Story Nattha Keenapan/ Video by Jingjai N.
BANGKOK, September 2013 – Inside a construction site for a luxurious Bangkok residential project stands a large sign which reads: “The good life begins with a home, a bright future starts with an education.” Behind the sign is an open-air classroom where the children of site’s mostly Cambodian construction workers now spend their days learning while their parents toil on the job.
Every morning, Tuen, an enthusiastic 11-year-old Cambodian boy, walks from the makeshift camp that is home to nearly migrant 200 workers and their families to this clean and colorful child-friendly space, which features a new metal roof, laminated wood floors and a low, concrete wall splashed with brightly painted cartoon characters. For Tuen, who had previously spent his time wandering around the construction site with a rusty old toy robot he found among the rubble, it is a place to play with new toys, make friends and, most importantly, learn.
“I like this place,” says Tuen, smiling as he fills in a colouring book with a crayon. “I didn’t have any friends before. And I like that there is a fan here. I can turn it on when I feel hot.”
The classroom, located inside the Setthasiri residential construction site on Ratchaphruek-Charan Road, now serves as a safe place for Tuen and about 20 other children who used to spend their days roaming the dusty, noisy and dangerous construction area where their parents work. Initiated in early 2013 by Sansiri Plc., one of the country’s leading real estate developers, and its construction suppliers, the child-friendly space project is aimed at providing the children of their construction workers with lessons in Thai, English, mathematics and the arts, as well as basic knowledge on health and personal hygiene.
“Children of construction workers have the right to an education and appropriate care,” said Srettha Thavisin, President of Sansiri Plc. “So we work with our staff and suppliers to create these special spaces for the children and provide them with care and an informal education.”
Each day, the children, who range in age from 2-11, visit the classroom to rest and play. On Saturdays, staff from Sansiri and its suppliers, who helped build the space and donated the construction materials for it, provide the children with a basic education and other recreational activities.
So far, five classrooms have been set up at construction sites in Hua Hin, Khao Yai, Bangkok and Phuket, and each one serves between five to 30 Thai and migrant children, mostly of primary school age. When construction on the site is finished, the classrooms are taken down and then rebuilt at a new project site to serve the children of workers at the new building. Many of the children of the migrant families have never been to school before.
The temporary classrooms project is a good example of how businesses can help improve the well-being of children by applying child-friendly practices to their activities, said Pornthida Padthong, a UNICEF Thailand Communication Officer who works to promote child-friendly business principles among private sector corporations in Thailand.
“Children are everyone’s business,” said Pornthida. “Adopting child-friendly business practices, such as providing a safe learning space for the children of workers, is always possible if there is sufficient corporate commitment.”
In addition to supporting the classrooms, Sansiri has also established breastfeeding rooms at its offices for the mothers among its staff, banned child labour at its construction sites, helped UNICEF advocate for new regulations requiring all iodization of all salt for human consumption, and is now helping
UNICEF promote awareness on the importance of investing heavily in early childhood development.
Pornthida said applying the child-friendly business practice is about making the organization a child-friendly one first. It starts with promoting an understanding of children’s rights among the employees and ensuring that they have a good family life. Then companies can apply good practices into their business activities and expand their initiatives to benefit the society at large.
Niran Siri, Project Engineer of the Construction Lines Co. Ltd, one of Sansiri’s suppliers which so far has set up three classrooms at construction sites in Hua Hin and Khao Yai , said the classroom project has helped increase overall productivity as the workers do not have to worry about their children while working. It has also been a good incentive that keeps the workers stay with the company while attracting the new ones.
Niran said he and his team members no longer see the children playing in the heaps of discarded construction materials or swimming in dirty ponds on the sites. After a few months of attending classes at the 23 Degree hotel and condominium construction site near Khao Yai National Park, Niran and his team have seen many positive changes in the children, who are mostly Cambodians. The children can now speak Thai and do easy math calculations.
“They are always ready to learn,” said Watchareeporn Puttasorn, Administrative Staff of Construction Lines, who teaches Thai and mathematics every Saturday afternoon. “We never have to call or chase them to come to the class. They are very enthusiastic and have shown a lot of improvements.”
Srettha said Sansiri plans to set up child-friendly spaces in every province where the company has construction projects. He encouraged other companies in the real estate industry to create similar spaces for children on their own job sites, and to also ensure that no children are employed as workers at their sites.
“I would be very pleased if we and our competitors could work together on this one,” Srettha said.