What I learnt from ProSocial

The refrain of one of my favorite Tangos says something like „God watches the world through the eyes of street dogs”. I then always imagine God looking where others prefer not to look, and seeing things that remain hidden from the public.

Arriving to Pattaya reminded me strongly of this song. I invite you to come with me and see through my eyes. See what I saw.

Pattaya at night
Pattaya at night

In a couple of days, ProSocial (Proteam’s social project) will start and you will be working with the Human Help Network in the Child Protection and Development Center of Pattaya (aka CPDC). To get used to the country, the climate and the time zone, you decide to arrive a couple of days earlier. You pick some hotel near the beach and hope to free the mind of other job-related duties before the assignment starts. You have heard that this town is popular among sex tourists and wonder how the children will react to your presence. Will you be able to make their lives a little better?

Soon you set foot on beautiful (and hot!) Thailand. The airport shuttle takes you to your destination. Welcome to Pattaya! Unknowingly, you are heading towards one of the worst parts of this town. The first thing that you notice upon arrival is the insane amount of trash. Hills made of waste can be seen along the streets in the outskirts, populated by large groups of street dogs, tired and sick, looking for any trace of food waste that they can find. Not the best start, to be honest. But let’s give this place another chance. You arrive just at sunset, so why not going for a walk in front of the ocean, along Beach Road? That must be nice.

As soon as you get there, however, you realize that you are wrong. An endless line of sex workers are distributed along the beach, waving and smiling at you. Tourists from all over the world walk up and down the road, shamelessly interacting with them. There is something strange in the air, like this place would know no rules, everything goes. It certainly can’t be like this all over Pattaya, but you seem to have hit the worst part.

And it doesn’t stop there. Walking down the road, it seems like everything stinks. The street trash containers are full of decomposing food that was sitting in the sun and over 30° all day long. But nobody cares! Next to the prostitutes you see tons of street food vendors. Grilling unidentified food items just next to the trash. And as you approach them, you see rats and cockroaches, quickly climbing up palm trees or creeping in the darkness, from one container to the next.

But the worst of all, the hardest thing to accept, is by far the sense of “business as usual”. Nobody seems to notice anything out of place. A couple hundred meters down the road, policemen play cards in their “police box”. Food is actually sold and people do actually eat it. Harsh looking guys will follow you with an explicit catalogue of sexual activities, and whisper “Marihuana?” as you decline. Business as usual.

The initial shock is unbelievable. You will feel a mixture of anger and nausea. You will think about the children that you were sent here to help. Not only have the kids witnessed scenes like these, many of them might have grown up here, this might be the only world they know. You have never worked with children before, how are you supposed to help these kids?

However, when you finally arrive at the CPDC, you finally find the other side of the coin. You are soon amazed by the personnel you meet there: Highly professional and trained Thais, charming and wise. And the kids… They just shine with happiness and enthusiasm! Their energy is unbelievable. Their will to live and play and laugh and enjoy will touch you and make you think deeply about your own life, and the events that shaped it. You feel a special kind of happiness when they come running at you already on the second day, chanting your name and dragging you to their games (“Look what I can do!”).

You will remember your passion for theatre and propose to give some classes. The culture is quite different here, the kids are not used to acting alone. They are scared about losing their face, but they will learn. They will gain confidence. You will see them progressing in small steps, laughing with your games, discovering a new universe while driving an imaginary car or imitating a duck. They will start trying things on their own; you will see their creativity and self-esteem take off. You don’t speak thai, but you want to make them feel that you are proud, that you believe in them and in their abilities. And then… the magic happens. Let me tell you how it was.

There was a kid who was extremely shy at pantomime. He was the smallest in the class and felt extremely uncomfortable acting. He did not venture to improvise anything himself, stood rigid in a corner most of the time. This continued for some sessions until one special day. During a super simple warm-up exercise, his magic moment arrived. The exercise itself couldn’t be easier: I would express a feeling through pantomime (happiness, anger, sleepiness…) and the group had to imitate it. At some point, this little boy does something, something new that he had invented, and then the rest of the group looks at him in amazement and applauds, because it was so creative and refreshing and just fun! He smiled, shy and proud, and then  flourished! He wanted to participate, show his skills, act on stage… He had fun and you could see him being really proud of himself, perhaps for the first time in his life. He vanquished  fear. It was a very intense moment.

ProSocial showed me ugly and beautiful sides of life which I had never experienced with that intensity before. I can only marvel and admire the strength and serene happiness of the kids and their teachers, who do a truly impressive work every day.

Thank you, reader, for accompanying me in this short Pattaya journey. Thank you, CPDC, for being my teacher. And thank you, Lufthansa, for the opportunity and the challenge!