Sometimes I feel the need to repent of my prejudices… last week was definately one of those times.
As part of a Government Pilot Project, in collaboration with various non-governmental organisations, I (Jon), travelled with a team for our first visit to the North-East region of Thailand. If you’ve ever eaten Jasmine Rice this is probably where it came from!
The 3 year project is part of a long term plan for Care Reform in Thailand, in response to the explosion of institutional care and children living separated from their biological families. The government’s main goal here is to develop a child protection mechanism to support children to grow up in families. That’s a huge shift for Thailand, where as many as 1 in 4 children are not living with a biological parent.
We are working as 4 appointed teams, in 4 locations in Thailand, with the central district Children’s Home for each area (ours in Khon Khaen City, the 4th largest city in Thailand) as well as provincial Emergency Shelters, to work out how to make change happen. If a child is taken into the care of a Shelter, they have 90 days to work out solutions or send that child on to the district Children’s Home. As a team we have all sorts of ideas about what could be done to keep kids in families – Community Mapping, Family Strengthening workshops, Re-integration training, recruitment of Thai Adoptive families .. there’s lots to do!
But first, we went to listen and to learn. This is where I need to repent of my prejudices.
To be honest I had an idea in my mind that we would find a mix of impossible bureaucracy, workers resistant to change, and a ‘lazy’ attitude that the children are ‘fine’ in the institutions where they are at least clean and ‘safe’. I thought the attitudes of the social workers would reveal why the situation is this bad in Thailand. That was not what we found.
We found teams of dedicated social workers doing the best they can in very difficult situations. We found years of experience and a deep understanding of community context. We heard cases with extremely complex layering of poverty, abuse, drug use, cultural ways of dealing with difficulties – all with very unhappy children at the centre of it all. We found people open and ready to consider the hard work of change to do better for the children under their care. We found workers reaching burnout or suffering secondary trauma because of the work they are doing.
In one sense, then, the social workers themselves are victims of an unsupportive or even oppressive system. I also met Governement officials working stupid hours, with huge responsibilities, without a break and with heavy pressure from the levels above them. Also victims of a system.
The system. What John’s gospel calls “the World”. We are to be in the world and not of it, to recognise the system, forgive it, even, but to work for systematic change.
“God did not come to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved” (see John 3:17)
It seems to me that meeting a human, face to face, the ability for empathy is available. It doesn’t take much to see the pressure that each individual is under and to begin to forgive the individual lapses. But the system is the system and we must work for change. Failures at the top are passed down, amplifying at each level until those at the bottom suffer the most, in this case children growing up in institutions with no hope of the love and care of a family.
I’m sure that there are aspects of practice that could be improved, training that is needed, a better way resources could be allocated. But we did not go looking for weaknesses or for things that needed to change, we went looking for strengths and for the resources that are already there. In asking appreciative and open questions we discovered something quite different to what I was expecting… so I repent of my prejudice.
I was privileged to be part of this team. We had the full mix: Thai christian, Thai buddhist, senior social workers, long-serving missionaries, university lecturers, government officials. Each played a part. In the sessions with the local teams there were strong words, laughter, late nights, even a few tears. But most of all, there were words of encouragement, of support. There were wishes spoken out for a better future for the children we serve. There was an honesty birthed from the mutual understanding that we were here to work together to serve the needs of the least of these – vulnerable children.
Maybe the approach was already part of the solution? Asking appreciative open questions, looking for strengths rather than focussing on weakness and pointing out the deficits. When we believe that God is active in the world, we can go looking for Him. In this world (this system) of course there are problems, deficits, weaknesses, barriers – but God is here (Immanuel) so where is the original Goodness? Where is the Life? Where are the signs of Hope?
Let’s look for those. It seems a good place to start.
We were very happy to have Jon back from the UK after his extended time speaking at churches! It has surprised us how instantaneous the switch is between the two countries as one set of interests and concerns is exchanged for the other. It is quite dizzying actually but a skill we will need to have for the coming year!
Bow recently went off on her first residential with school – her first night away from the family! She was excited but appropriately nervous and it definitely felt like a big milestone. She had a a great time at the beach with friends (she also had a dedicated nurse trailing her around but I don’t think she noticed or needed any intervention so we’ll count that a success!)
Elliot and Sam are rehearsing long hours for the school production in a few weeks and also feeling the academic pressure at the moment. There is no half term break as the school makes up for lost time with lockdowns at the start of the year. Hobbies of skateboarding and photography provide some relief, especially now they’ve realised they can be combined!
We were privileged to speak as adoptive parents at the adoption preparation course for all prospective adoptive parents in Thailand. It was a chance to speak honestly about the challenges we hadn’t expected and to encourage others to learn language in the case of non-Thais. It was encouraging to see that the adoption system is up and running again after a frustratingly long break and to get to know some of the people who have the power to make change.
RoyRak is tipping into the busy half of the year where red beads begin to dominate the workshop! We are currently filming a new promotional video that remembers our roots and showcases our big vision for the brand (sneak peak above!)
As I prepare to hand over some of my roles and support the project from a distance, my prayer is that the women will find their strength in togetherness and build on the success of years of hard work. They are a very capable crew.
In preparation, I am trying to attract more subscribers for the monthly Live to Give box. This is not only a bargain that means you will always have RoyRak gifts close at hand, but it provides reliable income for the team during quieter months. I would love for the profits from this service to cover the wage for RoyRak manager Pui pictured below. The other pictures show the contents of the box sent out earlier this month.
Live to Give customers are basically the RoyRak support team! We need 20 more of you! So we have a promotion for 40% discount for delivery within Thailand and 10% discount for delivery overseas. Just enter the following codes at the checkout – valid for monthly payments or for one whole year upfront.
40subscribe – delivery within Thailand
10subscribe – delivery overseas
Pray with us
- Please pray that the various projects we are currently involved in will have impact and be used to further God’s justice and demonstrate his care for the vulnerable in Thailand.
- Pray for energy as we work hard to get things done and attempt to reach a good cut-off point for Elise, Elliot and Bow in mid July. Please pray especially for Elliot who is feeling the stress of a big change coming up and already grieving leaving friends behind. Pray that we will all take time to process change well and not rush headlong into it.
- Our teammates the Besfords have had a baby boy! The organic growth of UNOH is always a joy and we can’t wait to get to know little Ethan! Please pray for them leaving the relative refuge of the hospital and returning to a noisy slum neighbourhood where Ethan will be made very welcome.
- Pray for watertight homes as people rush to be ready for rainy season. We’ve had a few big storms already that usually coincide with the morning school run!