Siam-Care Foundation

Siam Care takes a biblical approach to strengthen marginalized and at risk children, families, and communities through psychosocial support, health access, educational scholarships, family reconciliation, legal rights and HIV awareness raising, advocacy, and spiritual transformation.
Jul 24, 2012

Volunteers join prison visit

Volunteer impression of prison visit July 2012

Siam-Care receives many volunteers during the year who help with all sorts of different jobs that need to be done. Recently 4 young British women came along to visit some of the prisoners we support and here is a short report from one of them:

“Having never visited a prison before, I did not know what to expect. Thai prisons are known as the worst in the world so I was quite nervous about what I was going to see.

When waiting for the inmate I was going to be talking too, I was amazed at the security they had for the visiting section and the segregation of foreign, Thai and monk prisoners. The monk prisoner had a lot more room and he had a lot of respect from the public as well as the prison guards. It seemed that he was treated very differently to the other prisoners despite his crime. A big group of people went to visit him and receive teaching from him- they dressed as they would for any other other temple visit.

The visiting area makes you feel very distant from the prisoner. There is a table to sit at with a phone, looking through a window with bars you can see a couple of meters away another table (with bars across) for the inmate to sit with their phone. Everyone is next to each other and people are talking all at the same time. There is no privacy, nothing. Guards patrol behind the prisoners when talking to their visitor and everyone is being watched all the time.

I was worried what to talk to the prisoner about because I was of no relation to him- I did not think he would be interested in having a conversation with someone he did not know. The language was a barrier as he spoke very little English but the fact that I was there and making the effort to come and see him he appreciated greatly and that really came across no matter what language he spoke. Because of being so far away from his family, he was wanting some one to talk to, someone that would listen to him. 

All of the people that I talked to were very open about how they came to be in prison. They answered any questions I had about their living conditions and their sentencing. One man had already served 9 years and still had another 50 years until he would be set free. It is heartbreaking knowing how long they will be there for.
Even though they may have been in prison a long time, they are not totally cut off from the world. The prisoners were allowed to watch the Euro 2012. This made a good conversation topic as it is an activity we both had seen.

The mood of the prisoners surprised me; they were willing to talk and were laughing and smiling too. My initial thought was to talk to a depressed, unhopeful human being but it was not like that at all. Most of them were hopeful that they will be able to get out soon; that their sentence will be reduced and they will see their families again.

During the visit to the prison, some prisoners were walked through the grounds by a guard. At first it was good to see them out rather than behind bars but then I noticed the way they were walking and the looks on their faces.  There wore chains not just on their wrists but round their feet too. The prisoners do not have one ounce of freedom. It came as such a shock because I had honestly thought that in this day and age, chains like those we not allowed to be used.

The reasons for most sentences were drug related- trying to earn money for their families by doing a dodgy deal and then being caught, many were first timers. The visit made me want to help prisoners as much as I could so that they could be reunited with their loved ones, it also made me appreciate my own freedom even more.”

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Jun 10, 2012

Postcard: Project Site Visit

Jacqueline Lee is an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving who is visiting our partners’ projects throughout Southeast Asia. Her “Postcard” from the visit in Thailand:

On June 4, I met with a board member, staff, and 3 youth that were supported by Siam-Care now with hopes and dreams of pursuing professional careers. 

First I met 2 young women, one is studying finance and the other an international law student. One of the young women had been brought in at 12 years old for support by her "adopted" mother because she lost family from HIV/AIDS. She now supports financially her siblings. The other young woman was an orphan and studies law because she is interested in law and justice. We discussed that if they were not at Siam-Care they would be at higher risk for trafficking and or abusive work situations. Many youth migrate uninformed to large cities like Bangkok to support their families or themselves if they don't have families. With the support of Siam-Care they can stay in school, receive education and support, and aim for professional careers like accounting, medicine, and law.  

The issue is that it is free to "sit in a classroom" but families have to pay for everything else including books, uniforms, and even specific haircuts. If the students don't have this, they can't attend.  

Through GlobalGiving Siam-Care was able to support 50 overall youth. 6 are in technical school for things like electrician, bookkeeping, and other skillsets. The youth get to choose themselves what they want to study based on their passion and skills. The families and youth supported by Siam-Care are referred by word-of-mouth, other organizations, hospitals, and social workers. The last youth I met was a young man that a relative brought in because his mom died when he was 5 of HIV and his father passed away when he was 2. He is now in school, part time working at KFC, and studying to be a computer programmer. He also is interested in giving back and volunteering - he even asked about volunteering for GlobalGiving! 

All of the youth and staff I met were kind and sincere. Despite difficult situations, economic instability, and families affected by HIV/AIDS everyone was hopeful, inspiring, and committed to making theirs' and others' situations better. I asked the young woman studying law what her favorite thing about Siam-Care was, and she said the retreats filled with fun activities and trainings that Siam-Care provides for families and youth. The young woman studying finance described Siam-Care as "like a family. If there are any problems, I can come here." 

To support Siam-Care's current project click here: Support 100 Thai Prisoners And Families With HIV

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May 14, 2012

Summer in Thailand

Thailand has experienced a very hot summer season this March/April/May 2012! For the elderly, small children, the sick and prisoners it has been a hard time. One can scarcely begin to imagine what it must be like for prisoners: packed into a overcrowded cell, surrounded by sweaty bodies laying next to each other like sardines in a tin, with few if any ventilator and mostly one toilet to be shared among the many. Bad moods are easily triggered and result in quarrels and fights. But are also quickly resolved as all are in the same 'boat' and all need to help each other survive. Prisoners are locked up for long hours, up to 14 hours a day from 4 pm to 6 am with very little space to move. Spending so many hours in such close contact with others they frequently suffer from skin diseases and are at risk of contracting TB, which is very prevalent.
The good thing about the summer season is that it is holiday time for the schools and so children of prisoners are able to visit their parents. Often the waiting and visiting area is full of children playing around while mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts and other relatives hold a conversation with the imprisoned family member through the provided telephone. Parents are happy to see their children again, even if it is from a distance of a meter and half through 2 sets of bars and glass and talking can only be through the telephone.
Thailand ranks number 6 on the list of www.nationmaster.com of statistics of prisoners worldwide. Current numbers show that as of April 2012,  234,678 people were incarcerated in Thailand. This number has seen a steadily increasing trend since 2007 when it was 159,155. Bangkok houses over 29.000 of those counted.
As everywhere in the world poverty continues to play a role in the crime scene. Although Thailand increased it's minimum wage to 300 Baht (9.50 Dollar) a day for Bangkok and 5 other provinces and given a 40% increase in all other provinces, it is far from a sufficient amount to survive on with a family.  The gesture of increase looks good but as the minimum wage paid in Thailand is not indexed to inflation, it has been declining constantly in real terms since the 1997 economic crisis.
    And so the struggle to make ends meet continues on and those in need often make (desperate) wrong decisions and take risks; sometimes ending up behind bars.  Recently the news has almost daily reported on people being caught selling amphetamines, many from the poor communities. It seems to be an ongoing problem... where and how to end it? In prison? Is that the best solution for the families? 
    Over the past months the Siam-Care team has worked with prisoners and their families, visiting, encouraging and supporting them to stay in contact through visit as well as helping the caregivers of the children to prepare the children for the new school year which starts end of May 2012. New books, uniforms and school equipment needed to be bought which was possible with the support of our friends like you! Thank you!
     
For an inside view from a westerner in a Thai prison click on the link

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