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