A Grandmother Reimagines Thailand’s Most Notorious Gang
November 14, 2011
November 14, 2011
“The youth is the hope of our future.”
Jose Rizal, Filipino Author (1861-1896)
Violent gangs of young people, most 12-18 years-old but some as young as eight, are a global fact of life. There are numerous programs focused on eliminating what is seen as a growing scourge ruining the quality of life in societies worldwide. But when we look into the gang lifestyle of today, could we stumble on an unexpected answer to the pressing question, “What can we do about gangs?”
In the existing body of scholarly research into the phenomenon of gangs, there is general consensus that as population grows, specific negative social conditions grow proportionately. Often cited as causes for gang formation are:
- Income disparity and persistent poverty
- Elimination of governmental support for necessary social services
- Marginalization in the form of racial discrimination and gender discrimination
There are other causes, of course, but some of them are harder for researchers to agree on. One such cause is the breakdown of the nuclear family. Our understanding of the roles adults play in the development of children has widened to include “non-traditional families” like those with single parent or same sex parents, and influences from adults in the broader community. It is along this same path of enlightenment that we find the story of how a grandmother in Thailand chose to face the reality of youth gangs in her city.
Laddawan Chaininpun watched as her grandson took a step that parents, guardians, and anyone involved with the welfare of a child fears profoundly. He joined a gang—and not just any gang. Out of the 50 or so gangs in Chiang Mai, a large city in northern Thailand, Laddawan’s grandson joined Na Dara (NDR), the city’s largest and most infamous gang.
This observant, caring grandmother immediately discarded the option of trying to pull her grandson out of the grip of the gang with criticism, threats, and pleading for him to just come home. She knew that such a reaction would drive him deeper into a culture she had heard only the most negative things about. Instead, Laddawan determined to learn everything she could about what the gang offered that appealed to her grandson, as well as to other young people in Chiang Mai. She accepted that her grandson had needs that were met by belonging to Na Dara. She recognized that the gang offered her grandson the kind of “family” he needed at this point in his life. This family was populated with others who understood exactly what it was like to be a 12-17 year-old because they were too.
Laddawan Chaininpun decided to offer her skills and wisdom as a counselor helping gang members work through family and other personal problems. She also helped gang members communicate more effectively and successfully with the police. As she worked with the gang, her perception of gangs evolved from the prevailing completely negative one in Chiang Mai, to one of possibility for change. Laddawan observed that the gang operated as a support system for youth and did many aspects of that function very well. She encouraged the gang to expand the areas of support they offered and begin to be a positive force in the community. This amazing woman was able to put a “No Drugs Rule” into operation within the Na Dara (NDR) gang, which in turn inspired the gang to change its name to “No Drugs Rule.”
Laddawan wasn’t finished yet! She went on to establish the Chiang Mai Youth Community Center (CYC). Here youth gangs can learn about many kinds of needs they can then offer to new members. The result of this effort is that the negative, violent, criminal behavior of gangs is reduced because members feel that they can be a productive, accepted part of the community.
It is time that the governments and taxpayers in all places where gangs are perceived to be a problem accept that gangs are here to stay because they meet basic human needs for youth who do not have other options. The choices made by governments at every level to not fund, or to underfund, social services capable of meeting basic human needs for all who are in need, make it necessary for people to find other options. Only through tolerance like Laddawan Chaininpun displayed can we hope to become enlightened enough to end conflict and attain peace. The great lesson that Laddawan teaches us is that when we think something is insurmountable, it really is just a wonderful opportunity to learn more about being human.