Story by Vicky Juat
BANGKOK, 28 June 2016 – In August 2013, I received a strange phone call from a person very concerned about a boy hanging around the Victory Monument Bridge, one of the busiest commuter spots in central Bangkok. This concerned person travels the same way to and from work every day, and every day he sees the same boy aimlessly hanging around the area. Worried about this boy’s safety, the concerned person called UNICEF, hoping that UNICEF could do something for the boy. I immediately called one of UNICEF’s partners, Friends-International Peuan Peuan, knowing that this NGO works in the area and hoping that they might have some contact with the boy. The Peuan Peuan Rescue team of Friends-International was immediately dispatched to look out for the boy.
The team found Ton (not his real name), an 11- year old Cambodian boy, near the Victory Monument, exactly where they had been told he hangs out. The team recognized him as the same boy they found several months ago. Ton was offered to stay in one of the shelters for a short stay while Peuan Peuan tracked his relatives across the border. But the young wanderer chose not to stay, he preferred to stay outside and be on the streets of Bangkok. The next day, The Hub, another NGO from the same network, called the Peuan Peuan team, saying that they found a Cambodian boy in the Hua Lamphong area and brought him to the drop-in center. It was Ton.
The Puean Puean Bangkok outreach team contacted the Peuan Peuan Aranyaprathet team to undertake a family assessment and possibly a family reintegration. Following Friends-International’s case management system – an effective tool for social workers to support individuals based on their needs – both teams jointly assessed and monitored the movements of Ton, covering his migration routes and possible locations to ensure his protection, while hoping for to establish a long-term family reintegration for Ton.
Ton accompanied his parents to Bangkok when he was 6 years old. His parents later separated, and since then he had been travelling back and forth between his hometown in Battambang (Cambodia) and Thailand alone. He is a smart boy, literate in both Thai and Khmer and able to hold his own with vendors and street locals. He is a skilled street survivor, knows all the street signs, and has a very good memory of places and whereabouts in Bangkok. He even once took a tuk tuk to the Peuan Peuan Center by himself!
The first attempt to reintegrate Ton with his family in September 2013 failed. Ton returned to central Bangkok, staying in the same places where he used to hang around. A little later, he was again rescued from the streets, this time placed in a place called the Reception Home for Boys. The Puean Peuan reintegration team again met with Ton and continued to support him until he was finally repatriated officially to Cambodia in August 2014. It took over a year to see this family reintegration come through.
Last week, during my trip to the Aran- Poipet border, I was surprised to come face-to-face with Ton, the boy whom I’ve only known as the ‘Lost and Found Boy’ for the first time. Upon seeing him, I couldn’t help but hug Ton, knowing that he is safe and in good hands. This smart and adventurous wanderer is now staying and studying at Goutte D’Eau Center (known as Damnok Toek), a local NGO based in Poipet (Cambodia). The center provides residential care, family and school reintegration services to children like Ton.
After a big hug and seeing the bright face of this 13-year old boy, I could immediately see and feel that he is happy and safe in the center. It’s been three years since I heard about him for the first time. He told me he is happy now and that likes to stay at the center, where he can study and be among friends. He also says he is in touch with his grandmother in Battambang, who he was staying with after his parents left him. It was touching.
Ton is only one of the many thousands of children who cross the borders alone, wanting to survive, coping with the dangers that face them, and hoping that one day they find their dreams. Hopefully, this boy goes far with his dreams and ambitions. But now at least…. my Lost and Found … and Lost (again) boy is safe.
(Thanks to the details and information provided by Friends-International. This is a continuation of the blog post first published by Friends-International on 20 October 2014 titled “ Bangkok Boy” – A Story from Peuan Peuan )