‘Skills and Heart’

Migrant youth in Chumphon, Thailand, explain what it takes to help a community no one else could reach.

You already know what it is like to be living through the Covid-19 pandemic.

You might have even fantasized about living through it somewhere else. Somewhere like coastal Thailand. But what if this place was neither your home nor your vacation destination?

Imagine that you have been here for years but have never relaxed at one of the nearby beaches. Home was across the border in Burma, an oasis of rice paddies seized by the military. You sort shrimp in a Thai factory six days a week to feed your family, who have nowhere else to go.

The coronavirus hits, and the factory—your only source of income—closes. You can’t go out in public without a face mask, or you could be arrested. But a mask costs 39 baht ($1.25), the same as two pounds of rice. Your children are hungry. Which do you choose?

Then someone comes to your door and tells you that this is not a choice you have to make. They hand you what you need to survive: a mask, rice, cooking oil, and eggs.

It’s your neighbor. And she is just 19 years old.

She’s a member of the Migrant Children Development Program’s (MCDP) gaenam. The Thai term literally means ‘backbone’ but refers to a team of youth leaders, aged 12 to 19. They are the eyes and ears of the Burmese migrant community in Chumphon Province because they are a part of that community. With their help, MCDP identified more than 500 families in need of extra support during the Covid-19 pandemic—and made sure they got it.

Forty-seven-year-old Pichada—who the gaenam affectionately refer to as Kru, or teacher, Da—is Thai, and founded MCDP 10 years ago.

She remembers the initial nerve-wracking trips to migrants’ homes during the lockdown.

“We were all afraid, but we had to go. No one else was going to help them,” Kru Da said of delivering the Covid-19 support to the Burmese community. “We do what we do from our hearts; this is not just work to us,” she added.

Wilai, a 19-year-old gaenam who grew up in Chumphon with support from MCDP, now participates in outreach efforts out of a sense of responsibility for her people.

“I have made it this far because others helped me, and I want to help others,” she said.

In the Chumphon city of Paknam, MCDP estimates that up to 70 percent of the migrants have received some form of help from them over the years, in the form of legal aid, access to healthcare, or educational support.

How do they create a major impact with such limited resources? Wilai has one explanation.

“Even when you don’t have money, you can offer your skills and your heart.”

Partners Asia invites you to imagine what they could do with even more.