Established in the aftermath of the devastating 2004 Asian tsunami, Toys for Thailand is a US-based non-profit organization that collaborates with local Thai agencies such as the Education Development Association. Founded by Sasha Bilar and comprising a completely voluntary team, the organization has been providing tangible goods and services for disadvantaged children in Thailand since 2005.
In the wake of the tsunami, Bilar and her friends collected some 700 pounds of stuffed animals and dolls and with the help of Thai Airways International, who provided complimentary cargo shipping, they hand delivered the toys throughout the tsunami zone to children who were orphaned or abandoned in the disaster.
The philanthropic project has never looked back. Although bringing toys to Thailand began as a quest to give comfort to the young victims of the tsunami, today the organization’s role has expanded to the point where it helps to sustain underserved hill tribe schools in the rugged north, particularly in Maehongson province.
Maehongson is one of the poorest areas in the country. Over 70% of the province’s population are hill tribe people, a good proportion of them youngsters. Many of these tribal children face overwhelming difficulties and risks, including HIV/AIDS, sexual exploitation, child labour issues, drug and alcohol abuse, malnutrition and erosion of their cultural traditions.
Toys for Thailand has forged influential partnerships to stretch resources and build a support network for these at risk children and it cooperates closely with the Maehongson Education Association, the US Navy Project Handclasp, the Childline Foundation, Chiang Mai International Rotary, AmigoVisionThailand and San Diego Lions Club.
These crucial partnerships have meant that over the past 10 years numerous Toys for Thailand volunteers have made over 20 humanitarian trips to Thailand, providing US$200,000+ in resources to the hill tribe schools. These resources included rice husking and soy milk machines, agricultural supplies, water systems, solar panels, vocational and instructional tools, educational supplies and visiting medical clinics.
And that’s not all. In December of last year Toys for Thailand hosted the 5th Annual Small World Maehongson Festival. Established in 2010, this worthy initiative brings together hundreds of children from isolated hill tribe village schools to celebrate their cultural traditions and raise awareness of their needs. In fact, last year’s instalment saw 1200 children participate. They represented 40 schools from across the Shan, Karen (White, Red and Black) Lawa, Lisu, Lahu, Hmong, Pao, Akha, and Long Neck tribal groups.
The boisterous youngsters were able to celebrate their indigenous music together, show off their traditional dance forms, and share their handicrafts and cuisines with visiting Thai and international tourists. Their beautiful and intricately woven colourful tribal dresses also provided visitors with wonderful photo opportunities. Of most satisfaction to all involved though was the handing out of 100 educational scholarships to deserving students.
Naturally Toys for Thailand would love to be in a position to help even greater numbers of disadvantaged youngsters in the north and it welcomes donations and volunteers. If you would like to get involved, or simply wish to know more about the organization and its goals, please visit toysforthailand.org or facebook.com/toysforthailand.org. For more information about the Annual Small World Maehongson Festival, you can contact Maria Miller at [email protected] or Mr. Bundit Ninudomsak at [email protected] (Thai/English).