Last week, twenty Bangkok slum children – the very poorest of the poor – took a long bus ride to Ranong province and then hopped a boat to Koh Lao to help a destitute island village of ethnic Mokens, the sea gypsies of Thailand.
It is quite unusual for these children to explore the world beyond their own slums. They know every crack in the pavement (if there is any pavement) near their own shacks, but nothing of museums, galleries, parks, or neighborhoods in the “nicer” parts of town.
These twenty children, ages sixteen to twenty, are exceptional and so we invited them to participate in an exceptional Leadership Training Camp. They are the brightest and most motivated of our “Sponsorship Kids,” the kids whose education we sponsor because their parents or guardians have no money to send them to school – no money for the most basic school fees, uniforms, books, stationery, lunch or transport.
For five days, our sponsorship kids engaged with the sea gypsy children in Koh Lao in a variety of activities. In the process, they learned about the value of helping others, the harmony of village life, and the difficulties of being “outsiders,” as the sea gypsies most definitely are, in the modern world.
Activities included plenty of hard labor, such as clearing a path from the seaside village to the hilltop water well, collecting tons of recyclable garbage along the shoreline, and lugging heavy construction materials to the site of our new kindergarten for the island children. But it also included loads of fun. Our Leadership Youth organized and refereed an incredibly high-spirited Sports Day for all the sea gypsy children of Koh Lao, a day filled with side-splitting laughter as the children competed in their first ever “water-balloon toss” and “three-legged race.”
By the time our slum children returned to Klong Toey, they knew a lot more about the ways of the world and how to help in ways that make a difference.