In Thai slums, a familiar theme
We all desire to be acknowledged, accepted, and loved.
While in Bangkok in October for ShapeAPAC, a gathering of 145 World Economic Forum Global Shapers from 30 countries, I spent a day in the notorious slum of the Khlong Toei district learning about their community improvement efforts. It was an eye-opening experience in many ways.
During a presentation by the Duang Prateep Foundation, which leads projects in Khlong Toei to promote education, rehabilitation, and general welfare, community leaders explained the stigma and stereotypes that others cast over the slum-dwellers. Then they contrasted these with the residents’ point of view, such as why cycles of poverty and addiction are so challenging to break and the ways in which they are making progress.
The presentation ended with a request not for donations or sympathy, but rather for understanding. With that lens to look through, they guided us through the ramshackle alleyways, streets, and abandoned railroad that roughly 100,000 people call home. We cooked, ate, and talked with the residents, doing our best to understand their lives.
Reflecting on this experience, I am left with the same impression as other places I have lived and traveled, from Vancouver to Montpellier and Boston to Kathmandu — that all people, regardless of culture or upbringing, share the same fundamental craving for validation, belonging, and connection.
Indeed, psychologists have identified this craving as an innate human motivation. As I’ve written previously, it’s a health imperative, too: when we have meaningful interactions and strong, supportive relationships, our bodies and minds can thrive.
I’m grateful that the people of Khlong Toei reminded us to look through the lens of empathy as we got to know their community. That’s a powerful way to connect with people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives, whether in a foreign country or your own backyard. In what seems an increasingly polarized world, this approach matters more than ever.
Photos taken by Sorrawut Pingkhlasai. Special thanks to him and other Global Shapers from the Pathum Thani hub for organizing the tour.