Member Ren Lexander, PhD, presented a documentary video about Pattaya’s Hand to Hand Foundation at the Sunday, May 26, meeting of the Pattaya City Expats Club (PCEC). The documentary, Slumdog Saints: The women who joined hands, is about the founding and journey of the Hand to Hand Foundation which was started to help kids and families in the slums.
There are expats who have lived in Pattaya for many years who don’t even realize that there are shanty slums within minutes of where they live. “What slums? There aren’t any slums in Pattaya.” (Conversation recently heard at a party.) Well, yes there are.
The documentary covered the founding of the Foundation and highlighted how it began in 2009 when three women joined hands: Margie Grainger who was then a teacher at an international school and two truly remarkable Thai ladies, Pai and Mon. There were parts with each of them describing how each became involved.
Their first project was starting a preschool for kids from the slums. As Margie Grainger says: “We opened up a preschool for the slum kids on the first day with 17 children. No tables. No chairs. No books. Two single women who never finished school. Some recycled paper and recycled crayons. That’s what we had. And we started. And we just kept on going.
“And when we opened this preschool it was just incredible. People would laugh and say, ‘You’re crazy. Who do you think you are? You’re not the savior of the world. Margie, you need to calm down and realize you can’t do this. You don’t have sponsors. You don’t have resources. You don’t have teachers’.” And all of that was true.”
Nine years later, this can’t-be-done preschool has blossomed into a Foundation with its own premises and powerful ongoing programs. The central heartbeat of Hand to Hand is to keep families together and enable loving but dirt-poor parents to keep the children they love and not have to give them up into orphanages. To do this, Hand to Hand: Gives weekly food parcels to families in the slums; Collects unwanted clothes and other goods and redistributes them to the poor, needy and desperate; Runs a preschool for slum kids; Hands out scholarships so that kids from the slums can go to school – all the way up to graduating from university; and Stitches together families out of surviving functional members of families.
There was a very moving story about Apple, a toddler taken from her dysfunctional parents and brought to Hand to Hand by the Thai police who had rescued her. Hand to Hand took her in and started to heal the damage. They also tracked down her grandparents and found that they were homeless, living under a tree and didn’t even know they had a grandchild. So, Hand to Hand rented an inexpensive room for the grandparents and gave them a chance to build a relationship with their grandchild. They now live together as a family. Hand to Hand also gives Apple a scholarship so she can continue to go to school.
Also moving was the story of how Hand to Hand started to take in deaf children from the slums and teach them – and all the kids in the preschool – Thai sign language.
Dr. Lexander revealed that, in the course of making the documentary, he became “mates” (as they say in his native Australia) with the deaf girl, Pan. Within 60 seconds of meeting her, even though she couldn’t talk or hear, he realized she was bright. Her teachers confirmed that she was really bright and also really good hearted. Pan now performs dance routines with other children – even though she cannot hear the music. Dr. Lexander shared a dream that he has formed – a dream that perhaps Pan could be given a Cochlear ear implant and hear – and that perhaps someone who had the money to pay for it would one day see the documentary and say: “I want to help and be part of this dream… and I would like this sensitive, intelligent girl to hear.”
The documentary is slated by Dr. Lexander to be the pilot for a documentary series called “Slumdog Saints”. It will be about leaders fighting for the tired, poor and huddled masses.
Observing the audience during the screening, it was obvious that many were emotionally affected; some were apparently choking back the tears while a few were failing to choke them back.
To learn more about Hand to Hand Foundation and their charitable works or to sponsor a child from the slums to go to school, visit www.handtohandpattaya.com. He also announced that for those that would like to donate used goods, they could bring then to the PCEC’s next Sunday meeting or contact them through their website.
To learn more about Dr. Lexander’s documentary project, visit www.slumdogsaints.com. He noted that there is a possibility of doing a World Premiere of the finished documentary as a fund-raiser for Hand to Hand. If this happens, he plans to publicize the information.
After the presentations, the MC updated everyone on upcoming events which was followed by the Open Forum where the audience can ask questions or make comments about expat living in Thailand especially Pattaya.