Reconnecting kids to the authentic neighborhoods

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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. 

Youth in urban poor communities

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.  

Volunteer-based activities for kids

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.

Impact

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. 

Do’s

  • To deal with kids, only key is to make it fun!: to make them interested in something that they never value for is the most challenge. Thus, we design all activities in a game format, then they are more eager to win and can do anything, especially when they’re with friends!
  • To use the volunteer model, make sure to have a shared goal of the job and provide concrete guidelines for them to work and manage to fulfill their expectations and achieve the work’s goals at the same time.
  • To hold the activities right in the community space allows kids’ parents witnessed their children’s learning, fun and laughter. It’s the way to build trust among parents, then they are willing to cooperate with us in other community work or other activities next time. For us, kids are a good entry point to approach community people.
  • Engage every sector as much as possible to let them see what we are inclusively doing. For this camp, the local district office provided an assembly venue. The local entrepreneurs also fully engaged with kids in the walk rally activity held in the neighborhoods. 
  • To work with kids and to build trust in the community takes time. Thus, consistency is the key. 

Don’ts

  • Avoid talking about sensitive issues: we should always aware of kids’ sensitive situations. In many cases, it’s difficult for them to talk about their families, parents occupations or other problems until they’re ready or trust us enough. 
  • Don’t spoil kids! : when working in such areas, some kids who lack of good care from parents will always call for attention. We should keep a balance between taking care of them and not too much spoiling them. The knowledge foundation of child psychology should be acknowledged for volunteers.

 

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