When Thai teenagers get in trouble, many of them wind up at Chiang Mai's Department of Juvenile Observation and Protection facility in Mae Rim. That's where the CMIRC Eye Clinic spent this past Monday and Tuesday examining around 85 children and staff members. Following an opening ceremony during which Roger Lindley presented two "One World Play" soccerballs to the kids, we began pre-screening the 15 girls in detention. According to facility director Sumalee Yanapap, the teens are generally at the facility for no more than three months while they await their trials, although we discovered a few exceptions to that rule.
Once again, Thinthaingam Rotary past-presidents Hope Watcharaprecha and Prayad Saiwichian were instrumental in helping translate for us, though at least one of the girls spoke very good English, as she revealed while I was attempting to cut some spectacle prescription forms. "May I help you cut those, teacher?" she asked. Like most of the kids we saw, she didn't appear to be a hardened criminal. Hope told us that many of the girls got into trouble doing "favors" for friends. Others, especially the poorer boys, had no homes, so committed petty crimes in order to have a roof over their heads and three meals a day. Some had been remanded for serious crimes, such as heroin possession, but one 11-year-old boy had been in custody for five months - for stealing a cell phone. And one 13-year-old claimed to have been led astray by his own father. It seems the boy's father made him ride on the back of a motorcycle and throw a pipe bomb at some enemies. The bomb didn't hurt anyone, but while trying to escape, the father wrecked the motorcycle and ran, leaving his injured son for the pursuing mob, who turned the boy over to the police.
CMIRC's Nancy Lindley (middle), Thinthaingam Rotary president-elect Supaluck Lohajoti (left) and past-president Prayad Saiwichian (right) screen a couple of teenagers as the juvenile center's Ajaan Nong looks on.
CMIRC members Marvin Chung, Des Russell, and Roger Lindley ran the distance test portion of the screening, and Des took particular delight in "winding up" the waiting students by pretending to eat their "kanoms" (sweets we gave to the kids once they'd been examined). Eye clinic head honcho Peter Bell found that eight of the children (or slightly more than 10% of those examined) needed eyeglasses. Past clinics have revealed about five% of the kids needed glasses, which led club members to speculate on the connection between poor eyesight leading to problems in school leading to problems with the law. With luck, the kids getting spectacles will be able to stay out of trouble in the future. The next CMIRC eye clinic is scheduled for May 24th.