages should be a last resort option for children in need. If children are to be placed temporarily in an orphanage, how can it ensure that it works in the best interest of the child? Here is a set of questions to help you evaluate the intentions of orphanages:

Note most of our girls are not with us temporarily.

Is the orphanage legally registered with the government?

Orphanages should disclose if they are registered with their national authority. This is an important process as all registered orphanages are bound to uphold the national minimum standards of care for children in their facility. They are also subject to a process of inspection by the government authority to monitor the standards.

We are registered with the government. The annual reports you see on our website are produced for and filed with the Thai government. Come into our office or look on our website and you will see a number of documents that register us as a foundation under Thai law. Government inspectors have been out to our office and to our village on various occasions with never an issue raised.

Does the orphanage have a child protection policy?

A lot of orphanages do not have child protection policies in place to ensure the safety and well-being of children in their care. Without a child protection policy, abuses of children may go undetected. It is important that orphanages can demonstrate that they have made attempts to safeguard children from dangers and vulnerabilities. In addition to this it is also important that children are aware of their own rights in the orphanage.

We do have a policy, adapted from that of the Thai government. You can see it on our website in English.

Are visitors allowed to just drop in and have direct access to children without supervision?

Allowing visitors to have direct contact with children can place children at risk especially when visitors are unsupervised. Good organizations have policies in place to protect children and should not allow visitors to just drop in and have access to children. Visitors to an orphanage should never be left alone with children or allowed to take the children away from the orphanage unattended. Allowing visitors to the center may result in a pattern of grooming whereby children begin to trust all visitors to the center, this makes children vulnerable to abuse from visitors with ill intentions.

No, you can’t just drop in and see our kids. You will go through our office psychologists and social workers before you will meet our kids and parents.

Background checks should be conducted for all staff and volunteers interacting with children. Orphanages who allow people to walk in off the street with no background checks and interact with children are not protecting the children in their facility.

We require background checks. Volunteers who work with kids in their home country may already have had a check done that we can use.

Are children required to work or participate in securing funds for the orphanage?

Children residing in orphanages should in no way be used to promote or secure funds for the orphanage. Children should never be used as a promotional tool, be required to dance, sing, to make or sell products as a way of increasing revenue for the orphanage. This is child exploitation, child labor and violates children’s rights and personal safety. By forcing children to engage in revenue rising they are being groomed to participate in the methods used for begging and street work that renders children even more vulnerable to exploitation.

Our children do work. There is school work, of course. They wash their own clothes, help with cooking and cleaning, etc. Beyond that, no. We’re looking into letting interested children raise fruit trees or do other activities on village property. If any money is earned in such endeavors the child would keep it. If it is sufficient we might require some placed into a school fund for the child – we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I should add that, having been over for dinner a lot, food prep is hard work. We use almost entirely fresh food from the local markets. There is a lot of washing, slicing, cooking, etc. Last night I sat on our child home’s spacious back porch kitchen and watched as mother Uie was stir frying vegetables, two girls were over at the counter washing vegetables, two more sat on the floor with sausages on the large propane grill – they were singing a song they learned either at school or church – and an elderly lady was slicing vegetables (She is really fast!) at the table in the middle of the room. Even my son Nathan was pressed into service forming the rice balls to be stir fried. I just barely escaped having to work myself.

Is there long-term, trained and well-supervised staff?

Children who are living in outside the family unit often have complex needs and require specialist staff to accommodate these needs. Continuity of staff is important for children to attach and bond with a single caregiver. Where possible a constant caregiver should be appointed to attend to the child’s daily needs promoting consistency and secure attachments to caregivers. Supervision of staff assures that they are upholding the rights of the child and that any difficulties they encounter are met and addressed. Orphanages that rely on foreign volunteers and staff undermine children’s needs for developing long term and meaningful relationships.

Our staff is quite adequate. Our longer term working volunteers provide enrichment, often English education and practice. We easily run without volunteers, but the kids enjoy them when they are here.

Are sibling groups kept together?

It is important that children are not separated from their siblings. Children should have the opportunity to live and stay in small family environments where they have the chance to bond with caregivers and their siblings. Consistency of care is important to children in creating long and lasting relationships. Remaining with siblings also allows children to stay connected to their cultural and family roots whilst they are separated from their families.

Sibling groups are kept together unless the government takes some but not others out of a family. So far for us a splitting of a family has been a government decision, not ours. We do foster girls however, so we may someday have to receive a girl but not her brother from a family. Assuming the brother is not the cause of the abuse, we will do what we can to maintain relationships in those cases. Once we found an elderly woman with her little grandaughter living in the direst of circumstances. We took the child into our child home. We also took the grandmother. Both are with us now and doing great.

Does the orphanage have an active family reunification program?

Are orphanages actively involved in maintaining relationships with living family members so that children can rejoin their family and community? Orphanages should be encouraging community alternatives such as kinship care and foster care above institutionalized care. Orphanages should be able to demonstrate how they are actively exploring family and community care options for children residing in their orphanage. In Cambodia, the government released Minimum Standards of Care as part of its alternative care policy that explicitly states that all orphanages must actively seek family and community alternatives for children living in institutionalized care.

The children we get are true orphans or have been abused in their family sufficiently that the government has removed them. Nearly all of the abuse cases we get can never go back. We do support children visiting their relatives where it makes sense and they are not terrified of going back.

If babies come up for our preadoption care we first try to convince the families, if available, not to give them up. We have not received any babies into our care lately. The last three expectant mothers that wanted to give up their babies went through our process wound up keeping them.

Is the orphanage located in the same community that the child previously lived in?

Displacement of children from their community of origin reduces the chances of the child being reintegrated into his or her community. It also causes disruption of daily routines such as continuity of education, culture and social life and ties. It is important for children to remain connected with their families and community for healthy mental and social development.

We are one of the very few foundations located in the Isaan area of Thailand. Most of our girls come from a 50 km radius around us, and they do visit their home area when that makes sense for them. The vast majority of foundations in Thailand are located in Bangkok or the major cities, and so cannot serve our area as well as we can.

Is the orphanage set up to replicate family living or small groups?

It is important for a child’s development and life after living in institutionalized care to be provided with the opportunity to learn the life skills that come from residing in a small family environment. A small family environment models essential life skills such as cooking, cleaning, how to interact with adults, managing a budget etc. These skills are essential for young adults in learning to live independently from their families. Some children living in orphanages who lack this stimulation become institutionalized and are unable to be an active participant in life outside the orphanage. Living in a small family environment gives children an opportunity to create meaningful relationships with adults and strong bonds with other children.

A small family life is important! We build nice single story child homes. While they live in a regular home our girls also live right in Nang Rong city, the second largest city in our province. They go to school just like the other kids. They’re becoming pretty normal children.

Does the orphanage respect and accommodate children’s background and religious beliefs?

Each child has the right to practice his or her own religious and cultural beliefs. In no way should a child be persuaded or unduly pressured to practice a religion other then his or her own in line with cultural beliefs. Real and meaningful steps should be taken to ensure that a child can practice his/her own religion and cultural beliefs. This may include, but is not limited to, access to religious sites, interaction with religious and cultural leaders, and a specialized or modified diet.

Religious beliefs are respected. Children go to church or to the wat as they wish. Thailand is pretty laid back about religion, so this is not the issue here that it might be in some other countries.

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Are We Really Doing Good?

November 13th, 2011 No comments

I ran across several websites lately that say a lot worth knowing. The overall message is that “good intentions are not enough” when giving aid and supporting charities. I agree that in many cases, many more than most realize, your donation money can actively do harm, from suppressing local businesses all the way to getting innocent people killed. I’m aware of how the latter is happening right now in Myanmar with the unwitting support of US donors.

Sue, myself and some of my sons have been in donation or volunteer situations where we finally realized we were not doing any good. Fortunately we have not been in involved in anything that caused harm, unless wasting money and time can be called that.

I’m working on posts to address this in relation to the good work for which we all have the best of intentions: Opportunity Foundation Thailand. Are we really doing more good than harm? Can we minimize the harm? Maximize the good? Our girls who have any family left were indeed pulled out of that family. Was that the best choice? Isn’t there a way they could have stayed?

I’ll list the questions and answers I find on some of these sites and then add answers specific to us in red. The ThinkChildSafe site is one of the more blatant, saying you should never visit an overseas orphanage. The result will always be bad. They list, in gory detail, the reasons for this. I will answer their list in the same gory detail, so it will take this and another post. Stop reading if you get bored. I just did not want to leave anything out!

Before visiting or volunteering in an orphanage consider the following questions:

How do I harm children by visiting an orphanage?

Many orphanages rely almost entirely on donations from visitors to survive. Thus directors may purposefully maintain poor living conditions for children to secure funds from tourists. Children who appear under served may come across as a cry for help more than children who appear well fed and cared for. This of course places guilt on tourists if they do not help immediately. By visiting orphanages and making a donation you may be fueling a system that exploits children.

Donations from visitors is a very small fraction of our budget. Our living conditions are good. I would not hesitate to have my own grandchildren living in our child homes, which are larger, more open, have more natural light and are better quality than the home I rent for Sue and myself here. Full disclosure: One difference is that I have air con. Our child homes do not. Our girls don’t like it. Our elderly would not live with us if we had it. However incoming power and breaker boxes are adequate if conditions and lifestyles in Thailand change enough.

Back Porch Kitchen in one of our child homes. Our girls live in a good environment. Our oldest resident far left. Next to right is our HIV mother. Next is our youngest resident and finally our part time cook.

In my own country would I consider visiting a shelter for children during the course of my day?

Most people would never consider going to an orphanage, shelter or residential home in their own countries. Why? An orphanage is a child’s home and they have the right to privacy in this space. Orphanages are not zoos and tourists should not be allowed to move through their home. In most developed countries this would be a clear violation of children’s rights and there are laws to protect them from such exploitation. Children in developing countries are no different from those in the developed world. They should be afforded the same basic rights.

I have visited an orphanage in the U.S. They are glad to have visitors. Sue and I have always been glad to have visitors from many countries in our own home. Our kids learned a lot from them. Could that be why one son married a girl in central India (a relative of one of our visitors) and another married a girl who grew up on a rice farm in Thailand? (After about ten years both young families are still doing great.) Visitors are great in moderation and if handled properly. So far ours have been few. If that changes we may start refusing requests.

Is my contribution sustainable?

Investing in the future of Cambodian children is a valuable contribution. Investing in Cambodian families is also a valuable pursuit. Projects that aim towards strengthening community-based work provides the conditions under which alternative options may be offered to children and their families. A sustainable contribution should be aimed at breaking inter generational cycles of poverty and exploitation.

Projects with results lasting for generations are great. There is much in our local society that should be changed, and we do have community based projects to do just that. At the end of the day we still have this generation, our girls. Caring for them may not be a “community based project”, but it does need to be done.

Orphanages do not offer a long-term sustainable response to the situation of vulnerable children. By investing in families and communities we are laying the foundation for better conditions for children.

Now this is not making sense. We need no “orphanages” in Thailand? Just fix the local society? Why do we have the foster home situation, which I think is much worse than our homes, in the US? Can’t we “invest in families and communities” and eliminate the problem there? Some people just abuse their kids. You can’t leave them in their family and community.

The children that do come to us to live are taken care of for the long term, through higher education as applicable. We also work with families and our community. We do agree that the child’s own family, if not abusive, is best. Unfortunately for most of our girls, reuniting with their original family will not happen. Even if we would allow it the Thai government would not.

Understand that I essentially agree with these sites. What they say is good information for anyone wanting to help people to know. You should read them. They show that there are few ways to do good things right and many to do them wrong. Don’t ever think giving money or effort away is easier than making money. It isn’t.

My next post will handle the rest of Thinkchildsafe’s issues.

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Thailand Flood Assisitance II

November 10th, 2011 No comments

Grades 1 through 6 lined up in front of the Thai flag and Buddha statue. Every school day starts like this.

Nathan made it back to Nang Rong this evening. Two days ago there was no flooding in the Mo Chit bus station area. Yesterday it was knee deep and nothing could go in it. This morning the water was down enough to be passable while it had gotten worse in other areas. The route from Bangkok to Nang Rong was dry most all the way, but it was a very different way that he had never been before, and several hours slower.

Overall, I think the flooding is getting worse in Bangkok, and may steadily do so for a few more weeks. Different parts of the city are at slightly different levels, however, so water will slosh from one part to another. What amazes me is that, since the one that flooded Don Muang airport, I have heard of no further incidents of people tearing down dikes that made flooding worse in their area in order to save a location the government deemed more important. There are a lot of such dikes and pumps like that in Bangkok right now. What if someone told you that the water was going to come a meter high into your neighborhood, but instead they needed to build a dike and make it two meters high in order to protect the business district next door? The previous post gives a good summary of the flood and its causes.

Some of the donations from this school. Parents and others were still dropping stuff off while we were there.

Like last time our board member Tasanee Lapimai is helping with another flood relief effort for the area due west of us and north of Bangkok. This is in the south central part of the Chao Phraya watershed shown on the first map in my previous blog entry. We are still getting flood relief supplies dropped off at the foundation office. Typically they are dropped off by a couple of teachers in a pickup truck bringing items donated at their schools, but some are from individuals who stop by. Tasanee and I drove about 30 km east to a school in the Prakon Chai area to pick up their donations. Their donations, part shown in the picture, completely filled her pickup with more stuffed in the back of the cab.

School starts with the students lining up in front of the classrooms, raising the flag and listening to a short speech. They told me it is this way every day. The only difference was that flood relief and the school’s efforts was the speech topic today. Tasanee and I each said something also. I think the students appreciate me because my Thai is still shaky enough that I make sure to quit while I’m ahead, making for a very short speech.

I think Thais like to surround things like the giving of aid with a lot of ceremony and photographing because they are part of the Buddhist tradition making merit. To a lesser degree we do the same in the U.S. although some of our traditions say we should keep it down.

Tomorrow we load all the stuff up into a borrowed truck and leave for the flood area. I’ll tell how it turns out when we get back.

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Bangkok Flooding

November 8th, 2011 No comments

Watersheds in SE Asia. The flooding comes in the Chao Phraya one in central Thailand. Notice how neatly it all drains through the Bangkok area.

You have probably seen a number of news reports by now of the Thailand floods. Maybe you read my recent post about some of our flood relief work. It is pretty unusual, especially the flooding of much of Bangkok, with maybe more yet to follow. A city of 10 million or more covers quite a lot of ground. Many parts of Bangkok have up to 6 feet of water now. All over the country about 500 people have died (most from electrocution, not drowning), which is not so many when you consider how many millions are affected. It is good that the water has come on slowly with some warning rather than all at once as it did a few years ago next door when cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar.

This number may go way up. Many people in Bangkok will not leave their homes. They may end up stranded on an upper floor, however. It may be hard for it to sink in that areas could remain flooded for a MONTH or more. This is not just a few people. There is no reliable estimate, but I believe it is in the ten or even hundred thousands. What will they do for food and clean water? There will be none to be had in many areas even if they can get out of their house. There have been many floods in many places in the world, but the scale of this one is really unusual.

An awful lot of Thailand, especially the central area around and north of Bangkok, is pretty flat and very close to sea level. Water can drain from it to the ocean, but it can take a long time to do it. They day may not be too far off when Bangkok, which is slowly sinking, will build dikes to keep the sea back like in the Netherlands.

Forests in SE Asia. Central Thailand does not have much forest to soak up the rain.

I think that, at least theoretically, much of the flooding could have been prevented. While I have not researched this much, this is what I have heard. The flooding appears to be caused by:

1. Much of the old forests, which could have soaked up some of the water, have been cut over the years so there is more runoff now, especially from the central low lying area, Bangkok and north of Bangkok, that is more built up. That’s where a lot of the flooding is now.

2. There are a number of dams in Thailand. I can find data seven years ago that 11.5% of the country’s power was hydroelectric. I think it’s just a bit more now. For best power generation, you want full reservoirs to take you through the dry season which starts mid October. On the other hand, you should keep the reservoir level down during the rainy season to have room for excess runoff.

3. The rain this year was pretty normal until September and some of October, when it was much higher than normal.

Put all that together and you can guess what happened. Many places were flooding, things were getting bad, and that’s exactly when they had to open up all the dam spillways to relieve stress on the over flooded reservoirs.

2553 is Thai for 2010 and 2554 is 2011. The two bars are September. It rained a lot in October too. Graph is from a subtitled series of videos worth watching even for foreigners.

Now it seems some Bangkok areas have just enough large pumps to transfer water to some major canals that can still take it. If one of these breaks down, as it did yesterday in the Mo Chit area of northern Bangkok, the area quickly floods. I know this because my son Nathan who is visiting here, went to Bangkok yesterday morning to handle some business thinking he would come back today.

Nathan arrived in Bangkok yesterday afternoon at the main bus terminal in the northern Mo Chit area and everything was perfectly normal. This morning when he arrived in the Mo Chit area on the skytrain he looked down from the elevated station to see knee deep water everywhere and no taxis or anything else to get to the bus station. He went back one station which was dry and found a taxi (despite what I said in my last blog entry, the rules are different now in much of Bangkok, if the taxis are running at all) that would charge extra to attempt to get to the bus station. The taxi quit halfway there due to deep water.

So Nathan is stuck in Bangkok until he figures out another way to get here. This country has about 65 million people, with 11 or 12 million of them in Bangkok. When things break down in Bangkok, the entire rest of the country feels it big time. The shelves are often bare here in our local markets and Seven Elevens because goods did not get delivered from Bangkok. Now bottled water water is getting in short supply because the main factory that makes the plastic water bottles is in Bangkok and was recently flooded.

There is still some bottled water. It an other supplies have been building up in our foundation office for the last few days. This Friday we are taking them, via boat I think, into some flooded areas north of Bangkok which are due west from us here. This appears to be relief project of our local area teachers working with the military this time. I’ll bring back a few pictures if I can.

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