Ms Ratjanee S., is the president of the Sisaket Communities Network. In 1996, she started a community development project in Sisaket (Thailand), without any financial assistance. This program eventually became part of the Community Organization Development Institute (CODI) 3 years later. With CODI's support, Ms Ratjanee was able to organize saving groups in several poor communities.
Money remains just one element of community development projects. On the one hand, we are very happy to receive financial support so we can work towards improving life in the communities. On the other hand, this also makes it more difficult dealing with the community leaders, local and national authorities. It is challenging when you are aware of the many ways poor people can be abused and exploited in their daily life. They are powerless, voiceless because they are seen as nobody—people living outside the margins of society.
On the whole, projects that are successful in engaging the very poor remain exceptions. When the ultimate goal of a project is to realize “success stories”, it may unintentionally create greater disparity and discrimination among the most poor and excluded. This misguided focus may make other poor people in the community feel ignored which can lead them to forget the importance of maintaining solidarity within their communities.
Working with the poor is like planting a mango tree. After a period of hard work, you will be rewarded with mango fruits. However, to think like this is to forget how much effort it takes to bring the seed to blossom. Before being able to eat the mango, you must till the soil, water the plant regularly and maintain the tree. You need to do many actions before you can feast upon the fruits.
A few years ago, we were in contact with a blind woman in Sisaket. She used to earn a living by begging in the streets. A social worker from the General Hospital Sisaket informed us that one of the children was suffering from malnutrition and should be sent to a children's home in the city of Khon Kaen (360km from Sisaket). This child was about 7 years old and had never been to school.
The social workers believed that police officers could help in persuading the mother to shelter the child in an institution, which would offer him a safer, healthier upbringing than she could provide. It was also proposed that the child’s two other siblings would be adopted by a home in another province, closer to Sisaket.
Knowing this, we went to sit beside the young blind woman and spoke with her. We realized that she wanted to keep her children with her for the simple reason that she loved them. She told us that seeing the children placed in care would make her lose her reason for living. The younger daughter expressed she didn't want to go on to another home: “I want to stay with my mother," she cried. The other son, who was also blind, affirmed this: "My mother won't let my sister go."
Events like this invoke our own parental instincts: "If a child wants to stay with his or her mother, are we able to find a solution? What could be of any help to them? " Initially, we thought that providing the mother with some nutritional supplement for her children would provide remedy. We found a way to raise the mother’s awareness about it. We returned to the social workers with our proposal. After receiving approval from their supervisor, they agreed not to relocate the children.
We also went to the city hall authorities, to address the issue of the children being unable to attend school. We discovered that the children were eligible to be enrolled in a nearby school, receive a school uniform and be provided with school transportation for free. From then on these children began regularly visiting my home to do their homework. On Saturdays and Sundays, my own children used to help them with reading and writing the Thai alphabet. My family did this simply because we thought, "If we do not help these children, they will not manage to stay together and will be unable find their place in society." At one point, while assisting the mother process her disability allowance, we realized that she did not possess a family record book nor a residence permit. Born in Laos, she has remained a stateless person in Thailand for many years. Eventually, she was able to continue living with her children in a neighbourhood of Sisaket.
Ms Ratjanee S., Thailand
You can find out more about Ms. Ratjanee S., and Sisaket Communities Network in the video below that is titled: We can speak out but will we be heard? - Fighting for unheard voices from the website www.unheard-voices.org