The pressures on slum families inevitably make their mark on the children. Many homes are the kind described as "broken". Children may live with elderly grandparents who cannot support them; with casual step-fathers who do not care for them, or perhaps with loving parents too preoccupied with earning enough for food and shelter to spare them the care and attention they need.
Social and commercial pressures combine to reinforce feelings of alienation: They are slum children and therefore no good, they will never have the consumer goods or life-style they are taught to admire.
The strong can hold out, if they have parents, teachers or community leaders who can show them better values and help them value themselves as people. But not all slum children can be strong and not all have parents who can give them what they need. They could find some of it at school, perhaps, if they went to school. What they do find, in so many cases, is relief from the ugliness of their world in a bottle of thinners, amphetamine pills or heroin injections.
It is for these children, the children at risk from drugs, exploitation, abuse and crime that the Duang Prateep Foundation devised its New Life Project. The first thing priority, after consultation with the children, their families or guardians and sometimes the police, is to take the youngsters far from the slum environment. Not permanently, but long enough for them to develop ways of coping with it and far enough to be sure that drugs are unobtainable.
The DPF has leased 191 rai (35 hectares) of farm land in the Southern province of Chumphon. With the cooperation of the local people - farmers, teachers and officials - approximately 100 boys live and work on the farm in a sheltered community. They learn farming and ancillary skills and learn to live and work together in a spirit of cooperation.
Caring for animals, watching things grow, knowing that their contribution is important, all do their work. The effects of the New Life Project are discernible after only a few weeks. The boys take the produce they have grown to market and have the additional satisfaction of making money from their efforts. For the first time in their lives, in many cases, they discover that they have a part to play in life and can play it successfully.
Boys stay at the project for three years. Some children attend the local school on a regular basis. However, most of the boys at the project are less academically inclined. They undertake a programme which contains vocational training, agricultural work and some conventional schooling. Several of the boys attend courses at the provincial agricultural college where they have gained certificates. The project works closely with the local community where many friendships have been made.
Although the foundation is pleased to see that some young people from the project find jobs in agriculture, the main purpose of the New Life Project is not to train farmers; rather it is to build on the qualities that emerge in the total environment of the farm.
Young people return from the New Life Project to the same challenges as before but now they are ready to face them with new courage and hope. Some of the youngsters who attended the New Life Project have gone on to higher education, including sponsored education in Japan. Several of the young people from the New Life Project have later repaid the DPF by making valuable contributions as staff members of the foundation. In total over 1,000 youngsters have successfully returned to 'normal life' after extended stays at the project.
The New Life Project for boys has proved so successful, that in 1998, to celebrate twenty years of the Duang Prateep Foundation, an appeal was launched to start a New Life Project for Girls on 16 hectares of land in Kanchanaburi province, West of Bangkok.
In August 1998 a foundation stone laying ceremony took place for the construction of a two-storey concrete building, which was officially opened at a royal sponsored ceremony in March 2000. The building can house up to forty girls and also includes dormitory rooms, classrooms and vocational training rooms.
As with the New Life Project for Boys, many of the girls at the project
have a background of abuse and exploitation. For various reasons, they
have not had the pleasure of a stable, loving home environment in which
In addition to teenagers recovering from addiction problems, there are also younger children, of both sexes, who have no family to care for them. These include children who were trafficked into Thailand from neighbouring countries and forced to beg. There are also young children who find the loving environment of the project a welcome contrast to the horrible abuse they faced at home.
At the Kanchanaburi New Life Project site, girls are able to escape from the pressures of the environment in which they were living. The situations young girls need to escape from are varied: Some face sexual abuse from relatives and friends, some have succumbed to the use of addictive substances, some have no family to care for them, some have been used as cheap and exploited labour. Whatever their situation, at the New Life Project the girls are assured of a warm environment in which they can heal their physical and mental scars.
At the New Life Project the girls are helped to develop in a manner which is as natural as possible. Children from the project mingle with local children when they attend a school in the near vicinity of the project. Older children, who do not want to attend full time schooling, attend vocational training courses at the project site. The land at the site is used for agriculture and the girls assist in tending the plants and raising the animals.
Girls stay at the project for a period of three years, or longer if they are still young or have nowhere safe to go. The climate of safety, the sharing and cooperation in the group, the sense of 'family' amongst staff and girls all help to ensure that, when it is time for the girls to leave the project, they will do so secure in the knowledge that they can face whatever life brings with confidence.