Couple use jewellery to break poverty cycle

THE slums of Bangkok may seem like a long way from Warrnambool.

But according to Anji Barker, Warrnambool residents are providing life-changing support to a poverty-stricken Bangkok community.

For the past 11 years, Mrs Barker, her husband Ash and two children have been living in the slums. There, they are also raising two eight-year-old Thai boys.

After previously living and working in Melbourne’s Springvale in the 1990s when the streets were “flooded with heroin”, the couple were motivated to found the organisation Urban Neighbours of Hope (UNOH).

“Over the years we felt that we really wanted to work with the poorest of the poor,” Mrs Barker told The Standard.  In the Klong Toey slum they now call home thousands of people are crammed onto two square kilometres.

Through the Barkers’ work, 17 projects have been developed and all are based within the slum. 

One project, Klong Toey Handicrafts, employs up to 60 people.

Mrs Barker said the slums in Bangkok fed on the sex bars and women needed an alternative employment to prostitution.

“There are a lot of minimum wage jobs which is a dollar an hour at the moment,” she said. “But you can’t live in Bangkok on that. As a prostitute you can make $30 an hour.”

Mrs Barker said craft provided an alternative to prostitution and a working environment where women could keep their children. The project involves 30 to 50 volunteers across Australia who last year sold $197,000 worth of handicrafts.

As a guest at Warrnambool’s Gateway Church’s international cuisine night  on Saturday, Mrs Barker said she was grateful for the local support.

“There was a boy shot by a stray bullet just before Christmas — the money that came from Warrnambool meant the bullet could be removed from his leg,” she said.

“Around Warrnambool there’s people wearing our handicrafts which is wonderful.”

For more information visit www.unoh.org or to buy Klong Toey Handicrafts contact Liz Maher on 0423 575 506 or email handicrafts@unoh.org

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