Down a dirt road plagued by pot holes in rural Isaan is a heavy bag. The swinging piece of leather is the sole structural indication that there is a gym in the Muang Yang district. MMT friend and writer Frances Watthanaya is trying to change that by starting a Go Fund Me to create a gym in her husband Boom‘s hometown. Frances and Boom are looking for help and support in getting enough funding to get their gym, Wor. Watthana (Sanskrit word for perseverance and development) going.
Specifically they are attempting to create a gym structure that will be finished before the Monsoon season in May and will be focusing on using the gym as a way to support local children,
“Our focus is the kids of the village and neighbouring areas. All of them are just starting out so they require a lot of attention,” said Watthanaya and while they “really want to have foreigners train along side the Thais as of now we won’t be able to accommodate more that 2 at a time. The village is rough, the closest 7-11 is 15km away so it requires a certain type of person to want to come out here.”
In the meantime though the kids are fighting and “three of them were able to get fights at a local temple fair on February 6th. It was quite the experience, we were told the other kids were new just like us. I know everyone in the area so I believed the promoter, then I hear over the loud speaker that we were fighting Kiatpetch fighters! Whatever, this is how it goes. Rungravee was actually cornering our opponents. We lost 2 and won 1, it was amazing.” The kid’s received 200 baht for their first fights which is normal. Minimum wage in Thailand is 300 baht per day.
Despite the kids never having been in the ring, not knowing how to do the wai khru or even enter the ring properly the kids loved it. Whattanaya handed them their purses (without deductions) and “they were like, what is this? We get paid to fight? It was brilliant! They were all back at training the next day.”
For most of the kids at the camp the story is all the same. They are children of poor local farmers who might have a small plot of land and a few cows or parents who went off to work in Bangkok. Money isn’t made in Isaan it is shifted around. Thailand rice farmers are the lowest paid in South East Asia and falling deeper and deeper into debt. A lot of the” villagers just go day to day, catching fish, eating them for dinner. They more so shift money around as opposed to actually making money. So you sell a cow to pay off a debt to take out a different debt.” While the parents are able to sometimes help the children the kids are mainly left to fend for themselves.
Currently the gym has one head trainer, Dam, who is paid 8,000 baht per month and whose transportation, training clothes, and equipment are paid for. During events Dam is paid in over time wages.
Muay Thai can be a way out for the kids, not only in the short term of providing wages, food, and clothing but can also lead to the professional stage where they can earn more money. In addition Frances’ presence as a native speaking English woman will also help them learn language skills that may help them further their education.