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Thai safe house creates space to care for the marginalized

Residents have complex medical and mental health needs

By Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service | Photos by Kathy Melvin

A resident of the Safe House sits proudly with the ducks she cares for.

SANGKHLABURI, Thailand — Imagine being so ill or traumatized that you cannot remember where you were born. You have no identification. You cannot work. You have no home.

Those are among the reasons, PC(USA) partner the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) and the Kwai River Christian Hospital created the Sangkhlaburi Safe House. The 37 residents all have complex and ongoing medical needs. Many have been in abusive situations or are victims of human trafficking. They come from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds. The group is about half male and half female — ethnic Thai, Burmese, Cambodian and Chinese. A handful have no idea where they are from. Most of the residents have migrated from border areas where public health services are not available or dumped by government officials that don’t know what to do with them.

Arisa Meetha, head of the nursing division for Kwai River Hospital, is active in caring for the residents of the Safe House. She got her nursing degree through a scholarship from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The Safe House was initially created in 1992 at a time when foreign workers, especially those who were ill, were often deported to the Thai-Burma (Myanmar) border. Sangkhlaburi is a small town located about 5 hours Northwest of Bangkok in the province of Kanchanaburi, Thailand, on the Burmese border.

The need to care for this marginalized group was identified by CCT’s Social Development Division. Once it was established and stable, its management was transferred to members of the local community and it received some support by the Thai-Burma Border Consortium. As the situation on the border improved, donations began to dwindle and the CCT moved it under the management of the hospital where it remains today.

While the hospital oversees care for the residents, adequate funding remains an ongoing challenge. Through CCT, the PC(USA) gave a one-time grant to the safe house in 2014. Presbyterians have also touched the residents through the hospital. Arisa Meetha, head of the nursing division for Kwai River Hospital, is active in caring for the residents. She got her nursing degree through a scholarship from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). After receiving her degree, she returned to her home community to help others.

The Safe House sign.

By western standards, the Safe House is stark, but the warmth of the residents and the pride they have in their community make them proud of what they accomplish on a daily basis. One woman is responsible for feeding the ducks. She sits by the pen and watches them and proudly shows them off to visitors. There is also a garden to grow vegetables such as potatoes and green beans. Some of the harvest is used to feed the residents and some is sold at the local market to earn money for the operation of the Safe House. Everyone that is physically able works either in the garden, cleaning, cooking or helping with the care of others.

World Mission supported the Safe House because it fills an important gap that traditional ministry programs may not be able to address,” said Mienda Uriarte, coordinator for World Mission’s Office of Asia and the Pacific. “By providing shelter and care to those who are stateless and without networks of support, the Safe House is home for individuals who have been victimized and horribly traumatized. Safe House staff are able to surround residents with a simple and supportive environment that provides medical attention as well as safety and security for as long as they need.”

The Safe House budget is lean. Money is spent only on rent, medical care and medicine, cleaning and hygiene and food. There is no ongoing source of funding. If you would like to contribute to this special community, you can donate online at https://www.presbyterianmission.org/donate/e052157/ and make certain to add a note that you are designating the funds for the Safe House in Thailand.


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