A visit to ‘The Slaughterhouse School’
INTO Giving Director, Chris Walker recently visited one of INTO’s sponsored projects and saw first-hand how going to school is making a huge difference to the lives of over 100 children in a Bangkok slum.
You might start by imagining a capital letter I, lying flat on its back.
Across the top horizontal stroke is a sprawling, open-aired and almost wall-less building beneath a low fibreglass roof, where every evening caged trucks of screaming pigs arrive to be slaughtered by the hundreds. The air inside and outside the slaughterhouse is the same, and smells of blood, old water and death.
At the bottom of the letter I, behind a high chain link fence, is an open-aired and almost wall-less building beneath a dark and dirty fibreglass roof, where early each morning 105 three-to-six-year-olds arrive to learn Thai, how to count, personal hygiene, plus learning the names of animals, fruit and vegetables in English.
This is the Mercy Centre Preschool, referred to either as ‘Flat 23/24 School’ after the twin and grim apartment blocks that shadow the short alleyway running between the preschool and the slaughterhouse or, colloquially, as ‘The Slaughterhouse School’. Semi-feral, cruel-faced dogs are as common as scooters in the alley, where clothes are hung out to dry from the caged windows of the cold water flats on either side.
Most of the preschool children’s parents work either at the slaughterhouse, or at the nearby port authority, or as cleaners in the wealthy high rises in the near distance, or in the sex trade. Teenage pregnancy and drug abuse is common among the parents; and many of the preschool children are looked after by their grandparents, some of whom are only in their 40s. There is a strong sense of family in Thailand, no less so here in the Poonsab, the oldest quarter of Bangkok’s largest slum.
“You may think that a child has no one because their parents are dead,” explains one of the Mercy Centre Preschool co-ordinators, “but we have located distant family members out in the provinces before, who have taken in the children.”
The girls and boys at the school are as cheeky and noisy (and, equally, attentive when the teachers call them to lesson or activity), beaming, bright-eyed and scarpering about as any other children. They each have self-appointed nicknames like Peanut, Pizza and Seven-Eleven.
One in five children arrive at the school malnourished. All of them are given rice, milk, fruit, and vegetables twice daily, take an afternoon nap, and diligently learn the Thai alphabet (44 consonants and 14 vowels, forming words that can have as many as five different pronunciations and meanings). “If you know how to write in the formal way,” the head teacher says, “everybody will know you have been to school, and it will help you get a job. If not, you don’t have a hope of finding work.”
The oldest children (those in their third year at the preschool, and perhaps six-or seven-years old) go on to elementary school following a graduation ceremony, complete with robes and certificates. For most of these children, it will be the only time they experience graduation.
INTO Giving is supporting the preschool this year with a donation of £5,000 that will go miles and miles towards giving these children the hope of a better life by helping to fund the teachers and providing the classrooms with basic materials like paper and pencils.
It’s for the preschool or places like it, for these children or ones like them, that we, collectively, put our hands in our pockets, sponsor someone, take part in a road race or a cycling competition, or organise a raffle or charity evening. Every penny counts and, thanks to INTO Giving's chairman, every penny is really worth two.