An interview with Kobgarn Trakulvaree, executive director of Holt Sahathai Foundation, Holt’s partner organization in Thailand.
How is the pandemic affecting children and families in Holt’s Thailand programs?
Ten percent of the families we are helping are actually unemployed due to the pandemic. The rest have experienced pay reduction. Prior to the pandemic, the average monthly income of these families was 5,000 Thai baht per month, or around $167 U.S. dollars. Since the pandemic, most of the average income is reduced to only 3,000 baht a month — around $90 U.S. dollars. And the minimum, the lowest pay that we have found was only $17 dollars … So it’s not hard to imagine that these families are facing really hard situations.
A lot of families are stressed about contracting the disease. Some families face domestic violence. And some parents [had their relationships] break up and now they have to face uncertain living conditions and also mental stress.
Around 35 of the new families that sought help from us do not even have enough money to buy milk for their babies. So they have to buy condensed milk to substitute for the milk. And that’s not a good situation because if prolonged, these children will probably face malnutrition.
During normal times, Holt Sahathai Foundation in Bangkok helps around 60-70 families with food and financial support. But during COVID, the number has increased to 400 families.
Have any of the families or children in the program contracted COVID-19?
The good news is that none of the families we are helping have so far contracted COVID-19 and that’s great because if one family member contracts it, then we have to find a place to separate them. It would be a really hard situation because we have to put the children in one home and then probably separate the parents in the hospital. But because of the funding we receive from donors, we are able to provide facial masks and alcohol gel and we can keep them safe from contracting the disease.
How have sponsors and donors helped meet the most urgent needs caused by the pandemic?
Holt sponsors and donors have offered us tremendous help. Because of emergency donations, we were able to help make up lost income for families so they could pay rent and buy food.
Sponsors and donors also made it possible to provide things like storybooks and toys, which can help keep the children busy so the family can focus their energy on working and finding income. These little things really help reduce the stress of both the families and the children.
How is COVID-19 affecting Thailand in general and what is life like there right now?
The situation has been better since to the start of the pandemic. However, because the economy has been sluggish, a lot of sectors have not yet recovered. I think that a lot of families and a lot of people are still adapting to the new living conditions.
A lot of students have been impacted and they have to adapt to new learning environments. A lot of them feel that it’s not fulfilling to learn online — it’s not fun — and they struggle to pay attention to the classes, which impacts their studies. And even worse, some students don’t have access to laptops or phones to join online classes.*
How is HSF helping children and families adapt to the new normal of COVID-19?
For children, we have been communicating with them online so they can learn how to use new technologies and get used to the online learning environment. We have also been organizing some activities online. For example, we are teaching older children to be more self-sufficient by teaching them how to grow their own vegetables and prepare food.
For parents, we are helping them think about how to start small businesses because we anticipate that employment will be reduced for probably an extended period of time. And in terms of food, we are helping them plant and create their own vegetable gardens. If they have any extra produce, they can also sell it.
During COVID, we have found that 26 percent of families we are helping are able to survive because they can grow their own food. So we are trying to promote this thinking within all of our families.
How will sponsor and donor support be critical in the coming months?
The support of Holt sponsors and donors is going to be very critical in terms of providing loans so families can start new businesses. Their support also helps us teach children new skills and adapt to new technologies, which will eventually help them find better jobs as well.
What would you like to say to sponsors and donors directly?
Thank you very much for your financial support and any other kind of support that helps prevent children from falling into orphanage homes. Life in these homes is very tough and not ideal for children’s growth and development, so it’s very valuable for children to grow in a quality living condition with their families. And the support from Holt donors really helps.
Everyone has different backgrounds, comes from different countries, speaks different languages. But the help from Holt families shows that we can be borderless and make this world a better place.
How You Can Help:
Give a Gift of Hope: Help a child or family affected by the COVID-19 pandemic while honoring a loved one this holiday season!
Sponsor a Child: Give monthly to help a child in Thailand or another of Holt’s country programs!
* In Thailand, school reopened for children on July 1. Across the country, children are attending in-person school for three days of each week, and then continuing with online school for two additional days. Because of this schedule, children can maintain social distancing at school and have classrooms of just 20 students at a time, per guidelines from Thailand’s health and education authorities.