Interview with Prateep Ungsongtham Hata. She is noted as a Thai activist well known for her work with slum dwellers in the Khlong Toei District of Bangkok, Thailand. Among her supporters, she is known as Khru Prateep (“Teacher Prateep”), the “Angel of Khlong Toei” or “Slum Angel”. Prateep was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 1978 and using the prize money started the Duang Prateep Foundation. She is now the Secretary General of the foundation.
Can you tell me more about your Foundation in Thailand? How it started and what caused you to focus on child abuse, the slum youth, and the elderly ?
After I won the “Ramon Magsaysay Award” for Public Service in 1978, in the Philippines, I established the Duang Prateep Foundation or The Flame of Hope Foundation. Then, I opened the education centre at my home called “One Baht a Day School” where each family spent only one baht a day at the daycare. Later on, the centre was recognised and officially run by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.
For the work done by the foundation I am known as Kru Prateep or “Teacher Prateep”. I spend most of my time on the foundation to help children and their families to cope with the living conditions of a slum life. Many people think that the main focus of the foundation is about preventing abuse. However, the foundation believes in providing education to the slum dwellers. If they are educated, the problems such as physical abuse, poverty and drugs are reduced greatly.
Who are the patrons of the foundation?
The foundation receives patronage from different sources, both domestic and international. We also work with many religion-based organizations and individuals. They have helped us tremendously. We have given away nearly 1000 education scholarships annually.
Tell us more about the programs that are under the Foundation – puppet troupes, rehab service, sponsorship of education, etc. What is the Klong Toey Centre ?
There are a variety of projects to help children and families in slums. The most important one is “The Education Sponsorship” program where the foundation financially supports the educational needs of the community, especially those wanting to go for higher education. We also intend to help students and their families raise their living standards. At the moment, we are helping over 2,300 students from the slums and from rural areas. The funds to support our programs are from sponsors around the world. They will send money to an account that will pay for the expenses of a child’s education. Also the fund sets aside money for emergency situations to help children who face any unexpected crisis.
The “Puppet Troupes” project is an interesting project we provide to our members. In 1983, a group of Japanese puppeteers called “Ohanachi Caravan” came to the community and performed a puppet show. Nearly a thousand slum dwellers paid a lot of interest in this because the show was simple, fun, and meaningful. After that, the foundation decided to send its staff to learn puppetry skills in Japan. In 1985, the project “Puppet Troupes” started. We aim to encourage children to read more by using songs, books, and enjoying story time with puppet shows. Another objective was to have our children learn about moral values and ethics.
For the rehab service, we established a shelter in Kanchanaburi province in 1996. The main objective of the centre is to provide a safer and happier environment to children and youth who have been sexually abused, homeless, orphaned or from a broken family. The rehab service includes restoring their life and mental health after they experience difficulties.
The Klong Toey centre is our headquarters. Situated in the Klong Toey community, the foundation is available to help the locals and understand the circumstances they are facing.
How closely do you work with the other local and international NGOs? Can you give us some examples of close cooperation with other NGOs ?
We have set up “Working group for Children” and “Children Rights Coalition” together with the NGOs. There are many more international projects such as the SVA in Japan, the Hand across the Water in Australia, and the Wings of Support in Netherlands.
What is the success level of your social foundation? Any ideas how you can measure your success? Can you give us some examples of successful campaigns that were done recently ?
We do not have a concrete measurement technique to see how successful we are. But we can say that the foundation is recognised nationally and internationally. For the individual level, we see our success through our students. They have raised their living standards after receiving sufficient education.
The main objective of the foundation is not creating campaigns for the sake of campaigns but to drive the government initiatives and to make things happen. The latest campaign that we worked on was with the UNICEF. It was to provide adequate funds to the families with children 0-6 years old. We believe that if the family has enough money to spend for their basic needs, the children in the family are well nourished.
Who funds the foundation? Is it all volunteer funding or do you receive specific amounts from corporates as well ?
Like I said earlier, the foundation receives funds from around the world. We used to receive part of the funds from the Ministry of Public Health. However, the majority of the funds are from private donations. We also receive help from private sectors for some projects.
Tell us more about the local credit union? What kind of disbursement and small loans do you make ?
The credit union serves as the bank for the slum dwellers. This community service is not under the foundation. The credit union gives its members greater freedom to manage their own affair since it is difficult for them to obtain loans from commercial banks. Moreover, we encourage them to save money and make monthly contributions to resolve the ongoing cycle of debt as they struggle to repay their loans to the loan sharks. That is a major concern.
How do you reach out to your target audience? Do you work with the local media ?
The way to reach our target is very easy and simple as the foundation is located in the heart of the Klong Toey community. Almost all our staff are slum dwellers themselves so they are local and able to relate well with their problems. Therefore, we do not need to promote the foundation but we sometimes work with the local media when we are launching new projects.
Do you have a team involved in volunteer fire fighting and crisis management? How does that work? What are some of the events or incidents that this team has worked on in the past?
We have worked with the fire fighting and crisis management teams in the past. The slum dwellers are also trained with the team before they are ready to work in real situations. They have set up a team to help ease natural disasters in Bangkok and other surrounding areas.
What are some of the challenges working for the foundation?
The biggest challenge is we have is to deal with uncontrollable factors such as fire, forced eviction, epidemics or illnesses, victims fleeing from loan sharks, and poor sanitization. We try to instil and implant the notion that education is the only way for people to escape poverty. Yet, the repressive conditions for slum dwellers makes it difficult for students to stay in schools long enough for them to get a proper education. There are times when excellent students have to quit the education program because of their families that want them to help work for a living. Their families are threatened with eviction and their houses get burnt down, or they suffer from chronic diseases. These are the things we cannot control and has become dire threat to our members and our cause.