We walk into the yard of a village home, a patchwork of tin, wood, and bamboo. “Dam” (pronounced dAHm), a member of a small village in Buengkan Province, rises from her bench to greet us. She is a single grandmother raising her three grandchildren. Dam has, like many grandmas in this area and for reasons we have yet to figure out, outlived her husband by many years so far (alcohol abuse seems to be much more prevalent in males than females, which may be a contributing factor). Her daughter and son both live away from home, and although they are usually working, neither can afford to raise their children on their own.
As seems to be the Isan custom, they sent their children to live with grandma while they went south in search of work. Dam, pushing 70, raises a five year old, an eight year old, and a young teenager all by herself. She cannot work and receives government assistance of 600 baht (about $20) a month for elderly assistance. Thankfully she owns her home and doesnt have to pay rent, but that is still just $20 a month to feed herself and three growing children, as well as school inscription and transportation fees.
A peek inside her home reveals a dirt floor, indoor kitchen, an open living space with mattresses and mats on the floor for sitting and eating; sunlight filtering in through the holes in the corroded tin walls. Shared sleeping space is common in many homes in this area, and there are no individual bedrooms as you would expect in a western style home. This home may provide them with shelter, but there is no insulation from the cold during the winter months and some leaking and risk of flood damage during monsoon season.
Despite these hardships, this woman always has such a glowing smile on her face. Dam welcomed us into her home without reservation. She was so grateful for the care package and the opportunity to know her grandchildren will be able to have full meals at home instead of just at school. She doesn’t have to worry about purchasing laundry powder to keep their uniforms clean, and the bars of soap to keep their bodies clean. Many children from poverty feel ostracized at school due to the basic lack of self hygiene. Adding soap, detergent, and shampoo to these packages helps to boost self-confidence and bridge that gap between the middle class and the poor.