Tip, a thin 12-year old girl, lives on the back lane near Don Mueang airport with her friends. She has a small scar on her neck and an impish smile.
Homeless, streetkid, out-of-school, while her mother and three younger siblings live in the outskirts of Bangkok.
Made vulnerable by poverty, or something more sinister?
Her home for two years, the street, has flooded.
I bought hot food for her and her friends, and while they ate I spoke, my Thai friend translating, giving them tips about survival and safety in a flooded terrain.
These street-based focus group discussions are usually more effective than those expensive workshops held in five-star hotels. I enjoyed talking, listening and sharing with them.
Hungry, penniless, defenseless against the elements, without shelter.
She knows the dangers of the floods, possessing a basic understanding of hygiene and contaminated water. But Tip doesn’t feel comfortable in the shelters or institutionalized care.
Living amidst hardship, she has worked several odd jobs. The longest was in a kitchen, cutting vegetables for the cook. That road-side restaurant has closed. Tip is jobless and hungry.
Relief work prioritizes the needs of society, although the marginalized and minorities are usually neglected, in the bigger picture, or placed at the bottom of the priority list.
After all, do we really care about the poor? And what have we done to provide them with sustainable support?
It is not just the responsibility of the government to provide much-needed assistance and aid, but society can and must play a role. It Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to identify Tip’s issues on safety and the lack of food, nor would it cost much to help her. Society does possess the capacity to help, but are people doing enough or doing anything at all? Tip doesn’t think so, and I agree with her.
During my 20-years work with marginalized communities, I have seen the repetitive neglect.
She does not want to go back to her mother, believing that it would further burden her family. As it is right now, her friends are her family.
Homeless people sleep under bridges, near the rivers, canals and sewers. Many poor people live in slums. Their lives are not at the mercy of the floods, but placed in the hesitating hands of society. Poverty does not make Tip and many other streetkids and marginalized people vulnerable. The complacent and brutal attitudes of people do.
Tip with five of her teen friends, waved their goodbyes, disappeared into the night, leaving me alone to contemplate.