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Thailand Slum Community Gives to Haiti's Children on Valentine's Day

  • Ron Corben

In a Valentine's Day with a difference, residents of the Klong Toey slum near Bangkok's port have come to the aid of the children of Haiti.

Volunteers and children from the Duang Prateep Foundation, which works with the community, on Sunday walked through narrow lanes and alleys seeking donations.

Winnai is an amputee who made his way through alleys in his wheelchair.

Winnai says the world has close bonds with the people of Haiti. He says those in Bangkok slum could be seen as better off than Haitians these days. At least the poor in Bangkok can go to the temple for food assistance, but in Haiti all the places of worship were destroyed.

Mothers in Klong Toey, one of the poorest districts in Bangkok, spoke of their anguish when they saw the destruction on the television. They gave everything they could spare - sometimes as little as a 20 baht or about 60 cents, sometimes as much as three dollars.

Klong Toey residents have long struggled to survive against government evictions, industrial fires and accidents and monsoon floods.

Prateep Ungsongtham Hata, who set up the Duang Prateep Foundation in 1978, says the community identifies with the Haitian people.

"Poor people here they are facing many difficulties, for example the fire happened in the community so they have lost their house," she said. "So they understand how people feel. After seeing the pictures of the Haitians facing the problems they understand right away how painful the hardship the Haitian people are facing so they want to just give a little bit."

Prateep says the donations will be passed on to the Save the Children fund.

Haitian-born Marie Ange Sylvain-Holmgren, a filmmaker working in Bangkok, sought the foundation's assistance for her country. Sylvain-Holmgren says the poor often are not seen as being able to give, as well as receive assistance. She says the community's generosity was about more than money.

"The way you give it, you given in your hand and its all crumpled little notes, and it's not a click and transfer from my Visa," she said. "It's different. They give you a smile at the same time and they give you the heart and they give you the warmth - it's this that is invaluable - the money will finish, but this will not end."

Thailand has contributed over $15 million in public and private aid for Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

And on Valentine's Day, Bangkok's poor offered an additional $3,000 to help those suffering half a world away.

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