People-powered change in Thailand (and Bethnal Green)

[A final blog post, for now, from Thor who has been working with us the past couple of months, and will be sorely missed!]


After 2 months with SSE
and a second tour abroad with the organisation, I am now leaving for a
much-longed for break in Thailand. One cannot truly make an exit without some
wise words though – and I wanted to share with you a story from the country to
which I am travelling to.  

 

I think the most
profound educational experience I have gained from SSE is one that (ironically)
did not take place in Bethnal Green. Having travelled to a country like Thailand
before, I have become acutely aware of the fact that social entrepreneurship and
social enterprise is needed in most countries. In Thailand there is a desperate
need for improved sanitation, basic health care facilities, and most profoundly,
help for those who fall outside the system.

 

Recently a friend of mine made me
aware of a particularly heart-breaking example. Two years past, a small group of
students from my college in Minnesota spent a summer volunteering at the
McKaen Rehabilitation Center, an entire village where men and women who
either had leprosy or struggled with recovering from the many side effects of
the disease, could live together and exist without the fear of being rejected.
In Thailand many are ostracised from their homes when they get the disease,
leaving them with no support to recover. McKaen had developed a large area for
the village inhabitants, who supported themselves through farming and creating
various products that were sold at the local market. The roads were paved, each
patient lived comfortably in a small house, and people were allowed to be
themselves, despite appearance or disability. However, as times got rough,
McKaen began to struggle and had to move the centre (which was later turned into
a retirement home) and was forced to ask many of the recovering patients to
leave.

 

Where would you
go, if your family, home and medical facility all rejected you?
Most of the
recovering McKaen patients (recovering most times mean learning to live with a
severe disability for the rest of your life) had nowhere to go, so they decided to stick
together and attempt to find a new home. After a local teacher donated some
land, and two former McKaen employees joined them on a volunteer basis, the
group decided to create a new home on their own. In a way they were all social
entrepreneurs, but sadly not by their own choice. When my friend returned to
help again she was shocked and moved to tears by the new conditions, only to
find out that one of the patients had taken his own life in despair. Living
together in a couple of small huts, the patients share a small plot of land and
are not able to produce anything to support themselves.   Their
caretakers volunteer, but without any support or training, are unable to improve
the conditions for their severely disabled
patients.

 

Despite these
challenges, these men and women smiled, and they went about their day as best as
possible. When a man can help build his home while missing half of his body, he
must possess a true drive to change his own life. What him and his fellow
co-habitants need is not money, but skills-training and help to facilitate ways
of creating sustainable income. If only there was an initiative that could
empower the former residents of the McKaen Foundation.       

 

In the last few weeks I
have often pondered if I would want to aim for a career in the third sector.
Having heard the story from Chiang Mai I am reminded more than ever that if
there ever was potential for a movement to grow on a transnational basis, it is
social enterprise. As obvious at it might seem for SSE staff, students, fellows
and other affiliates that development should focus on people and
skills-building, this is not necessarily yet a widespread notion.


In other
words, I am very happy to have worked for an organisation that gets it.

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One thought on “People-powered change in Thailand (and Bethnal Green)

  1. Hi, this is a very tragic tale. I live in Chiang Mai, and am the Executive Editor for the weekly Chiang Mai Mail English langauge newspaper. I would very much like to print your story in our paper as its something our readers would wish to know about. Would it be possible for you to give me your permission? I would credit your byline to the text, of course.
    Please think about this and let me know by email on editor@chiangmai-mail.com
    Best regards,
    Eileen Edwards