What comes to mind when you think of Thailand? The hustle and bustle of Bangkok? Or is it the beauty of the beaches and landscape in one of the many tourist destinations? For the majority, it certainly wouldn’t be a village called Sangkhlaburi. I was in that category, up until recently.
The story behind learning about Sangkhlaburi is quite an interesting one, and shows just how connected the world is now! I was sitting with my colleague of IFE, having a beer and talking about upcoming projects, when he hands me a piece of paper with a LinkedIn post on it. The post was from a guy in Sydney, not more than 10 minutes from where I live, reaching out to people for donations of old football boots to send to Thailand. This was of interest to me, which my colleague had thought when he came across it. After taking that piece of paper home I did some more research into it and came across the guy who posted it. I made contact with him and we met up for coffee one afternoon, where I learned of an orphanage in a remote area of Thailand called Sangkhlaburi, which he supports. The connection between himself and the orphanage is linked to a worldwide church group, who make regular visits to the area and have even set up a local hospital there, funded by donors in Australia. The fact that he was sending football boots there meant only one thing, they must love the game! This made me want to know more!
I began to research Sangkhlaburi, and the more I did, the more I became connected with the problems they face and the need to help. I came across an organisation called Children of the Forest (COF). COF have been operating in the area for over 10 years, providing education, healthcare, protection and shelter for the stateless migrants that fled across the border of Burma and into Thailand for what they would hope to be a better life. The problem is though, that these migrants are not recognized in Thailand and become subject to exploitation and trafficking.
Just last week, I met with the leader of the church group who set up the orphanage and hospital in Sangkhlaburi, and has been supporting the region for over 20 years! He told stories of the girls being sold by their parents at 14 years of age, to go and work as a prostitute in Bangkok. They would work up until the age the of 21, 22, then be thrown out on their own, still with no formal identification under Thai law. You can only imagine from there where some of the girls end up. This is all too common in Sangkhlaburi, where the struggle to integrate into the Thai society forces them down the wrong path. This is where football comes in to ‘play’.
COF established their football program nine years ago, on a small dirt pitch within their site at Sangkhlaburi. Fast forward to 2016 and COF now have over 100 children directly involved through playing football, three boys and three girls teams, with many more supporters of the teams. They participate in various tournaments across Sangkhlaburi which includes hosting their own annual Futsal Christmas Cup, which promotes gender equality and social inclusion.
The story of COF’s jungle football teams made up of migrant children and youth from situations of poverty and neglect, is a real-life tale of the plucky underdog working to overcome disadvantage and discrimination. For two years running, COF won the Kanchanburi provincial girls football tournament, but were denied the first prize by the organizers and ignored because they were considered stateless youth with no formal ID.
Despite this, the benefits of their football program are more than noticeable. The children develop self-confidence, organisation and leadership skills, understanding of gender equality, which then empowers the females to assert their rights in having their own life choices. The football program keeps the children and teenagers engaged, as well as allowing them and the wider Sangkhlaburi community access to COF’s support and safety network.
After learning all this I have taken action to support the football program, which resonates with the vision of International Football Exchange, to break down financial barriers, giving HOPE and HAPPINESS through FOOTBALL!
Next week IFE will be sending a shipment to Children of the Forest, consisting of enough uniforms and playing gear to last the whole year. This will take a huge financial burden away from the ongoing operating costs associated with running the organisation.
I would now like to ask for your support in giving back however you can, whether it be sharing this article or reaching out and donating to Children of the Forest. If you are planning a trip to Thailand then I highly recommend visiting Sangkhlaburi and giving back by donating your time to some volunteer work! I can personally say that there is nothing more fulfilling than knowing you are having a positive influence on the lives of other people, particularly those who are less fortunate.
For more information on Children of the Forest and the amazing work they are doing, please visit the following links: