September 6, 2010

THAILAND: Aunty Sorn helps poor buy their own homes

BANGKOK, Thailand / The Nation / National News / September 6, 2010

You're never too old to learn : Aunty Sorn

By Rojana Manowalailao
Special to The Nation
Aunty Sorn is going to finish her primary education next semester. Thanks to the Office of the Non-Formal and Informal Education (ONIE), 51-year-old Aunty Sorn, otherwise known as Ratchaneekorn Chanbariboon, can not only read, write and complete numeracy tasks, but she has also selflessly rescued her entire community from poor living conditions to enable them to own their first ever homes.
 A four-rai plot of land has been bought to build two-storey concrete houses for 103 families living in the Klong Bangpran Pattana community of around 1,000 residents in Bangkok's Bang Bon district.

A Bt30-million bank loan was secured to buy the land and build the houses. Aunty Sorn was the driving force to get the scheme underway in her role as community president, since the community was established eight years ago.

New life skills help poor city residents to buy their own homes

"It's heartbreakingly hurtful every time when thinking about the time when we were evicted from the land we had lived on for over 20 years. It's been very tough but I told community members if we want to have our own land and homes, we would have to endure together and help each other to make it through," she said.

Sorn started collecting Bt100 per household each month, rising to Bt2,500 a month over the past eight years to prove to the bank the community's ability to handle the loan repayments.

"Sometimes members are not able to supply the expected amount of savings, but since we talk very often, we know each other's situation. And we find more part-time work for community members to earn a little extra income," she said.

Sorn said she had never saved before, but her new found numeracy skills have enabled her to manage her earnings more efficiently.

"Now I save at least Bt5,000 a month," she shyly replied when asked how much she was able to put away. She owns a small grocery shop and is a One Tambon One Product (OTOP) agent for the community.

Most residents work as taxi drivers, motorcycle taxi riders, construction workers and traders. They can also earn extra income by tying ribbons for garlands, colouring domino games and producing Thai traditional toys made from coconut shells for the OTOP scheme.

The community has been backed by ONIE for literacy and life skills programmes, which consist of basic and lifelong education, including non-formal primary, lower and higher secondary equivalent education, income-generation programmes, short and long-term skills training, plus quality of life improvement activities.

Established in 1979, ONIE aims to promote the development of non-formal and informal education schemes to those who lack learning opportunities and give them greater chances in society.

Before the arrival of ONIE, about 30 per cent, mostly adults, could not read and write, Sorn said. Now every person in the community is literate.

"In the beginning, some illiterate adults in the community said they were too old to study. But it's not about age and the ability to read and write or do numeracy. But it is about being proud of oneself, increasing one's confidence, self esteem and self empowerment," she said.

"I used to feel very nervous, scared and inferior. But now that has all changed. I can proudly tell people that I am having an education. I am a student of ONIE and I will be until my physical conditions do not allow me to do so."

Two in every three of the world's 759 million illiterate adults are women, according to the UNESCO-commissioned Global Monitoring Report 2010. In Thailand, about six per cent of adults (15 years and over) were illiterate in 2007.

International Literacy Day is celebrated worldwide on September 8. This year's theme will highlight the empowering role of literacy for girls and women. In Asia over 60 per cent of non-literates are female.

In Thailand, UNESCO Bangkok will join ONIE at the Science Centre in Rangsit for the launch of 24 mobile libraries for 24 provinces

(c) 2007 Thailand