If you sponsor — or are thinking about sponsoring — a child in Thailand, here are some facts to help you learn about this culturally rich nation, its land and its people.
Thailand is a Southeast Asian nation known for its tropical beaches, opulent royal palaces, ancient ruins and ornate Buddhist temples. Nearly 95% of the population identify as Buddhist.
Thailand has an extensive land border, stretching over 3,021 miles across four countries. Laos lies to the north, Malaysia to the south, Myanmar to the west and Cambodia to the east. Thailand also has roughly 2,000 miles of coastline and 1,400 islands and islets, surrounded by the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand.
Thailand is often referred to as the Land of Smiles, as there are at least 13 different smiles a Thai person may use, each having a very specific meaning! They can range from the yim thang nam taa (“I’m so happy, I’m crying” smile) to the yim sao (sad smile), with many variations in between.
Since the 1960s, Thailand has experienced a substantial decline in the number of children born each year, due largely to the nationwide success of its voluntary family planning program developed by the Ministry of Public Health. In just one generation, the total birth rate shrank from 6.5 children per woman in the 1960s to below 2.1 children in the late 1980s. Because of its low fertility rate, increasing life expectancy and growing elderly population, Thailand has become one of the fastest-aging countries in the world.
Still, in a population of almost 70 million people – both old and young – children and families continue to need support. Today, more than 15 million children in Thailand are deprived of basic needs, including education, nutrition and health. Many of Thailand’s most vulnerable children live in rural areas. The support of Holt donors and sponsors is crucial to the livelihood of these families.
Basic Facts About Thailand
69,648,117 people; Thailand is the 20th most populous country in the world.
198,117 square miles, about three times the size of Florida
Tropical, with three seasons. The southwest monsoon season (mid-May to mid-October) is marked by warm, rainy weather. Winter or the northeast monsoon season (mid-October to mid-February) yields drier and cooler temperatures. Summer or the pre-monsoon season (mid-February to mid-May) is hot and dry. April is the hottest month of the year.
94.6% of the Thai population identifies as Buddhist, 4.3% as Muslim and 1% as Christian.
The population of Thailand is largely homogenous with 97.5% identifying as Thai.
Type of Government
Constitutional monarchy: King Vajiralongkorn (chief of state); Prayut Chan-o-cha (prime minister)
The Thai people hold the royal family in high esteem. When King Bhumibol Adulyadej died in 2016, after 70+ years on the throne, the nation entered a full year of mourning. Thais wore black clothing during this time.
Thai holidays are often joyous occasions, commemorating significant events in the country’s history. Celebrations are often accompanied by sumptuous food, colorful performances and symbolism.
These national celebrations are among the most important:
Songkran is Thailand’s new year celebration and commemorated over the course of three days in mid-April. Songkran means “passage of the sun” in Sanskrit, and water — as a symbol of renewal and a fresh start — plays a large role in this festival. People visit temples and gather in the street to playfully douse one another with buckets of water or spray each other with water pistols. This activity is believed to bring good health, prosperity, longevity and good luck.
Loy Krathong, or the festival of lights, is celebrated on the full moon of the 12th Thai lunar month, which coincides with the month of November. Leading up to the festival, Thais will make or buy small boats crafted out of banana leaves, flowers (orchids and marigolds) and incense sticks. On the day itself, they will add small coins, candles and food to the boats and set them afloat on canals and rivers throughout Thailand.
Thai Food & Drink
There is a popular saying that the Thai people live by their stomachs! The Thai diet consists of a variety of grains, vegetables, fruit, meat and fish. A typical meal will contain five main flavors: salty, sweet, bitter, sour and spicy. Rice in its various forms — white rice, sticky rice or jasmine rice — is a staple and used in every meal or to make noodles, dumplings and desserts.
Some common dishes include Thai curry (red, yellow or green) with chicken or beef; pad Thai, a stir-fried noodle dish, typically made with rice noodles, shrimp, peanuts, bean sprouts and other vegetables; coconut chicken soup with ginger; and sticky rice with mango. Common Thai beverages include cha yen (iced tea with milk) and nam manao (lime juice, water and sugar).
- Thais typically eat three meals a day plus snacks. Dinner is the main meal.
- Common snacks include spring rolls, chicken or beef satay, raw vegetables with spicy dip, soups, salads and sweets.
- Chopsticks are used only for certain noodle dishes. Most of the time, Thais use a Western-style fork and flat-bottomed spoon for eating. The fork is used to push the food onto the spoon, which is the primary eating utensil. Knives are not necessary as most food is already cut up before being served.
- Different types of foods are not piled on to one plate. Rather, individual servings of each food are placed on a separate plate and eaten with rice. Bowls are usually reserved for soup.
- It is considered bad luck and unacceptable to discard any leftover food.
As is common in many developing countries, families often leave their villages behind to seek out work opportunities in urban areas. When this happens, traditions — and the traditional wisdom of village life — often become lost to future generations.
Through Holt’s sponsored-funded programs in southern Thailand, families living in poverty receive tools and resources to help them earn a more stable income. In many communities, Holt also initiated support groups to help families learn from and encourage each other. As one unintended outcome of these groups, parents have also taken the opportunity to collectively teach their children about their history and culture.
In this video, children in Holt’s sponsorship program in southern Thailand perform a traditional folk song called Likae Hullo. It tells the story of when the Thai people were forced south into the waters of Malaysia in order to find fish, and the words are a plea for husbands, fathers and brothers to come home.
Despite widespread economic growth over the past decade, more than 6 million children and families in Thailand still experience poverty. Many of these families are migrants, minorities, refugees, single-parent families and families impacted by HIV. While some live in or near Bangkok, many of Thailand’s most vulnerable children live in rural areas.
Learn how Holt sponsors and donors help strengthen families living in poverty.
Overfishing of Thai Waters
For generations, fishing has been the livelihood and lifestyle of families living in Thailand’s coastal communities. But now, their livelihood is in danger.
Commercial ships from neighboring countries have begun to anchor in these traditional fishing waters, creating competition for fish and forcing local fishermen to travel farther for their daily catch. They wake before sunrise to go out to sea, but often return hours later with sparsely filled nets. With such an unsteady income, families struggle to pay for food, medicine and education for their children.
Learn how Holt sponsors and donors help families in one Thai fishing village adapt to their changing economy.
For decades, migrant workers from other Southeast Asian countries — primarily Myanmar and, to a lesser extent, Laos and Cambodia — have crossed the border into Thailand for the opportunity to earn a higher wage working in labor-intensive industries. Today, there are an estimated 4 to 5 million migrant workers in the country. Many are undocumented and vulnerable to human trafficking for forced labor or sexual exploitation.
Thailand also has a significant number of internal migrants, most of whom migrate from rural areas to urban centers, where more job opportunities exist. For example, families may find work in the tourism industry as servers or in hotels. Often, parents have no other option but to leave their children behind in villages with family members while they work for extended periods of time. This can put considerable strain on grandparents and other older relatives, who may be less physically healthy and less literate than parents.
Learn how Holt sponsors and donors help strengthen migrant families and keep them together.
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Families Impacted by HIV
Thailand has one of the highest rates of people living with the HIV virus in Asia and the Pacific. Of Thailand’s population of nearly 70 million, an estimated 470,000 people were living with HIV and 14,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2019.
Though certain demographic groups are still vulnerable to becoming infected with the virus, HIV prevalence is declining overall in Thailand due to successful HIV-prevention programs. What’s more, Thailand is the first country to effectively eliminate mother-to-child transmissions, with a transmission rate of lower than 2%.
Learn how Holt sponsors and donors help support health programs in Thailand.
In Thailand, one in 10 children is born at low birth weight, which can affect a child’s ability to eat, gain weight and stay healthy, as well as increase their risk for long-term health effects.
In impoverished communities, many mothers find it difficult or impossible to breastfeed — often because they must work to provide for their families or are overcoming malnutrition themselves. Nearly 7% of Thai children under age 5 are moderately to severely underweight, and more than 25% of children under 5 experience anemia.
Learn how Holt sponsors and donors help meet the nutrition and health needs of children in Thailand.
Sponsors and Donors Help Unwed Mothers Plan for Their Future
Each year, Holt sponsors and donors help support more than 270-300 women who are experiencing an unplanned pregnancy in Thailand. Many women first reach out to our local partner, Holt Sahathai Foundation (HSF), through a 24/7 support hotline. An HSF social worker may then meet with her, connect her with safe housing resources and provide pregnancy counseling as she decides whether to parent her child or make an adoption plan.
In Thailand, as in several countries where Holt works, single mothers and their children continue to face a strong stigma. For many women, Holt provides counseling to help them cope with discrimination — and gain the confidence needed to parent their children. About 80% of the women who receive HSF support ultimately decide to parent, and many continue to receive ongoing support as they work to independently provide for their children. If a woman decides to make an adoption plan, HSF will walk her through the process and work to find a permanent, loving family for her child in Thailand or the U.S.
Learn how Holt sponsors and donors help support women and young couples experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.
Read more stories about how sponsors and donors help children thrive in Thailand.
Learn more about Holt’s work in Thailand!
See how sponsors and donors create a brighter, more hopeful future for children and families in Thailand!