Several months ago I sat in the upstairs booth of a very unassuming Japanese restaurant in Bangkok. The place was modest yet awesome, and in some ways mirrored my dinner companion. This was my first meeting with Dwight Turner who started and runs In Search of Sanuk, a project that helps refugee families and asylum seekers living in the slums of Bangkok.
I’d heard about Dwight through a friend of a friend, and through a long trail of twitter connectivity, I’d been following his work. The purpose of our mini tweet-up was so I could learn more about what he was doing to decide if I wanted to support them as part of #give10. After all, some people are good with twitter, but not legitimately good at the good they claim to be doing.
Dwight’s story was the real deal, as authentic and unpretentious as the yakisoba. He had never planned to start a project, but when he’d moved to Thailand, he accidentally got introduced to the world of refugees living in Bangkok’s slums and holding centers. When Dwight started learning about the refugees living with no means and no recognized existence in Thailand, he knew he had to do something. He looked for existing projects he could support to help his new friends, but came up empty handed. Instead of giving up because he didn’t know what to do, he heeded the advice of a friend and mentor, “You don’t need a project, get off your ass and start your own thing.” And so he did.
Sanuk isn’t just a brand of flip flops. In Thai the word means fun, and In Search of Sanuk is on a mission to help a dozen refugee families in Bangkok rediscover the joy of having their daily needs met. The project financially support families to cover their needs of food, rent, and sending their kids to school. “Search of Sanuk isn’t a big project,” Dwight explained. “It is “micro-philanthropy”, (or fun-lanthropy as he calls it) small giving that has a pretty huge impact for the people who are receiving it”. For a stateless family that comes from a mountain village with no legal identity or papers to do any kind of work, it is a pretty big deal to have someone help them with the $60-$150 they really need per month to survive.
Give10 supported their women’s day project last year, and recently caught up with Dwight, over similarly amazing Lebanese food recently in Bangkok to find our what impact our dollars are having there:
1. Last year we gave $10 to In Search of Sanuk for your International Women’s Day project. What has this done?
We used our Women’s Day Donations to educate girls. One group of girls from the slums went to a place called Play Act where they learned song, dance and drama, and another group of girls attended lessons at a proper English school. The sucess of this project led us to develop the idea of Saturday School to provide education opportunties to kids in the slums.
2. What project accomplished are you most proud of this year?
This year we ran a Saturday School for 20+ refugee kids. We partnered with an international school and a group of 16-18 year old highschool students spent their Saturdays actively teaching the children. This was a change from our old approach of taking volunteers to teach in the slums which wasn’t financially sustainable. For kids who live on railroad tracks where it is dangerous to kick a soccer ball, it’s an amazing opportunity for them to even get to run free at a school to learn and play.
3. What are you most excited about in the year to come.
Building a stronger foundation of partnerships within the Bangkok community. The majority of our regular donors are local and we want to engage them more to build relationships with the community and families they are supporting.
4. How can a small 10$ donation make a difference in achieving your mission?
Many families don’t have as much to give as they used to, and it is overwhelming to think about one person supporting an entire refugee family. I try to encourage people to give recurring 10 – 25$ donations. Small recurring donations add up. Most of the online donations we get are small, but they add up to about 13% of our donations.
5. What is one thing you wish that the people who give to your cause knew or understood better?
I wish they understood how difficult it is to talk about what we do. Because many of the families we work with are on difficult terms with the government and lack legal status, talking about them or posting pictures of activities can put them in real danger. You connect to something you have had an experience with. I want people to see and understand what we are doing so they can understand the issue. My fear is that this makes it difficult for donors to connect.
6. What do you think stops people from giving to a charity?
People see “charities” as businesses and don’t want to give to a company. They don’t want to send money off into the distance and not hear back or get a response. People want to give to something personal, something with personality.
7. What do you think motivates the people who do donate to give again?
A donor who becomes part of the narrative. If someone sees a project as ‘something that I support and a cause I am a part of” rather than “that thing I gave to once” they are more likely to be engaged with time and/or money.
8. Doing world changing work isn’t free. How do you pay for the operational costs of your project?
We are 100% volunteers including us. Everything goes to the families and kids or a cost related to supporting them.
9. What’s one question people usually ask you about your project, and how do you answer it?
People ask all the time “How can you make this project to financially assisting refugee families sustainable?” Truth is, there are a lot of things that you can make sustainable, but this isn’t one with a simple solution. There is no plan for the people that we work with, and until something changes at a much larger level they pretty much won’t officially exist and need support. Some things are things are worthwhile and need help simply because they are worthwhile and need help. We have a reasponsibiltiy to give whether the project is sustainable or not.
10. What are three projects you believe in and would recommend to others to learn about and support?
I can’t possibly pick three, there are too many. Make sure you check these out if you haven’t already:
- Cause and Effect, (Adam working in Brazil’s favelas)
- 100 Friends (the mentor who told Dwight to ‘get off his ass and do something’)
- ildi (international Leadership)- a creative space / art collaborative in BKK with focus on social good
- Bangkok Vanguards – random people washing car windows to raise 1million baht (350k USD) for flood victims.
- Hope Mob (a mob of people changing lives one at a time through small gifts)
-Preemptive Love (amazing guys doing heart surgeries for kids in Iraq)