My name is Phuangphet Hall. I am a 37 year old Thai woman and mother of 3 boys all born and bred in Chiangmai. I am married to an Australian man and we all live together very happily in the wonderful city of Chiangmai Thailand. I have never before put any kind of fund raising campaign together but a recent event here in Chiangmai has prompted me to at least try to be of some use and support to help a small community of impoverished local residents who lost everything in a fire that destroyed their homes.
We heard news on the morning of May 4th (six weeks ago) of a terrible fire that swept through a community of poor people's housing in Chiangmai city that had occurred the previous evening at around 10.30pm and which had razed their homes to the ground in one very swift and devastating blow. I have posted some images here and linked below to the original news stories that covered the event as it happened.
The fire engulfed an entire community of over 30 wooden shanty dwellings in the Changklan city area of Chiangmai. These dwellings were the permanent homes to 26 low income families who were all displaced by the fire that gutted and destroyed their homes in little more than an hour during the last couple of hours of the evening of May 3rd 2015 (about 6 weeks ago).
One resident, a woman by the name of Khun Oy, sadly, was killed in the blaze which apparently started at her home after a drinking binge which she was regularly prone to, and in fact, such binges had previously been the instigating cause in at least 3 recent fires which neighbors had managed to extinguish early. It is thought that either a fallen candle and/or an exploded gas cylinder used for cooking, may have started the fire.
The Background Story: The occupants of the dwellings, which were situated adjacent to, and within the compound of the Changklan Crematorium, had been living in the shanty community for many years, some of them for several decades. None of the homes had electricity connected, and were of very modest construction. Only a few of the dwellings were officially recognized by the local municipality who had issued some of them with semi-official house registrations. No rents or fees were paid by the low income families, many of which were struggling on incomes below the standard basic daily wage of 300 baht (appx $9USD) however, a token sum was paid to the municipality for provision of some services and the right to occupy the land. It was a simple and unorthodox arrangement which has now become a complicated problem with regards to relocating the dispossessed families, or allowing them to remain in the area and eventually rebuild on the municipality-owned existing fire site which is completely decimated and requires a demolition and clearing crew to enable it to be rendered as being useful for any purpose.
The Plight of The Families Affected: In the immediate days and weeks following the fire, the 26 affected families were allowed to stay within the Crematorium grounds, under a community shelter, whilst they tried to recover and restructure their lives. Some moved out of the area and were able to move in with friends and family, and others who had no means of family or friends support, stayed at the grounds and did the best they could to restore some normality back to their lives and to survive the difficult days and nights ahead. The municipality and some local residents and benefactors assisted with provision of water, food and other items of basic need so that their time in the shelter was more tolerable.
Eight of the families that were fortunate enough to have the semi-official “house” registration, within the first few weeks of the disaster, were provided with token compensation from the local municipality which ranged from 60,000 baht and 80,000 baht (between $1,750 and $2,700USD) and used these funds to relocate to other areas.
The remaining 18 families have appointed a small group of their members as representatives who have been working with local students of architecture and house design in order to come up with a working model of a modest style dwelling built with brick, concrete and steel, in a double storey (2 level) duplex style building that would accommodate 2 families, separated by a central brick and concrete common wall.
The estimated cost of construction for each of the duplex buildings would be in the vicinity of 500,000 baht (appx $14,800USD). To accommodate all 18 families would require 9 of these duplex dwellings to be constructed at a cost of around 4,500,000 baht (appx $133,000USD)
The cost of foundations and/or clearing of the demolished original shanty dwellings on the fire site would be a further requirement prior to commencement of construction. This amount is not presently known due to the fact that the construction site has not yet been confirmed one way or another. It could be reasonably estimated that such costs could be in the vicinity of 500,000 baht (appx $14,800USD).
I visited the site of the fire with my husband, 9 days after the blaze on May 13th to deliver some items of support for the affected victims. At that stage there were several families all living under one sheltered area adjacent to the destroyed homes. They had makeshift beds, kitchens and shared commodities as they struggled to make the best of their circumstances and tried to piece their shattered lives back together. Thankfully, the evenings are warm at this time of year and so there were no issues with exposure to the cold, but the downside of that, is that it is generally very hot during the day. Clearly, the residents were struggling and stressed but at the same time they still had smiles for us and seemed to be in good spirits. Children played as though it was any normal day, and some people were eating noodles and trying to stay cool under the sheltered roof. There appeared to be an entire pallet of drinking water that had been generously provided by a local benefactor. At that stage there was understandably a lot of uncertainty about the fate of their community and residential circumstances but they appeared hopeful at least.
We later returned on June 2nd to see how the people were getting on and what progress, if any, had been made. Most of the families that had been living under the outdoor sheltered area were now gone (living in temporary accommodation or with friends), and only 2 families remained. I spoke with the husband and wife of one of the families, and they called the lady (Khun Noi) who I had met on our previous visit there and who was the person coordinating all of the support for the affected families. She remembered me and gave me an update on what had been happening. Then she called her friend (Khun Orr, - himself an affected resident) who informed me that they'd had some support from a local group of architecture students who had assisted them in creating some design concepts for new dwellings. They had also prepared some basic scaled models of the design which khun Orr showed me (see pics pasted below).
As we spoke with Khun Noi and khun Orr at that meeting, it became clear that the entire repatriation and restoration project was developing into a somewhat of an elongated affair, with no clear end in sight and with no means of financing their aspirations to restore their lives and homes back to normal. It was at that point that we agreed to offer our support and told them that we would put together a community funding project in the hope that it would bring about a positive result. To that end I now present you with the fundamentals of this support project.
The Current Challenge: There are 18 families that are without a home and need to secure permanent residences once again. In an ideal scenario, the local Chiangmai municipality would allow them to remain on the land where their homes were, and to rebuild a new community. This is not so simple as the original shanty homes were never actually "official" in terms of building code standards or having proper residential permissions. In order for the new homes to be rebuilt there, the proper zoning and building permits would need to be obtained, which in fact would probably not ordinarily be granted given the proximity to the crematorium and other dwellings, businesses, and hotels in the immediate surrounding area.
If somehow, the building permission was granted, then it would mean that the only real costs of rebuilding the homes for these 18 families, would be an amount of approximately 5 million baht (around $150,000USD).
If however, the local municipality is unable to provide them with access and building permits for the dwellings on the existing site where their homes were, then the families would need to find land of at least the same 2-rai (3,200m2) size to rebuild their new houses. That could increase the cost of the project by at least 3 million baht ($90,000USD) in which case the total project budget would require around 8 million baht ($240,000USD) to be realized. The real costs however, exceed the basic rebuilding cost because of the attendant needs of basic furniture, basic kitchen (sinks and cupboards), fans, bathroom fittings, bedding and basic family home necessities.
With these costs and challenges in mind, I have started this fund raising campaign in the hope that we can bring some relief and human compassion back to the lives of these lovely and simple people who suddenly lost everything on that fateful and horrific night of May 3rd 2015.
Our ultimate and primary goal would be to raise at least $150,000 for these families. If we could raise more then that would be great and would make a life changing difference to them. If however, we can only raise a little, then at least it will go towards helping all of these families try to regroup and put their lives back on track and help them with living costs and replacement of some of their destroyed property and belongings.
If you’re able to provide any financial assistance at all,- no matter how small, then it will all certainly be very graciously and gratefully received and appreciated by these people who are in fact asking for, and expecting nothing and who have no real public voice apart from the one that you are hearing right now.
Thank you for reading this far, and bless you for your compassion and consideration towards the homeless and affected victims of this tragic event!
I will be posting regular updates to this campaign to keep everyone informed of our progress. Please feel welcome to comment or message me with any questions you may have about this campaign or the situation itself and I'll be happy to answer to the best of my knowledge and ability.
Sincerely, and with best wishes and many thanks,... Phuangphet Hall
News sources about the Changklan Chiangmai city fire: