While Songkhla is the capital of the province of the same name, Hatyai is its largest city and business centre. As a trading hub, it oversees a good deal of business with neighbouring Malaysia. It is also an important academic city; home to the biggest university in Thailand's south.
In 2004, violence returned to Thailand's southern provinces after two decades of relative calm. Police stations, military bases and even schools were targeted, ensuing in great loss of life.
Religious tensions and financial inequality erupt in violence
Two chief causes lie at the heart of this violence. Thailand is a Buddhist nation, yet the dominant religion in its southern provinces is Islam. Tensions had simmered for years, and events came to head due to the widening economic gap between north and south. The clinching factor in the sense of religious discrimination felt by Muslims in the south.
Violence devastates families and key services
Many families lost both a father and a prime source of income in the fighting, leaving them in a highly precarious situation. Not only were families torn apart, but attacks on schools and medical facilities meant teachers and health workers were reluctant to work in the south. Consequently, children found themselves without two key ingredients for a decent childhood - education and healthcare. Government clampdowns often had the counter-productive effect of increasing public support for activists, and families suffered further.
The global economic crisis has also taken its toll on the already vulnerable families of Thailand's south. Unemployment and poverty have risen to record heights, and the city's traditional fishing industry has declined. Women who once processed the men's catch now have to work in factories, meaning that children are left without care during the day.
The consequences of hardship
Limited healthcare has terrible consequences for everyone; in particularly, infants and young children. It means malnutrition and poor hygiene stunt growth, affect concentration, and are detrimental to academic attainment for the few children able to attend school. Child mortality is higher in the south, where Hatyai is located.
Parenting skills are also hard hit by poverty. All adolescents need support from their parents, especially when confronting big concerns such as drugs and sexuality, but many do not get that help in a society where strong cultural taboos surround these subjects.
Some schools remain open, but, typically, they do not have the resources they need. Not only this, youngsters face little pressure to attend since education is not considered important to career prospects. Religion affects children's education too, with Muslim families choosing to send children to faith schools, while Buddhists send youngsters off to other parts of the country, splitting families apart.
What do we do in Hatyai?
Children need their parents, but they also need good parenting. SOS Children strives to unite families who would otherwise be incapable of providing the best care for their children. Education is of course a priority in Hatyai, because many children go without. Our nursery provides youngsters with a gentle introduction to school, and it also gives parents the space to earn a living, happy that their children are being looked after.
We give a home to children whose families cannot care for them. Children from our Village attend nursery alongside children from their community, and later they attend schools in the community. Young adults receive vital pastoral support as they approach independence, while developing a career through higher education or vocational training.
We perform a vital role in a city torn apart by violence. In Hatyai, we enable families to provide the best care for children, and offer a home to those who have no one else.