Borderlands Youth Programme: Project Description

Origins & Objectives of the Programme:

The Borderlands Youth Programme evolved out of the identification of a range of unmet needs affecting some of the most vulnerable of the children cared for by Children of the Forest (“COF”) under the umbrella of its Residential Protection Programme. These are the children who find themselves removed from COF’s care by their parents who want to send them to work. Unprepared as they are for the likely hazards they will face, these children are highly at risk. (Among the most significant of those hazards are being trafficked or tricked into fuelling the demands of Thailand’s burgeoning sex industry.) Because the focus of COF’s Residential Protection Programme is on education & because that programme assumes the continuing attendance of its participants (which mostly is the case) there was no adequate provision for those children who, for whatever reason, left prematurely. Even more than literacy & education children like them need basic life (survival) skills. Though these needs were initially identified by COF within its own organisation, it quickly became apparent that the same needs were unmet, though on a very much larger scale, in the wider community. That was confirmed by the results of a survey conducted by COF just 12 months ago. That survey sought to identify the numbers & the whereabouts of school aged children who were not attending (& frequently have never attended) any school. The survey established that at any given time there are likely to be as many as 500 of such children, nearly all from migrant (& effectively stateless) communities in or in the close vicinity of Sangkhlaburi.

Having so identified these unmet needs & gained an insight into their scale, COF set about designing the remedial programme which has become the Borderlands Youth Programme. The starting point was the arrangement of a series of meetings between teenagers from the COF Residential Programme & some of the highly vulnerable children who came from the wider target group. The purpose of those meetings was to enable the children from each group to compare their respective life experiences. Out of that process came further clear & specific confirmation (if any was needed) that there were many children living in situations which were actually or potentially dangerous & who were not equipped adequately or at all with the most basic & essential knowledge for their safety, or even their survival.

For example children from the wider target group almost uniformly showed

  • A lack of awareness of the dangers associated with seeking work in the cities, including in particular abusive labour practices
  • (As regards young girls) a lack of awareness of the risks of being forced or tricked into working in the sex industry
  • A lack of awareness of the benefits of obtaining education & of future educational opportunities such as the government funded Gosonor Programme
  • A lack of awareness of their basic rights. (Through attendance at school many children do gain access to varying levels of Thai ID which do accord them various rights)
  • A lack of knowledge about birth control issues & about sexually transmitted diseases. (A specific example: about 10 young girls who were formerly in COF’s Residential Protection Programme  have, in most cases after leaving COF, become pregnant at the age of only 14 or 15.  Nearly all of these girls & the similarly aged boys who fathered their children have come from broken homes or highly dysfunctional backgrounds. The boys have all seemed to be influenced by a subculture which extols their ability to get girls pregnant as signifying – irrespective of the consequences for the young parents or the child – the enhancement of their manhood)
  • A lack of awareness of the hazards of accessing drugs which hazards are particularly acute in Sangkhlaburi which is a major route for trafficking in amphetamines  (Yaba)
  • A lack of basic financial skills such as the management of money & awareness of the hazards of involvement with moneylenders & gambling activities
  • An absence (generally through unfamiliarity coupled with fear) of the ability to express themselves in order to make known to others (& often indeed to themselves) their wishes & expectations
  • Generally a disappointingly narrow & limited view of the world & their futures in it

In a word, the objectives of the Borderlands Youth Programme boil down to providing the target group with the resources required to overcome the range of deficiencies described above.

Situation Content & Scale of the Programme:

In September 2011 COF, with the vital support of Arteca Italia, launched the Borderlands Youth Programme on a highly suitable site about 8 kms outside Sangkhlaburi township. The site is near the main road to the border at Three Pagodas Pass in an area where there are many scattered clusters of temporary (& generally inadequate) housing, as well as plantations attracting migrant families. The project site itself is in a secluded & attractive natural setting. The very suitable buildings on the site were formerly occupied by two NGOs both of which are no longer active but which still retain an interest in the land.  A memorandum of understanding secures for COF the right to use that land & those buildings for the purpose of providing this highly vulnerable target group with the range of life skills they so desperately need.

The Programme is heavily art focused reflecting the fact that art is an ingredient vital to the project’s success. That vitality of that ingredient may be explained in several ways:

  • Art is used as a bridge to help participants express thoughts feelings & experiences which they often lack the confidence or skill to express directly in spoken or written language. To the same intent, acting as a “visual language” art is frequently valuable as the least threatening medium for the communication of difficult or painful feelings ideas & issues. The various projects designed for use in the Programme invoke differing means of encouraging self expression & confidence building through art: some emphasizing visual & others tactile or aural media.
  • Art is used as a highly effective learning technique: through the medium of art information can be & is introduced understood & analysed more meaningfully
  • More specifically, art based projects & learning techniques are employed in the Programme in order to demonstrate to the participants the benefits of following a task through to completion eg exhibition. This process confers a positive benefit not only on the participants themselves (who receive the reward of affirmation & approval for their endeavours) but also on their peers in the wider community (who see in a public setting both the work & the reaction to it.) A case directly in point is the animated video “Analysis” made by the participants in the Borderlands Youth Programme under the direction of Arteca. (The video identifies some of the issues afflicting the lives of the participants & their peers.) A  second video entitled “Borderlands” & similarly about other issues facing displaced & directionless youth in this region made a marked impression on both the participants who made it & their peers who saw it when it was screened at a street festival in Sangkhlaburi just before last Christmas.
  • COF has been utilising its contacts & relationships with the owners of cafes galleries & guesthouses in the township to create novel & otherwise inaccessible opportunities for the Programme’s participants. In the result the participants (marginalised stateless children) get to meet & have the opportunity of forming links with fully empowered members of Thai society who are interested in & are often keen to exhibit in their premises the art work produced in the

Borderlands Youth Programme. By means of these positive experiences the world view of the participants is very quickly & greatly enlarged.

The Programme’s Staff:

Unfortunately Arteca, whose personnel are returning to Italy, are not able to continue their involvement with Borderlands. But that significant loss has been offset by the equally significant gain of a professional art teacher who has recently joined the programme as a volunteer & is working as its leading teacher. Subject only to the provision for her of a small salary (as part of the ongoing funding requirements for the Programme itself) she proposes to commit to COF & the Programme for a much longer period than she originally intended.

The Programme’s staff are:

  • Mark Curragh (who is also COF’s manager ) is the Programme’s director. Mark has a Post graduate Diploma in Arts from Otago University (NZ) in Film Theory & went on to graduate from a 2 year industry based film school in Melbourne, which was effectively an internship in film making. As well he has a keen practical interest in radical media & design & is also a qualified cinema projectionist. He is currently setting up a media production centre & youth cinema within the Borderlands programme. He has an intermediate level ability in conversational Thai and 6 years experience of living & working in the Sangkhlaburi district of the Thai/Burma border zone. As well as his artistic talents Mark brings his managerial skills to the Programme.
  • Leila Goddard is the professional art teacher who is working, currently in the capacity of a volunteer, as the programme’s lead teacher & who seeks to commit to COF for more than 12 months. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Central St Martins College of Fine Art & Design (London University of the Arts.)  She is a registered secondary school art teacher with 3 years teaching experience in New Zealand. As well she is a practising artist, principally in painting & printmaking.
  • Mashima (Thai) is a qualified teacher in yoga & Thai massage.  As well as acting as the translator she has a wide ranging creative role in initiating & implementing many of the art projects in Borderlands.  As a local resident Mashima also has wide ranging connections by virtue of which she is able to make introductions which often lead to valuable links between the participants & members of the wider (established) community, & which often are instrumental in attracting skilled Thai volunteers.
  • Ku Gu (Karen) who is 21 years old is the trainee art teacher.  Very significantly, he grew up in the COF child protection centre.  He speaks Thai, Karen, Burmese & also some Mon and English. As well as being a gifted musician he is creative & has an attractive & gentle temperament

(Full CV’s of each of these named personnel are available on request.)

IAS already indicated, in addition to the staff identified above, the Programme is supplemented & assisted from time to time by a number of skilled volunteers who are attracted to & screened by COF. Where it is considered they are able to make a valuable contribution they are invited to join the Programme for a finite period.

By way of a further teaching strategy a peer training approach has been adopted in order to enhance the prospects for the project becoming self sustaining ie 2 graduates from each course are chosen to assist as trainers for the succeeding intake.

In outline, the core course content deals with:

  • Child Safety /“Breaking the Silence” training: a programme designed to prevent the sexual abuse & exploitation of children. (The video on which this programme is centred has already had an important positive impact)
  • Sex education aimed at reducing the incidence of teenage pregnancies & the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, including information about accessing Thai hospitals clinics & sexual health support agencies
  • Human trafficking & how to live & work in relative safety in Thai cities particularly Bangkok & Mahachai
  • Physical & mental health including hygiene
  • Education awareness/ future options/ alternatives to entering the work force prematurely
  • Non-violent communication
  • Creating a support network in Thailand & Burma for other similarly at risk youth (web SMS Twitter Facebook)
  • Summary & course evaluation

Art projects & techniques are used throughout as teaching & learning tools to aid in the understanding & expression of that core course content. The programme’s classes are held on 3 mornings each week. The teaching method entails a combination of lessons (including the valuable use of visiting speakers), open discussion & the provision of opportunities to encourage self expression & confidence building. Most of these various activities entail the use of a range of art processes. The experiences of all the participants (respecting their participation) are recorded &, subject to their agreement, it is proposed that those experiences will be collated into a guidebook at the end of the year as a resource for future classes.

As to the scale of the Programme, despite its vital potential, there are only between 15 & 20 highly vulnerable children presently attending. Sadly that is all that the current level of funding (which runs out in March anyway) can support. The available infrastructure (space) is sufficient to allow places for up to 100 children on any one day. And with adequate funding the other resources needed to cater for those numbers could quickly be made available. Certainly the need is demonstrably at least that large: COF has confirmed (written) expressions of interest in its Borderlands Youth Programme from both the Sangkhlaburi government school & the local providers of the Gosonor programme (see Footnote **) Each of these has acknowledged their awareness of a serious problem affecting children leaving school prematurely. In effect their experience mirrors that of COF as described at the outset of this proposal. Both the government school & the providers of the Gosonor Programme have been kept closely informed about Borderlands & both are highly supportive of the Programme’s objectives & artistic output. Both are optimistic about its prospects for success. The government school has even indicated that it could (& would like to) refer up to as many as 150 highly at risk children to COF’s Borderlands Youth Programme. These are children considered at risk because of the likelihood that they will drop out of school. (That risk is heightened where the child lacks any form of Thai ID & has inadequate Thai language skills.) Similarly the local director of the Gosonor programme has advised that he would like to refer some 50 children to Borderlands.

Anticipated Outcomes:

The anticipated outcomes flow directly from the achievement of the objectives already detailed. At the risk of repetition, the most significant of those objectives are:

  • To make those of the children among the target group who decide to seek work in the cities aware of the risks to which they will be exposed, including in particular abusive labour practices
  • To reduce the numbers of young girls being forced or tricked into work in the sex industry
  • To reduce the incidence of teenage pregnancies & sexually transmitted diseases among the target group
  • To reduce the risks to the target group of exposure to drugs
  • Generally to enhance the range & depth of survival skills among the target group & as far as practicable secure their safety & self-sufficiency

Vision for the Future:

  • To enlarge the capacity of the Programme to meet the extent of the need, & where practicable to court potential partners to better enable such enlargement. By way of an example of enlargement, subject only to funding, the Programme could be made available to at least some of the many teenagers who comprise part of the migrant work force in the factories at Three Pagodas Pass. That work force numbers around 5000 workers. Given that opportunity for expansion there is a likelihood that the Programme could be structured to provide night classes in order to make it more readily accessible. And as to potential partnerships, COF is already aware of at least 1 candidate: a Mon woman at Mon Setor village who is running a small youth programme for 12 teenagers

  • To make the Programme a mobile one & then take it out to COF’s Jungle Schools. (On leaving their homes the children from those remote & very unsophisticated villages are very often the most at risk)
  • To  offer at least a few of the graduates of the Programme some limited employment opportunities in working in a peer training capacity

Other links and references to Border Lands Programme:

Footnote **

Gosonor is a government funded (Ministry of Education) programme set up to meet the needs of children who, generally through having to go to work, have dropped out of or never accessed formal education. Gosonor allows them to study while continuing to work. Although Gosonor does go some way toward meeting basic educational needs it does not in any way address any of the issues facing the stateless youth which are identified by the bullet points on the first page of this project description.