How Holt is helping Thailand through family strengthening services
By Jennifer Goette, Director of Strategic Initiatives
Bangkok, Thailand—One year ago, the area where I am standing was underwater. During my annual visit to Holt Sahathai Foundation (HSF) last year, massive flooding in and around Bangkok during the monsoon season altered the lives of 8 million people. Many families served by HSF, both birth families and foster families, lost their homes and their possessions. Schooling and employment were disrupted, creating financial hardships for many families. Dreams were destroyed and families were torn apart.
Responding to the crisis, HSF staff provided emergency food and supplies, in-cash relief and psychosocial support for nearly 600 children and their families throughout the crisis. Though the homes of more than half of HSF’s foster families were significantly damaged in the flood, nearly every foster mother was willing and able to continue to provide care in the face of the tragedy.
Now, one year after the flood, life is nearly back to normal for many families but the landscape been significantly altered. As I travel with the HSF staff to visit foster families affected by the flood, I am struck by how signs of the damage linger – a mark on the second story of a home signifying the water line during the flood; a quagmire of mud and debris that used to be the site of a family’s garden; trees toppled over and still under water.
To ensure the ability of these families to continue to provide a safe environment for the children in their care, HSF provided a combination of grants and no interest loans to 60 foster families for home repairs. With the help of volunteer laborers from the Bangkok business community, HSF’s accomplished the first phase of reconstruction by repairing the homes of six foster families in July 2012. Due to the saturation of the ground, many families have been forced to wait for the land to become suitable for construction before rebuilding. Additional homes will be repaired as the water recedes.
One foster mother, Maylee, was forced to evacuate the family home for three months during the flood when water from the nearby pond swelled to great depths. The standing water caused significant damage to the home and weakened the support structures. Repairs are underway to replace damaged wood and to construct safety railings around the house to make it more suitable for young children. Maylee explains that the family tried to access assistance from the government but they were not able to get any help. HSF has been the key to helping the family to recover from the disaster. She tells me, “HSF has provided my family with food and other support, including money for construction and repairs. My brother, a carpenter, as well as several neighbors and family members, have provided labor.” By contributing some of their own resources, the family has been able to actively participate in the reconstruction process. This has enhanced the success of recovery efforts.
Another foster mother, Ning, is waiting for the land under her family’s home to dry out so that construction work can begin. I ask her about the situation of her family during the flood. “Even though our house is on stilts, the water flooded our living room!” She exclaims. She points to the water line mid-way up the wall. “It came to here,” she says, “and we were forced to evacuate for twenty days. At that point we were able to move most of our belongings up to the roof and make a temporary living structure there.” She shares with me that HSF will assist with the repair of her kitchen and toilet as soon as the water underneath her home recedes. Her family will contribute what they can to the repair effort.
As homes are repaired and the memory of the flood starts to fade, children in Holt’s care will have little remembrance of this disruptive time in their lives. But the unwavering dedication of HSF’s staff and foster parents will live on. During a situation that could have been much more tragic for many, HSF staff and their dedicated foster parents put the children first.