Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those who are being crushed.Proverbs 31 : 8
The whistle sounded again and Sam tucked his skateboard under his arm and looked sheepish. This was the third park we had tried that afternoon and the park officers were enforcing the unwritten rules. Two well dressed business men glided past on electric scooters and Sam didn’t miss the irony; “why don’t they just ban kids?!”
His comment got me thinking and then it eventually got me fuming… skateboarding and fun aside, the rights of children are simply not a priority in Thailand. Yes, the culture generally upholds that ‘kids are cute’ but it is not enough.
Our three kids have had some great adventures growing up in Thailand and they belong to communities where they feel safe, valued and heard. They are increasingly aware that this is not the experience for most of the children they live alongside. We’ve been navigating some hard conversations at home. Economic factors are huge, but too often the fate of children is determined by the convenience of adults.
We see this sad reality at a policy-making level and also at a grassroots level. There are plenty of exceptions of course but we often observe that children are treated as a commodity or else simply as a burden. It is estimated that one in four children are not living with either birth parent and at least 150,000 children are living in residential care. In some contexts too much is expected of Thai children and in others, too little. Either way, we’re convinced they deserve better.
While restaurants, gyms and offices have been open for ages, schools are just beginning to trickle back for onsite learning after two years of disruption. Many children were not able to access online learning at all or struggled terribly with the lack of support. Recent studies estimate that 10% of students have dropped out of the Thai education system entirely and 40% report poor mental health.
Our UNOH team here is passionate about providing children with the opportunities for creativity and self-expression that are not fostered by rote learning. On a very small scale we try to give young people a voice through our kids clubs, apprenticeship scheme and day to day relationships with families in the neighbourhoods where we are based.
Jon and I continue to work with groups including the Child Adoption Centre to advocate for the rights of children in the care system. While adoption should never be idealised or over-spiritualised, we do believe that every child needs a family in one of its many forms. We were all set to lead a session at the Adoption Preparation Conference last week; two days of centralised training that must be attended by anybody applying for a domestic adoption in Thailand. The conference was cancelled at short notice for covid reasons… for the third year running.
My mind went straight to the prospective parents, some of whom have been waiting for three years just to complete their applications. We know many couples and individuals, all fluent Thai-speakers who are just at breaking point with the wait. But what about the prospective adoptees? There have been so few domestic adoptions in the past two years and yet adoptions of Thai children through overseas agencies have continued. Is this really in the best interest of the most vulnerable?
We hope and pray that this growing anger reflects God’s aching heart for children in Thailand and can be channelled into effective actions that serve to build the Kingdom. Pray that we won’t be discouraged with ‘just scratching the surface’ but remain committed to the small signs of hope as we focus on a long term vision for change.
Things are beginning to resemble ‘normal’ for the first time in many months! Our UNOH office and workshop are fully open with most staff opting to take an ATK test and come in to work. We celebrated the birthday of a colleague last week and it felt great to be eating together in a big group for the first time in ages!
A big craft fair usually attended by RoyRak was cancelled last week which was a disappointment but online sales in Thailand are going well. It is the time of year when we focus on designing and it feels a little less pressured! We could do with some more Live to Give subscription customers as the stable income this provides is invaluable.
Omicron now accounts for the majority of Covid cases in Thailand but mask wearing in public places seems to be keeping the numbers at around 8,000 per day. We are hearing of a few cases locally but there is no big outbreak. We attempted to apply for booster shots through our mobile network provider but were turned down because our first two vaccinations were in England. We decided simply to turn up at the vaccination centre (a big train station on the outskirts of Bangkok) and act confused which came very naturally to us and paid off!
We have meetings with our team coming up next week to make plans for the next few years. We have vision and ideas for our work in the future but many of us are also in seasons of life with small children and sick family members. We’ll be exploring some ways to make the next few years work practically whilst staying true to the people and places God has called us to. We have some rough ideas of what this might look like but will write an update in the next Slumblog as our plans firm up. Please be praying that God guides our next steps and brings clarity and peace.
It was a great start to the year spent with the Fletcher side of the family at a long stretch of beach in the middle of nowhere! It was the first time that all seven cousins got to hang out together, made all the more special for living so far apart. We loved seeing the big kids and little kids bond and enjoyed swapping them around a bit! Time out of the city smog was a relief and we made the most of it with a couple of treks and being outdoors as much as possible.
Elise’s mum has had a few set-backs with wound healing after her operation back in October and this has culminated in a hospital stay this past week. It has meant a month of delay to the chemo schedule which has been frustrating but necessary. It is hard to see that she is not yet enjoying good health but she is trusting the time will come soon. We try to talk often and keep our plans flexible for travel. We intend to get over to the UK for a visit in April, travel restrictions pending. On this trip we also plan to visit some of our partner churches to give a much overdue update. We can’t wait to see lots of you then!
Elliot and Sam auditioned for the school production last week with a monologue from Blood Brothers and they impressed us with their Scouse accents – still a bit of England in them! Bow is enjoying celebrating Chinese New Year at school and yesterday we took a trip to Bangkok’s busy Chinatown district to stock up on dim sum and an impressive paper dragon! They are all keeping well and growing at a frightening rate!
We love hearing your news so do click reply if you have read this and have five minutes to update us!