Geraldine “Gigi” Nemrod, 32, founded the Khlong Toey Music Program in the middle of Bangkok’s biggest slum, Khlong Toey, in 2012 to help teach underprivileged children music skills. Now, the small organization has recently launched an art program, in addition to music, dance and English. We spoke with Gigi and her assistant, Pimsupa “Bo” Phakdee, 37, about the project.

How did you start this organization?

Gigi: When I arrived in Thailand, I worked as a plant biologist. After two years, I quit my career, deciding that I wanted to do something that had a meaning for someone. I started volunteering at different organizations and after six months, decided to start my own project.

Bo: I was Gigi’s Thai teacher six years ago. She told me on our first meeting that this was her dream. About two years ago she was looking for an assistant and asked me to find someone for her. I said I would help until she could find someone. Two years later and I’m still here [laughs].

 

How many kids do you have in your program?

Gigi: Roughly 40, aged five to 20-something years old.

Bo: We have one boy in his 20s who is not quite mentally stable, but he comes regularly to classes. He is super sweet.

 

Is the organization threatened by under-funding?

Gigi: Fifty percent is from [US-based organization] Playing for Change and the rest is funded by other companies including TV channels. Every month we lack about B15-20,000. We want to generate our own income, we’ve tried so many ways. We bought ukuleles and got them painted by famous Thai artists like Singto Numchok and Pod Moderndog, and we made some profits, but we are not business people.

 

What do you get out of doing this?

Gigi: A meaning. A sense of doing something good. You know why you wake up in the morning.

Bo: Gigi is a really talented scientist and she could go way further than this. We have to learn so many things, research about everything ourselves, and that has taught me many skills.

Gigi: And of course, to see the kids happy.

Bo: All the kids are sweet and well-behaved.

Gigi: They’ve changed to be even sweeter and softer after taking our classes. We get to meet so many kind people.

 

Have any of the kids gone on to achieve something great?

Bo: We played at Kod Indy music festival and ABC channel from Australia filmed us. Five of the kids also performed an acoustic set on We Kids on the Workpoint Channel, including a blind ukulele player.
 

What is the most serious problem in the Khlong Toey slum?

Gigi: Drugs. We don’t face it at the school usually but once we had a kid who brought drugs into our school.
 
Bo: Yeah, he brought it in a water bottle and was bragging about it to his friends. The teacher heard and spent a long, long time giving them a lesson about that. It is that easy to find drugs around here.

Gigi: Mostly it’s family problems: different parents for each sibling or sometimes they don’t even know who the parents are and they just live with their grandmothers. This is something you can feel in their personality—they can be a little angry. 

www.khlongtoeymusicprogram.com

www.fb.com/KhlongToeyMusicProgram