On Wednesday night, 8th July 2015, I spent the night at The Hub in Bangkok. It’s run by my Bill Crews Trust for the homeless kids of that city. I slept there in dormitory conditions with them.
We slept on stretchers. These stretchers were stored in a box in the large downstairs all purposes entrance room and, at night brought out and unpacked.
The Hub, open during the day closes for a while in the evening and then opens for the night at 9:00 pm. Many kids hangaround outside until the doors open. The doors are then basically kept shut throughout the whole “sleep” time because many of the kids are caught up with “gangsters” or harassed by the police.
As the kids start to come in and hang around with some coming and going, a sense of family develops. In many ways, the youth workers are like older brothers and sisters and there’s easygoing conversations between workers and kids.
To sleep there, the kids have to do some studies or schoolwork provided by The Hub. This is provided by volunteer teachers during the day and also during the evenings. This is the school run by the Hub so the street kids can get at least some sort of basic education, although they can get more than that if they want. What surprised me was how keen the kids were to learn. Within half an hour of the doors opening, kids were sitting around tables with their workbooks and the staff were helping them. I imagine those kids were the ones who hadn’t attended “classes” during the day and were eager to sleep there.
Ilya had told me it was a lottery as to how many kids would sleep there that night. “There could be one and there could be up about 20” was his advice.
The kids would enter in two’s and three’s, particularly the girls. There was a constant coming and going as well. One boy had lacerations on his arms and legs which had been covered with gauze and surgical tape. These weren’t very big but one could see they had been weeping or, bleeding. “What happened there?” I asked. “Gangsters” was the deadpan reply from both staff and the child so I didn’t push the issue any further.
What surprised me was the almost equal numbers of boys and girls. I expected the centre to be filled with boys and maybe one or two girls but I was mistaken just through the sheer number of girls. It was obvious from their demeanour and knowing looks, probably half of the girls were sex workers. Yet, all of their faces were surprisingly open and I was also surprised at how accepted I was and how accepted it was that I would stay there. The kids asked me my name and I asked them theirs. There was lots of laughter as we tried to understand one another. I didn’t feel out of place either by my being Western, a male and older. I was just accepted for who I was. They were really interested in how old I was and then some of them shared their ages with me. A couple of the boys were 17 and the girls confessed to 13.
I was surprised at how polite they were and, well behaved. As they entered the front door, they all genuflected and went about their tasks.
There were lockers in which they could store their clothes and personal belongings. I noticed how battered they were and several had the doors missing. There were shower and laundry facilities available for the kids. Liep was there when I arrived and he ran over to me and hugged me and wouldn’t let me go. Everyone noticed he was crying. Liep and I have a long history. He is a mentally disabled boy who basically wanders the streets. He attached himself to the Hub and, really is part of the furniture. Liep set out his stretcher and I set mine next to his. He grinned an enormous grin. No one seemed to worry that I used a sleep machine for my apnea, I just got it out, plugged it in and laid it by the bed. Nobody commented or even seemed to notice.
One of the girls got out an ironing board and started ironing some clothes. One of the staff went over to help her and then another girl joined in and to me, it looked like the goings on in a communal laundromat. The television was on in the corner.
I couldn’t help noticing how many of the kids have mobile phones. They were using them for all sorts of things as well as telephoning. The Hub has Wi-Fi and apparently Thailand is the most Facebook used country.
After a while, one of the workers asked me if I would like to go with them as they visited some children who were living in a flat on their own. I immediately said yes and off we went – two youth workers and me. We walked through the carparks of several buildings and through several laneways. I was surprised at how comfortable I was in the whole situation. After all I was walking down these darkened laneways (it was about 10:30 pm) in a seedy area of Bangkok and into buildings where I didn’t know what was happening but I didn’t feel anxious at all. I felt surprisingly comfortable and really at home. Although it was so late, the buildings were full of little kids playing in the passageways. Finally we got to the door of where these kids slept and knocked there fruitlessly for quite a while. No child came to the door and the people next door said that the kids had probably gone out. Apparently these kids don’t stay at the Hub but are looked after by the Hub staff. For one reason or another, they don’t want to live within the rules of the Hub or perhaps it’s got to do with not doing the education program.
Anyway, by the time we got back it was time to go to bed. I noted there were about a dozen kids there – basically half boys and half girls. One very pregnant young girl had come in along with her less pregnant friend. They too were obviously sex workers. They were about 14 years of age. I asked about the pregnancy and the staff told me the hospital was looking after them and provided a good service. The girls agreed. I asked the obviously pregnant one if she was scared about giving birth and she admitted she was.
I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to the little baby as I was told most of the girls take them with them while they work in the sex trade. This girl is going to do that, the worker told me.
Since I was last at the Hub, there have been four children born and these two more are on the way. What to do is a dilemma. Nobody wants another stolen generation and there was a bit of talk about creating a crèche. It is something, in the future, we will have to look at. By the way there is a 27 year old grandmother in the loop too. It’s also sobering to note that up to 40% of the kids we see are HIV positive.
By this time, night had closed in and our world became very small. Just camp beds arranged dormitory style, boys on one side, and girls on the other. The TV stayed on for a while and the whole place became like a normal lounge room. There is a real bond between the kids and the workers which I think is formed out of a sense they have no one else. What again surprised me was how much I felt part of that. I was not excluded at all and just accepted along with everyone else.
I had a really good sleep that night and was surprised at how quickly everybody got up in the morning and left. 6:00 am is rise and shine time and they were all up, having their showers and ready to go. I couldn’t help compare that to Sydney kids who would be complaining about everything.
It as only later when saying this Ilya, he told me that he thought this was due to The Hub’s No smoking policy. “They all rush out for a smoke” he said. “Remember they haven’t had a cigarette for quite a few hours”
In my notes, I have written how I went to sleep feeling really happy. For that night, I felt part of a “family” with its trust and acceptance that’s rarely come by. I deliberately took no photos that night. I didn’t want to highlight any of them and I don’t want to attract pedaphiles.