migrant-house
A migrant family and their bamboo house.

“I think that if you do start a daycare in the migrant camp that you will have to be careful to make sure the parents understand that they need to pick up the children each day. Otherwise, some parents, they might leave the children with you and go somewhere else to work. We had that happen. Their parents were gone for 3 years.”

“I would not have thought of that. Thank you!” I said. I know that many children living in orphanages have living parents somewhere, but it never occurred to me that they would do something like abandon their children at a daycare center, for westerners to take care of.

Then I asked her something that I’ve wanted to understand for a very long time. I thought that of all people she could shed some light on the issue. Her family sent her away to live with another family when she was very young. She lived in several orphanages after coming to Thailand from Burma, and she knows the situation of the local families more intimately than most people because she works with them.

“Why do parents leave their children with other people? Is it a cultural thing?”

“No, it’s not culture,” she responded slowly, thinking. “It’s more because they are poor. If someone else feeds their children and watches them then they can go away and work and get more money. They think the children will be better off if they are somewhere that they can get food and go to school.”

“Do they not realize how important parents are to a child’s well being?” I asked.

“No, I don’t think they do. I think they are only trying to live.” She answered.

It’s heartbreaking, the way parents will leave children behind, and not just with people who have good and caring intentions either. It’s heartbreaking that they feel that they have to make this choice, to deprive a child of the most important thing to them in their growing up years, protective parents, in order to try and make ends meet.

I have learned since coming to Thailand that family burdens are large. No one just makes money for themselves or their small nuclear family. Every Burmese person I know who works in Thailand has a mother or father or other family in Burma that they send money to, to support them. Grandmothers and children and aunties and uncles and cousins, in this culture they must all be supported if you can. Try doing that on the average wage of $250/month.

So what can we do?

How can we help?

Well, that’s why I was talking to my friend about a daycare. Because if we can help parents by providing a safe option for their children during the day, those children won’t be left at an orphanage, or sent far away back to elderly grandparents, or left to fend for themselves in a migrant camp all day, with dogs, and open water, and nearby roads with fast moving trucks, while parents work.

If we can take care of these children during the day, and give their parents classes at night; in parenting, entrepreneurship, health and well being, if we can strengthen these families, and convince these parents that they are vital to their children’s well being, then maybe we can end the cycle that breaks up families and leaves these children so vulnerable.

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