It’s hard not to grieve over the streets of Pattaya, Thailand, with the exploitation and other tragic stories usually written there. The business ‘booming’ on its streets is largely sex work: a massive industry which provides a means of survival for an estimated 35,000 women and men. Not all want this kind of work. Some are pushed into it by the financial need of their parents, even their own spouses, in order to pay the bills. With the arrival of Covid, though, the bars closed and, suddenly, thousands were destitute without access to some of the official safety nets.

One of Crossroads’ partners, Tamar Centre, was established to reach out to sex workers. “It’s devastating,” they told us. “Thousands of people lost their jobs when the bars needed to close during lockdown. Now the bars have re-opened but many have been bankrupted already because they don’t have enough customers. Every day we hear about more bars, shops and restaurants closing. Every day more people are on the streets without jobs. Those who have the least are just left with no one caring for them. The situation will continue to get worse,” they said. “All we can do is help.”

When we spoke with Tamar staff, they were in the middle of an intensive food package campaign, trying to meet some of the urgent immediate needs of those they care for.

Their work goes far deeper than daily bread, though. They teach new skills to women who want to break out of the sex industry, and employ many in their cafe, shop, salon and other projects. They even visit the home villages of women to help educate families there about the risks of trafficking and falling into prostitution when seeking a new life in the city.

We’ve partnered with Tamar for many years, selling their handmade cards in our Handicrafts shop, produced by women transitioning out of the sex industry. When their business was crippled by Covid, they reached out to us with a suggestion: what if Tamar‘s workshop were to create Crossroads’ 2020 Christmas cards? “If you would place this order, it would give us the opportunity to employ many women for this, and would give the women a job and an income,” they said.

So, we placed our order! The ball is rolling, and they have already started employing some of the women in their projects to begin work on our 2020 cards (pictured above), ready in time to spread much-needed joy to the world at Christmas.

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When Covid-19 started to spread in Hong Kong, health and hygiene products flew off the shelves. It became impossible to buy the things that everyone needed most to stay safe. For those at the grassroots, particularly vulnerable elderly, it was extremely difficult to find these high-demand goods.

We were so grateful to have supplies in our warehouse of donated soap, hand-wash and healthy fruit juices. When NGO Manna asked Crossroads for help with these very goods to assemble packs for the elderly, they were very pleased to take a large supply. They immediately started distributing them to Kwun Tong elderly in need (pictured at right), as part of their Covid-19 support projects in February.

Through this challenging season, it’s an ongoing honour to keep teaming up with both goods donors and hardworking NGOs, helping each other walk with the most vulnerable in Hong Kong.

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“We have to laugh,” said a slum dweller whose face could not have been more serious, “when people tell us that family members with Covid should be isolated in their rooms. When you live in a slum, you all live in one room. It’s nonsensical for our situation.” Tragic and bitter humour, his words were haunting.

Growing up in the slums around Antipolo, Philippines, life is about crowded living quarters, with families squeezed into one-room homes where all home activities take place. Diseases spread quickly, and family tensions are hard to escape. For children from these families, a high-quality education can be the key to breaking the poverty cycle.

We’ve shipped several times to partners in Antipolo whose schools goes beyond the ABC’s. It comes to the whole family, with parent seminars on nutrition, parenting and life skills, and all children are taught that they’re valuable and worthy of a thriving future.

When Covid-19 hit, all schools had to close. For children in slum homes, without computers or even internet access, online learning is impossible. Our partners didn’t want to stop the children’s education, though, so they needed a plan. We, happily, could be part of it!

Wonderfully, we had been donated monitors by Bank of America in Hong Kong, and desktops by DHL. They were included in a shipment we sent late last year, and these very computers are now being used to produce video materials and lessons for children from the slums to study from home.

“All our teachers now have a desktop in their classrooms and staff are provided computers at home so communication is easier,” our partners told us.

The staff prepared packs for families to collect: worksheets, stationery, schoolwork, and a tablet for each child, loaded with videos and materials created on the teachers’ donated computers. “Since the poor families can’t afford internet, we load it onto a microSD that we provided and they watch it on a tablet we provided,” they told us.

In the past, we’ve loved helping these partners with such goods as school furniture, educational toys and aid for displaced people after the Taal Volcano erupted. Now, with Covid wreaking its havoc, we are thrilled that these computers are now being used by these creative, dedicated teachers to invest in the lives of children in need.

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