NeighborYouth is the youth camp for kids in Bangkok’s old town area with an intention to give the new meaning for the place by turning ‘the community’ into a friendly ‘playground’ and ‘learning space’ for local youngsters.
In declining communities of Old Town Bangkok, especially in informal settlements, the low-income residents are struggling to make a living and are too busy to take care of their children after school or during the weekend. Most of the kids have not been taken good care and have no proper and safe space near home for playing outdoor activities. Children have raised among risk factors of social problems ranging from domestic violence to severe issues such as drugs, and prostitution.
Dated back over a century, communities in Old Town area were once vibrant, well developed with a richness of culture and identities. These authentic ways of living passed on from generation to generation. However, modernization is wiping out the localness and intangible heritage. Kids grow up with no connection with their neighborhoods. They easily move out and prefer not to inherit their parents’ skillful footsteps which made some of the traditional occupations to be endangered.
As a side project, Trawell Thailand (a social enterprise focusing on local economic empowerment through community-based tourism) has initiated ‘NeighborYouth’ aiming to reconnect kids in four communities of old town area that Trawell has been working closely with; Ban Bat, Wangkrom, Nang Loeng, and Mahakan, back to their authentic way of life. The project was first piloted as a two-day summer camp with over fifty children between 8 and 15 years old from those four adjacent neighborhoods. By doing that, we recruit a group of volunteers so-called ‘Neighbor Ranger’ prioritizing whom grew up in or nearby such communities. We invited them to utilize their skills and potentials to create a better place for kids by co-creating the ‘NeighborYouth Camp’ in the given area.
In the camp, kids get to know new friends from the near neighborhoods, learn to mapping places in neighborhoods and discussing the uniqueness of their communities. There is also a walk-rally game in communities where the kids have to complete the mission by learning their local professions such as painting the alms bowl (in Ban Bat community), interviewing the work tasks of crafting a piece of product (in Mahakan community), and other fun team building activities including sports games.
Even though it is their own community where they’re living and nothing new for them, after the camp the kids said they have learned a lot from looking into the details of the place they are familiar with, absorb community’s values and identities, and appreciate it in different ways. They have been embodied a sense of belonging and connectedness with the community. And they also learned skills of teamwork, leadership, and how to take care of each other as by-products. From the observation after the camp, some of the children come to meet each other regularly and initiate some fun activities by themselves such as a football match, and fun-easy science experiments.
Neighbor Rangers, our volunteers, also learn a lot. They said it’s a great opportunity to look back to their hometown and see the other side of the city that they have never experienced. They are now realized that there are needs and problems existing right in the heart of the capital city. They are keen to do more community work activities and to be part of creating the better city.
With positive feedback from kids as participants, volunteers as an organizer, and parents in communities, we decided to organise activities more often. Now the volunteers are rotating to set up an annual summer camp and a weekend day-activity such as art workshop, cooking class, and museum study visit. And we will still continue doing it, starting small from the neighborhood scale. We want to be part of encouraging them to be their better self and become an active citizen to give back to their community and the city. Ultimately, we want to revitalize the declining old communities to become lively again as they were.