Investigation of the Exploitation of Akha Children

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January 25th 2007
Published: January 25th 2007
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At the Akha Training Center outside of Chiang Rai

I know that it has been a while, but our site was down for a few days. This is what we've been up to since you heard from us last.

As some of you may be aware, we have been in contact with a human rights activist who has worked in Thailand with the indigenous Akha people. He has recently been deported, but asked us to check up on a place called the Akha Training Center (ATC), a place that takes in Akha children as part of a child sponsorship program known as the Children of the Golden Triangle (CGT). One of those things you see on TV, 'for just 30 dollars a month, pennies a day, YOU can provide food, shelter and education for a poor child like Annie...act now". And like most of the ones you see on TV, this was done in the name of Christian charity
I contacted the head of the CGT, David, and said that Oliver and I were coming through the area and would be interested in volunteering for a day or two, just to check things out and hopefully set up some sponsorship of the kids with people back home from our church (ahem..). So after a bit of prevarication and delay on his part (suspicious) he said to stop on by and two days ago we did. We saw A LOT of crazy shit, so you'll have to bear with me on this, it may get long (though i'll try to hold down the ranting).

David had lunch brought to us when we first got there. Children served us the food. They had also cooked it, and they cleaned up after us when we were done. And when I say that the kids did all the work for the food, i mean all the work. There wasn't a single adult staff member or volunteer helping or directing. What we ate, as throughout our stay, was much much better than what the kids ate. The kids eat rice, broth, and cabbage, while the volunteers are fed fruit and meat. When I asked one of the volunteers about it, he said, 'yeah, it's sort of strange at first, but you get used to it.' and we eat different food 'mostly because they don't like the type of food we eat, and a lot of what they eat is too spicy for us.'

The kids do al the laundry (for everone) Many of the kids wet their beds every night
He meant to imply they wouldn't want stuff like toast and jam and we wouldn't want their spicy curries, but at the time he said this we were eating rice, stir fried vegetables, and curried pork (very thai) while the children were eating rice and cabbage (very bland).

Essentially, as we were later to find out, the kids don't do just the kitchen work, they pretty much do all the work. They get up at 5 am, in the dark, have christian devotionals, and then start to work for a few hours before they go to school. Over 1000 meals are cooked and cleaned up before 8 am. There is absolutely no adult supervision in the mornings (except for the two volunteers who wake up to wash the youngest, no one else is even awake). The older chidren wake up and direct the younger children. They can be found scurrying around in the dark picking up trash, cooking food, doing laundry, carrying concrete blocks, grouting, stuccoing, pouring concrete, tiling, and grinding metal stands for making wicker chairs. It is absolutely bizaare to walk around in the dark bumping into 500 children carrying wheelbarrows full of dirt, or huddling together

These are the conditions in which the kids sleep. The volunteers are not allowed in.
for warmth in the dark, or running around playing games without a single adult around. It appears as absolute chaos but amazing amounts of work gets done before any volunteer or staff is awake.
This work they do is way beyond basic childhood chores. One volunteer even made a joke that the children work for a few hours in the morning on the building and do twice as much as the volunteers do all day. There is a workshop there that the older boys work in for making beautiful wicker chairs, which are then sold for profit. The oldest kids only go to school one day a week, and then work at the center for the rest of the time.

There are over 500 kids there (we never got an exact number), but none of the volunteers were able to tell me how exactly the kids got there in the first place. 80% of them still have parents, but never to rarely see them after coming to the place. Everyone assumed that the parents left the children there because they were unable to take care of them, or that the kids were taken away by some unnamed authority because

Ever morning at 5 am (very Cold outside) the younger kids are wasched one by one in cold water.
their parents were drunks, abusive, and/or drug addicts. Matthew, the human rights activist who asked me to check the place out, suggested the kids are practically abducted.

Basically, by using the children as free labor, David is able to expand his business so that he can bring in more children (larger kitchens, dorms) and make more money. He keeps his overhead low by hiring very little staff and relying on volunteers and, mostly it seems, the kids themselves. At one point in the past, he said he had 52 volunteers there, all paying 'room and board'. At about $75 per volunteer per week, that is $3900 a week just from volunteers! Additionally, every child there was currently sponsored, at 30 USD a month. Which means over $15,000 a month from the children's sponsers, not to mention frequent bulk donations from organizations (they seem to be close with the rotary club along with a number of christian schools), and selling things that the kids make in the workshop. That is a lot of money, especially in Thailand.
They definitely have a good deal of money, with new trucks and extremely expensive personal computer systems and flat screen TVs. Suspiciously,
children sleepingchildren sleepingchildren sleeping

this is 'nap' time for the kids, no blankets or pillows, they sleep right on the hard floor.
the first camp was shut down (couldn't find out why), and local magistrates testified that David was using the kids for profit when they tried to expand their services to include adoption.

A number of the volunteers had come from a christian missions training camp before they got to the ATC, and were primed to think that they were going to do good works in the name of the lord, and were so BLIND to everything that was going on around them. They were obviously uncomfortable about a lot of it, but were unwiling to question anything and didn't know the answer to just about anything i asked about the kids. there is no excuse for such, albeit well-meaning, self-deluding stupidity. When the children are working so hard, they are described as merely 'industrialized', in an almost respectful, admiring sort of way, like how great these kids are that they work so hard! like gee, i wish my four year old got up at five in the morning to pick up trash in the dark and cook for other people...

The kids are truly amazing and fairly happy (for what one can see in 24 hours). They

everyone of the younger children had their heads shaved because of an outbreak of lice.
are very friendly, almost aggressive in their friendliness, probably because they are desperate for adult attention. It is true that the children are often very poor, but these children are taken away from their family and all that they know, deprived of real adult contact, only spoken to in English and Thai (which they probably don't speak at first), forcibly christianized, and made to work. Most of the work they do is done in name of job training, but since they are indigenous children without official Thai ID cards, they have practically no rights in the country and have trouble getting work or even moving away from their home village. David is convinced that the traditional Akha ways are the root of all their problems, not poverty or oppression from outside forces (no ID cards even for children born in the country, for example). He said that Akha ways were evil, and were killing the children. The only thing he feels is worth saving is traditional crafts, which can be sold to tourists for profit. He wants in no way to preserve their culture, only to destroy it and he is doing a good job. 100 more children come in
child with cupchild with cupchild with cup

he is very happy to have his cup! it is for their afternoon cup of powdered milk.
the spring, and he says he could get 500 more if he had the room.
i'm sure he feels totally justified to himself, that he is taking them away from a sick and destructive culture and christianizing them, westernizing them. how can anyone begrudge him a profit when he is doing such great things, how nice is it to be able to do such wonderful things AND make a living?

We left after only 24 hours, and even with some effort didn't remotely fit in with the other volunteers. I wouldn't doubt they were a bit suspicious, but we got a lot of pictures. Oliver was asked to help one of the volunteers with making an English-Thai-Akha picture book by taking pictures of things around the camp and got open access to everything, so hopefully in the hundreds of pictures we have something that can be used against the camp. We're also thinking of writing an article up on it, and maybe forwarding it to organisations that send volunteers to the place.

Additional photos below
Photos: 32, Displayed: 28


child posingchild posing
child posing

she loved to have her picture taken. it was always 'one more, one more'.

david has a very nice new truck.
children workingchildren working
children working

grouting walls on the new kitchen. oliver, master grouter that he is, sympathizes

The older kids make beautiful wicker furniture to sell....Frofit goes to the camp. 5:30 am

cooking dinner

Mopping after every meal

Money well spent i am sure
children lining upchildren lining up
children lining up

note that the older children are directing the younger children.
work dutywork duty
work duty

4and 5 year olds picking up trash at 530 am...

26th January 2007

Bring them home, and they can sleep in, go to school and run in the woods with the goats and sheep!!!! So sad, I wonder what Christ would do if he visited this place!!!!!!!!!!!! A teacher of real love, and peace, he would not tolerate this - it makes me so sad that with all our 'advances' as humans we still sorely lack basic human decency and the ability to treat each person, especially our children and elders with respect and dignity. MOM
26th January 2007

I could go off here...I've alway sensed there was untruth to many commercials of this sort and am not surprised (never sent money and you know how I like to help people); disappointed and think an inquiry would be in order to say the least. Will be looking forward to hearing that outcome. On a humorous note, I'll take 5 to replace the 3 I have(or is it 4). I'm busy with more patients, had an aspergers kid and treatment is successful/able to function in social setting now. I wonder if they have add/adhd/aspergers/autism over there? and if not why? and if they do what do they do? check out their med child care if it's possible. Oh what a delight it is to keep up with your your mom not forget to tell us all when you get back but we can do that too! We miss your cute faces...many hugs for you two...xoxo...i love you, M
27th January 2007

Good work!
Excellent photos and quite a story....sad and troubling. it would be interesting to know more about the backgrounds of the children, I think. Keep up the good work in telling your experiences and the stories of others. Thanks!
29th January 2007

Good work!
Guys this is fantastic work in terms of reporting this and getting it out there. I worked at CGT for a week and it was a nightmare. It is barbaric and wrong and deceiptful to people donating money. But especially to the children. If you would like to stay in touch about this or chat more, my email is, and could you please send this to Rotary International media relations officer to see if they can't do something? I also thought Amnesty International might be able to help? All the best - Julie-Anne in Australia
30th January 2007

Dorien never met you but from the respect I hear coming form Oliver your strength and character is told true. What you and my dear friend experienced was as so many have said a good works. Yet when I see the pictures and truly look into the children's eyes I dont see suffering in a way Ive seen in children here. The souls you encountered are stronger than the likes of us. To sit and be able to hear their opinions would be a gift in itself. I know it tore olivers heart as well. You two helped. It is a start. It seems as though the children dont know any different, so they accept their lot and see it as normal. Not right but normal for them. Take comfort in knowing you are not alone in fixing the lie, in fact you are probably step four. Write your article, you focus thought beautifully. Passion should never be underestimated. Remember their friendships because those relationships have taught them more then all the loss and pain. Thank you both for bringing them a smile or two. Safe travels. michelle
30th January 2007

not so much suffering
i agree that the children aren't suffering like they are in other places, they are happier with their lot in life than many and the happiness and joy that they express is probably what makes the volunteers feel OK about what they are doing. I have seen happier children with worms living in huts on the amazon than in the streets of america. the problem here, though, is that the owners of the place are getting money to give these children many things that they are not giving them, pocketing the money instead. oliver and i went to another similar place, where the chidren had good food, clean clothes, and were given ID cards for thailand so that they could get advanced schooling and/or get a job. perhaps the greater evil is not that the children are miserable, but that they have been taken away from their families to make money for westerners using money people donated for charity. hey, oliver told me you just got a new house. congratulations!
30th January 2007

You are sooo right what that man is is a crook. Those children deserve the world not the floor. They are so beautiful. Thank you both for taking the time for them. Be careful but continue to open peoples eyes. You have a lot of support. He needs to live as they live. ps And thanx for the congrats. We love it here. Take care of each other.~m
13th February 2007

Hi, I'm just a random browser. I read your blog and, particularly as I live near Chiang Rai, I was very moved by what you wrote. I posted a link to your blog on a Thailand Forum I read regularly. I hope more people become aware of such "charities" and how they exploit their situation. Perhaps publicising such abuses will make it more difficult for such people to continue. Every day I see "missionaries" driving around in their expensive cars while the people they are supposed to care for have almost nothing, it's an awful thing.
14th February 2007

some good points
You have a lot of good points, and I think that the success of what is going on there is in its subtelty. david and asa live decently, but they don't live like kings. the children work, but they aren't being beaten or starved. the children themselves are, in their own way, happy. but what is going on in the center is made worse by looking at other places in the region. i was at first worried that i was judging the place by american standards, not thai standards, and i'm the first to say kids dont need a roomful of toys to be well treated. but my brother and I also went to another place, the camillion social center, that takes in hill tribe children just north of Chiang Rai, and that illustrated better than anything the problems with the akha training center. at the camillion center, the children came in when they were old enough for school, and after their primary schooling had the option of going onto secondary schooling or for technical training. most of the kids had ID cards. they helped with chores, but there was always adult supervision and adult staff to look after the kids. there were less than 200 children, with way more staff, and the kids went home on holidays to see their families. At the Akha training center, kids were brought in at all ages, well before school and kept there even after their primary schooling. the older kids only went to school one day a week and basically ran the center the rest of the time. and some children as older than 10 who were deamed 'not ready' for school didn't go at all (though one volunteer mentioned some order from the government saying all of the kids over 10 would have to start going to school, so that is about to change). they didn't have ID cards, because it was 'near impossible' to get them, even though the other boarding school was able to. one of the volunteers told me that the kids were getting job training, but then said they might not be able to use them because most of the kids didn't have ID cards so were just going to go back to their villages anyway. I admit that I don't know the whole situation, where the kids come from, when they leave, how the money comes in, but the suspicious part of it all is that no one knew. not a single person was able to tell me. this allows for a fair bit of speculation, even hyperbolic speculation (which the best of us are guilty of from time to time). david and asa are able to make a decent living by packing in as many children as possible, and not hiring any staff, but keeping the older children on to raise the younger children, build/upkeep the facilities and so forth. this is odious in its self, but becomes all the more so because the money could be spent to help the villages so that the children, who are so very desperate for the slightest attention when you go there, can grow up with their families and in their own culture. instead of helping the villages and preserving their culture, they are using the charity to destroy it, something david, amazingly enough, admits to openly (he said the akha culture was sick and needed to be destroyed). these people are able to make a comfortable living, have children who cook and clean up after them and run a fair bit of the business, are helping to destroy a people and culture already beset on all sides, and they do so in the name of christianizing and charity. yes, it could be a lot worse. but it could also be a lot better, and i have to wonder if some of the international doners saw the difference of say, the (also christian) Camillion social center, and the Akha training center, they would feel so good about what they were doing. it is unfortunatly much harder to fight against the forces of westernizing indigenous cultures, because most charities are based on the premise that we can help people by making them more like us.
24th February 2007

White Racist Aryan Missionaries Take Brown Children For Jesus and BIG BUCK$
I'd like to weigh in on the comment of the person that said that Dorien and Oliver don't know what is going on? That some how ripping these kids off from their villages with no history, no documentation, no oversight OR AUTHORIZATION of asigned authorities was needed to do that is not something that would ever be tolerated in the west. It is a commentary that tries to escape goldie locks trekker see no evil. The missions are making themselves fabulously wealthy off Akha kids, and it doesn't matter how much it costs, how many meals they feed it is wrong wrong wrong, and in the end when the kids leave, they, the good, do no evil missionary, KEEPS ALL THE ASSETS. Missionaries are lying cheating people who really suck and they are also magnificent white aryan racists. Taking brown children. Charity. Give me a break.
21st March 2007

I can't believe this!
Dorien, I was one of the volunteers at the Training Center. I can't believe you! I am so hurt that you would use our comments or the things you saw and twist them around into lies! Yes, It's true, the kids did have cabbabe, broth and things like that for food, but THEY DID NOT WANT OUR FOOD! I had tried multiple times (Before you ever set foot in the place), to give them my food, THEY DID NOT WANT IT! We gave the children blankets to sleep on, and mats, but some simply did not want them. You exploited these children you hypocrite! I am so hurt by these half-truths twisted into lies. The reason these children work so hard is so they will have skills to maintain a life in the villages so they will have the won't have the chance to become prostitutes! Wow, that would be SO much better for these children wouldn't it? And as for the lie for these kids being abducted is bull! If they wanted to go home and stay there, they would have plenty of oppurtunities. When my group stayed there (which was two months, hmmm, a little longer than just two days), we visited the villages of the children. They could have stayed there if they wanted to! We brought them with us! Instead, they wanted to come back to the center. Not because of David, but on their own free will. I can't believe you would twist those things and lie about it Dorien. I trusted you. I wondered why you just up and left like that. I know you probably won't care about any of my opinions, just the ones that you can twist to give missionaries a bad name and make people think you know what you're talking about just because you spent one WHOLE day there.

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