Saturday, August 28, 2010

Child’s Dream - Thailand

After our informative tour with Child’s Dream in Cambodia we organised a visit to the main office of the organisation in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to meet the founders – Daniel Siegfried & Marc Jennings. These two Swiss gentlemen worked for a banking outfit and spent a great deal of their careers in SE Asia. 7 years ago Daniel (same age as us) after a stint of volunteering (sound familiar?) decided to start an organisation that would assist children in Thailand. Marc Jennings, an (only slightly) older colleague decided to assist in the start-up period and well, decided to stick around.

They now head up a very well organised team which focuses on education, health and vocational support to disadvantaged groups in Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Laos & Cambodia. What we were very impressed by was their level of organisation, accountability and transparency. This (in my opinion) is due to their time in the corporate world and their reliance on funding from this source.

We joined them on a visit to a school catering to a Karen hill tribe. We were forewarned that the standard of schools was much higher in Thailand than Cambodia, and that the Thai government has the resources and management capacity to build schools themselves. Child’s Dream however, fulfils a need for boarding houses as many of the hill tribes live too far away to commute daily.

It turns out the forewarning was a good idea as the level of infrastructure at the school was far beyond anything we had seen in Cambodia. The school rooms were well furnished and resourced and the library was a particularly well designed area. This, Daniel confided to us, was a clear indication of the teaching staffs’ commitment to education and motivation levels – a big tick in the box. The big black mark against the school however was a number of half-finished and abandoned building projects that littered the grounds. Evidence of excavation, scattered building materials, poor quality and half constructed canteens, accommodation blocks and classrooms did not give the team the confidence to approve further development at the site. This was discussed over a lunch with the staff, with the assurance that Child’s Dream would visit again once their current projects were complete.

Another thing we should mention about Child’s Dream is the work they do with the Burmese refugees. A number of refugee camps exist near the border between the Burma & Thailand and as they are not legitimate citizens of Thailand are not provided an education by their host. This is the role of NGO’s and whilst many receive a fair to middling schooling, they are denied certification – a must for any substantial employment in Thailand. Child’s Dream assists with medical, housing and schooling initiatives and provide funding towards crucial internationally accredited secondary and vocational certification. One of the refugees, Dawa, was part of the team we visited with and with his camp-acquired engineering skills will be working on providing playgrounds and water solutions to many of the schools that the organisation is partnered with. We were very thankful to the team at Child’s Dream both in Cambodia & Thailand for giving us the opportunity to take part in school visits and their patience in answering any questions we had – we are very much looking forward to partnering with them in the future.

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