Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Social Safety Net

People line up before a food distribution at Wat Kanlaya in Thonburi.

Like many developing nations, Thailand doesn't have a "social safety net" in the same way that we think of it in the US. There are no food banks here, nor is there a welfare system per se. (There is universal health care though.) 

Local temples provide many of the services that people get from the government in the US or Europe. Many temples, especially Thai-Chinese ones, do food distribution as a form of merit making. Wealthy people bring staples to the temple, those staples are then distributed to the community. (Mosques have similar programs here and the Sikh temples, which are fewer in number, offer free food every day.) 
People who donated food to Wat Kanlaya pray before the food distribution at the temple.

I went to Wat Kanlaya Friday to photograph the evictions going on near the temple. There wasn't much to photograph with the evictions, but there was a food distribution at the temple. The food distribution is interesting because it's not only food distribution but also a sacred religious rite. 
People burn "ghost money" as a part of the food distribution ceremony. 

I ended up photographing the food distribution. Many of the people in line for rice and staples were the same people I photographed earlier in the week during the evictions. As food distribution days went, this was a pretty small one. I've photographed some, at other Chinese shrines in Bangkok, that went on for hours and served thousands of people. There were a couple of hundred people in line at Wat Kanlaya and the food was gone in about 30 minutes. 
A woman gets rice and hot sauce during the food distribution. Check out how big the bottle of hot sauce is!

Everybody got the same thing, a large bag of rice, a huge bottle of hot sauce, some fruit and a pair (or two) of flip flops. The flip flops were a new touch. I've seen children's toys included in the care packages before but never flip flops. 
Women leave the temple after the food distribution. 

One of the reasons I like working here is that you're never quite sure what you're going to stumble into on any given day. I went to the temple to photograph the forced evictions and ended up photographing some quite different. 

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