For two years they have been living in an aviation graveyard, in the midst of rusty wrecks, and airplanes in disuse. They eat twhat remains of already consumed meals, collect and recycle all kind of waste, from oxygen masks to abandoned toys. Some of those things are resold to earn a few dollars a day. Others are kept and become their furniture, their wealth. Their living room is the engine compartment of a Boeing 747, or what is left of it. The paintings on the walls and the mats used as carpets, make them feel at home, with a normal life, and lucky, much luckier than many other people, too many other people. They live inside a airplane, but travel only in their dreams.
The photographer Taylor Weidman has documented the “waste” life of three families from Bangkok. It is not an isolated case, nor the most unfortunate one, quite the opposite. Many families survive by recuperating materials from the Ban Khem landfill, in the center of the Capital. Those who find a refuge and a place to live in the midst of garbage are mainly children, mostly orphans. Their main toys are glass and plastic bottles. Many of them leave their villages in search of occasional hospitality, without the primary services they need for survival, such as drinking water and electricity. And there are people who live in conditions that are even worse than that.
Thailand is not synonymous with terrestrial paradise, as many of us believe. It is not only the land of the crystal clear sea, colourful and shiny marine creatures, and of a land that smells of giant flower. Thailand is also synonymous with poverty, and with the hell it entails. Around the corner of the hotels and luxury resorts, one comes across gaunt and dirty huts, compared to which, the ruins of an airplane seem to be a 4 star residence. This is the backstage of the great South Asian show. Not many people are willing to give a look behind its curtains, where children, men and women, who do not believe they deserve the footlights of a decent existence, are crowded. Their gentle smile often conceals bitter tears. It is a slap in the face of our civilization of justice and equality.
95 percent of Thailand’s population is Buddhist. They think this is their karma. An inevitable fate they have no choice but accept. Children of minority ethnic groups do not have any rights, not even to education. Often they do not even have a social identity because they were not registered at birth. They can be rented or sold as things, ass an economic asset of those who do not possess any goods and do not know what welfare is. Child trafficking and prostitution, women trafficking, and social discrimination, are only some of the many plagues that afflict this population, all of which bear the same name: poverty.
The number of people who live below the poverty line remains very high, at around 13%, despite the gradual decrease from 42% recorded in 2000. The government of Thaksin had reduced it from 21% to 12%, between the years 2001 and 2005. The poorest are the elderly (40 percent) and children. The predominant branch in Thailand’s economy is landowning farming and corruption is rife.
Defeating poverty, reducing social inequality, and promoting self-sufficient economy were the topics of a program presented by the prime minister of Thailand, Prayut Chan-o-cha, at the UN Trusteeship Council which was held on September 25, during the discussion titled “Putting an end to poverty and hunger”. To guarantee everyone at least their basic needs, the King Bhumibol Adulayadej promoted a program whose aim was self-sufficient economy: to consume what is being produced. The majority of the population, however, consumes only what has been already consumed.
From the study conducted by Thailand Development Research Institute comes out that the minimum wage established by law, 300 baht (about 8.00 euros), is not sufficient for a family of three people (with only one son). And this is the family income in 38 provinces out of 49. The government is not, however, willing to increase it, because this will discourage foreign investment. Proclamations of war on poverty collide with foreign interests to maintain the status quo, in a State that has a foreign debt of 70 billion dollars and is on the 74th place out of 177 on the human development index reported in the UN program. The first place among the poorest countries belongs to: Chad, Haiti and Congo.
To live among airplane wreck is a privilege in Bangkok. The leftovers of “ordinary” lives are luxury here. A baby smiles on a red chair, shiny as his eyes, the eyes of someone who has a welcoming home and food to eat. The world seen from the porthole can show its best side to those who live at peace with God.