No child should ever have to drop out of school because their family can’t afford to send them. No child should ever have to drop out of school so that they can work to help feed their family.

When you think about Thailand, you might think about the huge metropolis of modern Bangkok with its many shopping centres, or about idyllic beaches with five-star hotels. But just scratch that surface and you’ll find stark inequalities.

Unfortunately, poverty is a very real challenge for some children in Thailand, particularly in rural areas where farming and subsistence lifestyles are the norm.

When we set up Maison de Siam we were really keen to make this a social enterprise and to help support local communities in the country that we have made our home. We are doing this both by working with the hill tribe silversmiths themselves and by supporting excellent local charities. We are delighted to announce that the first charity we will support is EDF, The Education for Development Foundation. This is a Bangkok-based NGO working nationally with disadvantaged children to give them an education and therefore the chance to improve their lives.

The key goal here is to break the cycle of poverty.

A typical story of the children that EDF supports is that the parents can’t afford to send their kids to school, so the kids drop out and help earn a living. This will have happened to the parents themselves when they were children, and if the cycle isn’t broken it will happen to the next generation. EDF allows children to gain an education and move into the skilled workforce, away from low-paid menial jobs or human trafficking. The charity has helped 300,000 children to date.

EDF has clear criteria for the children who join the sponsorship programme: they must be well-behaved children who want to work, and the family income must be less than 40,000 THB a year. Let’s put this into perspective – 40,000 THB is around £800, or $1200. A year. Per family. That’s about £2 a day to cover everything a family needs. Not many people in the developed Western world can get close to imagining this. Thailand doesn’t have a benefits system like the UK does, so people must work if they want to eat.
There are some heartbreaking stories on the EDF website, and equally heart-warming stories of how children have been supported.

Initially, Maison de Siam will sponsor three children in the Chiang Mai area, and we’ll introduce you to them and their stories in future blogs, sharing their progress and watching them grow.

For more information about the great work EDF do please go to their website www.edfthai.org

Here is just one example of the wonderful support that EDF provides to Thailand’s young people:

The story of Wun.Wun with his grandmother

2015: Wun lives in the Burinam province in the North East of Thailand. When he was one year old his father passed away. His mother then remarried and moved with her new family to Bangkok, leaving Wun with his grandmother. Wun’s older siblings finished school early and went to work in local factories. Wun remained with his grandmother in their old wooden house. His 58-year-old grandmother is a construction worker and travels to other areas for two to three months at a time. She leaves a 500 THB (£10) allowance with neighbours, which has to last him until she returns, and Wun often has to stay alone. This means Wun has to do his own cooking, cleaning and washing. Often the allowance isn’t enough and Wun doesn’t have enough to eat. If he gets sick he has to contact other relatives in another Every day, Wun walks two kilometres to school and often works part-time in the local rubber plantation at the weekends. He gives anything he earns to his grandmother. Sometimes he has to cut class to earn money.

His schoolteacher says that although Wun can’t study very much he is a good child, and she worries that living alone when his grandmother is away and having to miss school to earn money will have a big impact on him.

Wun wants to be a soldier when he grows up, to make his grandmother proud of him. He wants to get support from EDF so that he can finish school and realize this dream.
In 2016 Wun was sponsored via EDF. He is still staying in the same house and living his normal life, but the big change is that he is no longer forced by hunger to cut class to earn a living. This helps his learning and his chances of finishing school. His sponsor also donated a bike, which means that he can travel the two kilometres to school much more quickly.

Wun told EDF how he felt when granted the scholarship: “I felt very glad when my teacher told me that I got a scholarship from EDF. I would like to say big thanks to my sponsor and also for such a stunning bicycle. I promise to study hard to make my teacher, grandmother and scholarship sponsor proud of me. I will spend the scholarship fund wisely for my education.”

Although EDF Scholarships may seem small, they make a big difference to the students by releasing the burden of school expenses and giving them hope for the future. In this case, a little goes a very long way.

Since writing this blog post, I have been asked several times about our experiences so far and if we have found people are taking into consideration ethical and sustainable elements when purchasing goods. Are peoples buying habits changing? Here’s an interview we did on the subject : https://startups.instantprint.co.uk/2017/03/02/whats-your-story-maison-de-siam-ethical-hand-crafted-jewellery/