Finally we got around to provide a brief summary on Santa Cause 2012 for our donors and supporters and a brief analysis on how to improve Santa Cause in 2013.
If Santa had a tag-line on his big sack of gifts what would be written on it? Probably that his mission is to deliver happiness to children regardless their social or cultural background. That a jolly Santa’s sleigh does not exclusively take him to international schools and kindergartens, fancy shopping malls and corporate events. His mission may not be written on our Santas’ bags but once a year we’re en route to bring gifts, game activities and spread the smiles among children of less privileged communities in Bangkok. This is the story of Santa Cause.
Santa Cause was born in the wake of Thailand’s biggest flood crisis in 2011. When the flood receded from Bangkok’s suburbs we mobilized volunteers to cheer people up and surprise the children of Bangkok’s flood affected squatter communities with gifts and games. The response among locals, the children and our volunteers was so positive that it called for a sequel and Santa Cause was born.
Now at the end of 2012 we were fortunately spared a natural disaster but needless to say that we have thousands of fellow citizens to whom the word struggle has a different dimension than it has to you or me. Many of them live among the least desirable urban areas and in these communities the elderly and children are the most vulnerable. As Christmas is considered the season of giving we wanted to see how many people want to actually give and how far can giving really go in a city where rich and poor are so close and yet so far apart and the turn out was amazing. We found that there’re many Bangkokians who want to give something back to society but often don’t know what, where, how or with whom to do it, let alone having the time to get things organized. With Santa Cause we would like to create a great opportunity for them to spread positivity, to give back together with friends and make new friends with like-minded people.
To find those communities we’ve researched through different sources including Google Earth satellite imagery. Once we identified potential communities we get in touch with community leaders and survey their communities.
So, what did we actually do?
On the first day we targeted communities in the north of Bangkok and shipped 8 teams via a jolly train ride to their destinations. The second day saw 9 teams embarking on trucks to reach communities to the west of Bangkok as well as Khlong Toey. Overall we rolled out to 25 communities in one weekend.
We don’t put a lid on doing good by saying once Christmas is over, that was it. We want to accentuate this season, underline the meaning especially for those criticizing Christmas for becoming a mere commercial trap where the values of compassion shine as bright as coconuts at night. We seek opportunities to bring good people together, Bangkok is full of good people, wait, did I say good? I meant: AWESOME people!! Otherwise we wouldn’t come and live here happier than any fairy tale princess could ever hope for. And events like Santa Cause shall be a reflection of the awesomeness of Bangkok’s citizens. Citizens who set a much needed example where many people actually do want to spread the spirit of giving and sharing in an increasingly self-and consume oriented city. Citizens who break down the cultural and social boundaries in an act that places humans first, before any cultural, religious, social or even racial identity. A much needed example? Indeed! Listen to the people who resign, who give up hope in face of a daily media barrage of killings, corruption, conflict, competition, social injustice, environmental degradation etc. For some it may sound cheezy but where’s room for love? Where’s room for hope? We need to create this room, we need to create happiness in other people where and when ever we can. We are great in churning out the latest data on our GDP but where is the data on our Gross Happiness Index? This country deserves it and we’re Thais, this is our specialty, our strength, Kwam Suk (happiness) is not a noun, it’s the name of one of our genes! Else who is holding against the negative tide permeating our media and opinions? Who else will resonate a positive message in public if not you? We don’t talk about promises, we talk about actions! We don’t say Santa Cause is the solution, or that by making everyone happy through charity we’ll solve the country’s problems but Santa Cause is a first step in the right direction, a welcome tonic to the problems, the cynism and pessimism we’re facing in our society.
Of course there is criticism to this, as there is to about anything. Some people see our approach as “feel good tourism” without regard for the cultural and socio-economic complications. Others see an injection of short term happiness which potentially complicates the work of social workers whilst others see it even as cultural invasion and even as imperialism. Everybody has their opinions and attitudes towards a charitable activity such a Santa Cause and we take those concerns to the heart. The least thing we want to cause are negative repercussions but we clearly see the positive impact it has and the potential it harbors for a more sustained support. We’ve thought of the implications, having friends in the field of community development and being Thai ourselves with relatives living in these communities helps us to minimize any potential negative impact. Our outreach in 24 out of the 25 targeted communities came under consultation and coordination with community leaders ranging from members of the Slum Network to the Community Development Institute.
As far as the Christians vs. Buddhist criticism goes. We’re Buddhists and our teams consist of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and atheists, coming from places as far as Argentina and as close as the communities we were visiting. It is a multi-cultural outreach in which values are shared universally across all religions and cultures. As for cultural intrusion, we’re not talking about communities where people await us armed with spears, bows and arrows! Most of the kids in these communities know how to dance Gamnam Style much better than we do and given their t-shirts they could probably outpace anyone of us in naming comic heroes and cartoon characters. Talking to community leaders none of them believes that having a Santa roaming around poses a threat to the social and cultural fiber of the community or the Thai identity of the children but rather adds to the colorful assortment of known household friends be they Micky Mouse, Disney, Spiderman, Doremon or Pokemon.
Also, we neither walk into these communities as if it was a zoo, treat people as beggars or show up regularly to give away free stuff. We visit these communities with respect and the spirit of visiting friends and in fact the community leaders and the neighbors we talk to are our friends. We’re not embarking into an awkward situation with people unable to deal with these new environs but to go in there to engage the people, whether young and old with respect and kindness but also with easiness and heaps of fun. Our team leaders are briefed to communicate this to the volunteers. We are going to further provide training through the Child Safe Network and other organizations. We will not only provide creativity, energy and fun but also professionalism on the ground.We aim to inspire and motivate our volunteers to become good and responsible citizens and to encourage kids in these communities to be good kids and to do well at school.
There’s still a lot we can do to get the message across and to leave something more than a Christmas gift. We’re looking forward to further exchange ideas with our support community and we have already received great responses. E.g. further changes will be made in regard to gift donations, hence volunteers suggested to limit the types of donations and emphasize on distributing fair-trade and local made products. Given the amazing response of donations (in less than two weeks we were able to raise over 250,000THB in cash and gift donations) and people from all backgrounds donated, students, companies, friends overseas, colleagues and strangers. Imagine the increased impact by diverting the goodwill towards supporting the fair trade industry. It would benefit so many more people and raise awareness on fairtrade products. It’s a brilliant idea and only one of many suggestions we received which will help us to keep on improving Santa Cause. Apart from that there will other changes from team-set-ups hence our Santas will no longer be the team leaders but leadership will fall into the hands of Thai volunteers, if possible a volunteer from the community themselves. We’ll also make sure to even better equip and support our team leaders with a wide range of fun activities and the Child Safe trainings as mentioned above.
The thing about giving is that it is not restricted to give money, goods or ideas but giving time and energy. People also donated their time to help wrapping the massive number of Christmas gifts. As with Wipe the Tide during the flood crisis, Central World played an important role in the support of charitable events by providing the facilities to prepare and host Santa Cause in 2011 and 2012 and we’re looking forward to further collaborate to make Santa Cause even more impactful.
As for the activity itself we will combine the best approaches from two different Santa Cause events. 2011 we relied on surprise and organic and spontaneous interaction while visiting families from house to house. The 2012 version was coordinated with the community leaders and thus more prepared and a rather staged type of activity (kids gathering at a community center for games and gift distribution). Hence, since we want to foster more of the great interaction we had between locals and our volunteers, we’re aiming for a general preparedness of the community (informing and consulting with community leaders) combined with the surprise factor of not informing the people themselves of Santa’s arrival date/time. We’ll have a planned route through the community and kids will have the opportunity to win super gifts through game activities at the end of the walk once we reach the community center.
Santa Cause invites you to participate in doing good, to become a stakeholder for positive change, for a collaborative endeavor that seeks to move resources to those with little access to it. Doing good can be simple and take on many forms, from corporate support (Thank you Alan & Overy, Central World -CPN- and AAC), designing the logo (thanks Bjoern Gottschall of Schwenktheworld and Alessandro and his students), video production (thanks Emre and Sanju) or poster design (thanks Effi and Arvind) and to generous cash donations (Thanks Siti Survo, Florian Christian, Ben Bartz, Philipp Dickert and many others). So many of you supported and we further like to thank all the community leaders, the British Women’s Club, the staff of P&G and Exxon, iTailor, SIFE, Thammasat, Mahidol and Chulalongkorn University and everyone who volunteered, dropped by with bags of gifts, helped wrapping and spreading the word. Through you Santa Cause was able to reach out to 25 communities in two days reaching around 3,000 children. This year we’re also looking for sponsors so that we are able to invest more of our time as to not only expand our outreach but more importantly to make this experience deeper, more lasting and more effective.
For further feedback and/or inquiries please send us an email to: email@example.com or join the bangkokvanguards action group