Tai goes to preschool

Change is possible. After two years of operation, pre-school for the children of Cambodian migrant families living in Thailand has already enabled over two hundred children to attend local schools.

Eight-year-old Tai enjoys learning new things, but it hasn’t always been so.

- I like all subjects but the best are maths and Thai, says Tai.

Tai, the daughter of a Cambodian migrant worker in Thailand, tried to attend regular school in Thailand, but due to her lack of language skills, she could not fit in and cried for her mother during school days. Now Tai has been eight months in pre-school, which prepares children of migrant workers for school in Thailand.

Photographs by Benjamin Suomela

To date, already over two hundred children of undocumented Cambodian migrant workers have transferred from Tai’s pre-school learning centre to regular school in Trat and Rayong in Thailand. This pre-school is part of the Plan International Seas of Change project, supported by K Group. Cooperation began three years ago with a research project on the status of migrant workers in Thailand.

For Plan, the impetus for co-operation was their knowledge of the weak position of the children of Cambodian migrant workers. Poverty and the hope of a better future are driving whole families to neighbouring Thailand as migrant workers. But because the parents are undocumented, families lack the social support and security provided by the state. If they fall ill they cannot visit the doctor and their children have trouble entering the Thai school system. Some children take care of younger siblings while their parents are at work, some end up sorting fish while still young.

“Our work involves a lot of engagement with families and authorities. Parents do not necessarily know that their children could attend school in Thailand. Girls especially are often expected to care for smaller siblings in the fishing communities while parents work at fishing ports or factories,” says Ossi Heinänen, Secretary General, Plan International Finland.

Pa is Tai’s mother and moved with her family from Cambodia to Thailand 17 years ago. Tai’s older brothers were cared for at home by Pa, but for the past ten years Pa has cleaned and sorted fish at home. Customers collect prepared fish and bring new ice for refrigeration. Sometimes, Pa also cares for her neighbours' children while their parents work, often at fish factories.

Thailand born Tai is Pa's youngest child. Her big brothers have been working on a fishing boat since they were teenagers, but Tai is in pre-school from 8:30 until midday. Tai is the first eight-year-old in her community who has learned to read Thai. For her school trip, Tai travels alone by bus.

“I wanted my daughter to go school. If there were no alternative, I would have sent her back to school in Cambodia. But then I would see her only once or twice a year,” says Pa.

The K Group entered into cooperation with Plan because it wants to assume responsibility for its supply chain’s sustainability. Thailand is classified as a risk country – a country where there is a high risk of human rights violations. Kesko imports mainly fish and canned foodstuffs from Thailand, worth a total of €6.1 million last year.

“Assuring the social responsibility of our own brand products is extremely important to us, so we focus on the Pirkka product supply chain. Thanks to Plan's local contacts, we have had the opportunity to acquaint ourselves with our supply chain even further and enter the fishermen's communities. By supporting the protection and education of the families and children of migrant workers, we can prevent human rights risks arising in our supply chain,” says Matti Kalervo Kesko's Vice president, Corporate Responsibility.

Matti Kalervo believes that cooperation between the organisation and the company will add transparency to the sustainability of the supply chain.

Education is one of the most effective ways of preventing the cycle of poverty.

“Education provides the knowledge and skills for a good life and increases income. When children attend school they will most likely send their own children to school,” states Heinänen.

K Group and Plan International Finland implement the project in co-operation with Plan International Sweden. It is part of a larger project in Thailand and Cambodia, funded by the Swedish Development Agency SIDA and by the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, USA. The joint project will continue until 2018 and the aim is that the learning centres will have become part of the normal activities of Thai schools by then.

What does Tai want to do in the future? “I don’t know yet. But when I am big I want to find work and earn money, so I can take care of my mother,” she says.

Today, 11 October, is the International Day of the Girl. Because I am a Girl campaign supports the youth-led, global movement for girls’ rights and gender equality. Across the world girls suffer injustices every day simply because they are young and female.

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