Helping hard-to-reach families in crowded camps during COVID-19

Ensuring that no child is left behind.

Mark Sirapob Ruckthongsuk
UNICEF staff is giving relief supplies to the construction workers.
UNICEF Thailand/2021/Sukhum Preechapanich
03 November 2021

For more than two months, Mot Sa, a construction worker, and her husband lost their income critical to provide basic needs such as food for their one-year-old son. Some days the authorities would come to the camp to provide food, Mot Sa used the food provided to feed her son. Some days she had to use whatever money that was left in her pocket to buy food. 

Mot Sa is not alone, hundreds of people in the construction camp experienced the same situation as they lost their livelihood and were trapped in a small room in a metal shack building. 

To curb the growing number of COVID-19 clusters in densely populated construction camps, around 80,000 Thai and migrant workers living in these camps in Bangkok and nine provinces were isolated in late June. Without any income due to temporary closure of construction sites, and no possibility to leave the camps for food and other necessities, workers and their families were left without much assistance. Thousands faced crowded living conditions, health risks and language barriers in accessing support and information on COVID-19 protection and prevention. 

A mother is holding her baby in her arms.
UNICEF Thailand/2021/Sukhum Preechapanich

“I was scared during the lockdown of the camp,” said Kum Mom, a construction worker living in Rama III camp in Bangkok. “We did not have enough information on how to protect ourselves from COVID-19.” 

To support children and families in construction camps in Bangkok, UNICEF together with World Vision Foundation of Thailand provided around 10,000 hygiene supplies, 700 UNICEF Magic Bags and 6,500 COVID-19 information booklets and organized workshops on COVID-19 protection, prevention and home isolation. UNICEF and World Vision also supported mass testing and contact tracing for COVID-19 in these communities and access to health and social services and support for families infected with COVID-19 and under home isolation. 

Construction workers with their children are receiving relief supplies supported by UNICEF.
UNICEF Thailand/2021/Sukhum Preechapanich

“Despite the challenges of reaching Thai and migrant workers in construction camps amid COVID-19 restrictions, UNICEF with World Vision were able to provide rapid support for vulnerable families,” said Parinya Boonridrerthaikul, UNICEF Thailand Child Protection Officer. “This information and supplies for hygiene, help accessing health and social services, and supplies for young children’s development will help towards ensuring that no child is left behind in the construction camps.” 

“We lost our income during the camp closure, used what little savings we had for food and had to borrow from others in the camp,” said Sie Thu Kyaw, a construction worker and father in Rama III camp. “These soaps, hand gels and face masks will help protect us from COVID-19.” 

Interactive workshops in Burmese and Thai helped inform families on wearing face masks, hand washing with soap and hand gel, social distancing during home isolation and vaccination. 

Construction workers are looking at the COVID-19 prevention information.
UNICEF Thailand/2021/Sukhum Preechapanich

“This was very useful information, and now I know how to protect myself and my family,” said Kum Mom. The guidance on making sure that living spaces are well ventilated and kitchen utensils are not shared helped her ensure her family’s well-being under COVID-19 restrictions. 

“Employers may assume that workers have enough information on how to protect themselves from COVID-19,” said Alisa Hengtai, World Vision Programme Coordinator. “But through our workshops we found that many of the migrant workers did not. They were engaged and wanted to learn more during the workshops." 

A young child is playing with toys.
UNICEF Thailand/2021/Sukhum Preechapanich

To support continued learning under COVID-19 restrictions, UNICEF Magic Bags of books, toys and learning materials were delivered to around 100 children under 6 in construction camps in Bangkok. Each Magic Bag also contains guidelines for parents on how to keep their children engaged in learning activities at home. 

"During the lockdown, we stayed in our room and my son played with just plastic bottles and one or two stuffed animals as toys," said Mot Sa, mother to young Nong Nat in Rama III camp. "Now with the Magic Bag, I can read a book to Nong Nat and he has toys to play with."  

“Families in the construction camps were very moved and couldn't believe that support was reaching their camps, especially those that were smaller and harder to reach,” said Hengtai.