Thailand: sunshine for the forgotten children of Phuket

Originally published
By Joe Lowry, International Federation Regional Information Delegate in Thailand

It's called Sunshine Village and a better name could hardly be imagined. On the edge of the tourist paradise of Phuket in Southern Thailand, this six-villa complex will eventually be home to up to 144 children. Some of these children were orphaned or made vulnerable by the tsunami and others will come from disadvantaged or abusive homes.

The idea was first conceived by local resident David Van Zandt and his colleagues in the local Lions club. The financial input for bricks and mortar came from the French Red Cross. A respected Thai NGO, Childwatch, manages the centre which opened its doors in July.

"In addition to supporting immediate relief we decided we wanted to do a long-term project for tsunami victims and children in need," says Van Zandt. "We had lots of contacts for raising funds but we realised we didn't have experience in looking after children so we got in touch with Childwatch. Fellow Lion's Club member Frank Cotoure had connections with nother Lion in Marseilles who knew the head of the French Red Cross delegation here at the time."

The beauty of the French Red Cross investment in construction is that all the money raised for child welfare by private individuals can now be spent directly on children. Although it is only operating at half of its capacity today, costs for education, food, clothes and other expenses total approximately US $10,000.00 per month (Euro € 7050/11,800.00 Swiss francs) although it is only operating at half capacity for the moment.

"The Phuket Sunshine Village Foundation (PSV) is self-sufficient in funds for three or four years," says David, "but we are doing our ten-year funding plan now, which includes child sponsorship and other activities."

The Village consists of six villas and several "families," groups of up to nine children looked after by a "mother." The children are all of different ages to replicate a real family, and stay together. There is an open sala area in the centre of the village for activities, several play areas and office space.

In addition to the children orphaned by the tsunami, the other children at the Sunshine Village are from abusive and dysfunctional families, making the involvement of the Childwatch NGO vital.

All families are encouraged to maintain contact with their children and take them on outings once a month. If the child has no family then the PSV foundation takes them on monthly excursions. The children are placed at the heart of everything the PSV foundation does.

"We could be at full capacity now," says Supalak Kanchanamethaleul, President of Childwatch, "but it is the middle of the school year so we prefer to leave children in their local schools rather than disrupt their education".

Within a few short months, the Sunshine Village in Phuket will be home to 144 children - 144 young lives immeasurably improved since the tsunami turned their world upside-down in 2004.