Letter from Volunteer at Starfish Country Home
I worked at the Starfish Country Home School in October of 2006 as a volunteer. I am a trained Special Learning Support Assistant with 3 years training and 5 years working experience. I joined the programme to teach art for 3 months.
Richard Haugland who is the head of the foundation, in my professional opinion, is unstable and in no uncertain terms should not be allowed to have any contact with children.
The reason I managed to stay so long was because I was so concerned about the welfare of the children that I couldn't bear to leave.
This man is dangerous! He has no experience or qualifications with regards to child development, care or education. The man in my opinion is on the Autistic spectrum and displays strong characteristic behaviour of a sociopath. He is socially inept and has no ability to empathise or capacity to understand how his actions affect others.
There are many things that started my alarm bells ringing from the outset but as Dr Richard unfolded his plans for the children I was shocked by his complacency and incompetance as a leader of staff or carer of children.
Firstly the school consists of 28 girls and 2 boys which I find disconcerting. Dr Haugland calls the children orphans when in fact they all have a living parent if not both. He makes out that the children are brought to him by the desperate families begging him to help. When in actual fact he goes out to the villages and picks them out like dolls in a toy shop. He orchestrates a talent contest asking the children to sing or dance. He is very focused on the children's ability to perform. He says "this enables me to pick out the bright ones from the dumb ones, they need to have a spark'.
Dr Richard Haugland is obsessed about so called "intelligence" but he has no interests in providing an educational structure. His way of "gauging how intelligent they are is by how much English they can speak". He asked staff to correct them when they speak in a Thai accent! Thai language doesn't use blends such as "Sp" for spoon or "SK for skin. So when a Thai person tries to speak English they will say Suh-poon or Suh- kin. Dr Richard wanted the staff to correct a child and force them to say it over and over till they get it right. Anyone with any compassion and basic understanding of child learning will know that you should only encourage and never criticise a child's efforts. This will only destroy there confidence and any effort to communicate should be celebrated. Dr Richard says this is how he can tell if the children can speak English if they say Spoon instead of Suh-poon.
These children are all tribal children so their first language is their hill tribe language. Most of the children don't speak any Thai when they come to Starfish. It has been explained to Dr Haugland many times by me, other educational professionals and trained teachers that these children are being forced to learn two languages at the same time so they will struggle with both. We recommended that the children should be given a strong foundation in Thai as this is there native country and English should be complimentary. Dr Richard dismissed any advice or expertise and in April of this year he tested the children, some of them are only just 4 years old. He tested them purely on their ability to speaking English. Some of the children had been at the school for under a year. According to Dr Haugland this was long enough.
Again using his words "the dumb kids will be sent to the city home in Changmai". We are only interested in the bright ones here".
When I asked him what experience, knowledge and training in education and child development he has to enable him to assess these children he responded "I am a Father."
The city home is far from a home! It's an empty echoey hotel block with a small car park and walls all the way round. The staffs are also untrained and there have also been incidents of abusive treatment of the children.
Dr Richard separated three sisters aged 3 7 and 11 because one sibling was having difficulty settling into Starfish. Dr Richard Haugland organised for her to be sent to Changmai. I now feel this was not only because she was, understandably, displaying traumatised behaviour which was unacceptable to Dr Haugland but because the sibling didn't have front teeth after an accident. Also she didn't warm to Dr Haugland. Dr Richard Haugland is obsessed about the appearance of the children and judges them based on the affection he receives from them. He has his favourites and makes this very obvious with inappropriate displays of affection.
The children now have the understanding that Changmai School is a punishment for bad children. When I asked Dr Richard Haugland if he was concerned that the children thought of the city home in this way he said "Well effectively that's what it is overall".
The list of my concerns is endless:-
None of the staff have child care qualifications.
None of them have first aid training.
None of the staff including volunteers are CRB or reference checked before being employed to work and live with these vulnerable children.
There were incidences of the children been hit and pinched by staff. When Dr Richard Haugland was told about this he did nothing!
He doesn't allow the children to go home for any extended periods of time. It was only through staff really standing up to him that he aloud the children to go home for 2 days for New Year.
Nothing is being done to protect and reinforce there culture.
The children are forgetting how to speak their tribal language.
There is no one in place to support these children emotionally and psychologically.
They are not being taught manners or respect.
There is no continuity or stability in place.
Thai police frequently turn up at the site but are payed off and leave.
These children are kept on this rural site with very little integration into the world.
Supervision is minimal.
There is no structure or plans in place for when the children get older.
After 3 months of this madness and trying my best to change what was happening I eventually had to leave. I couldn't bear it anymore and I was making myself ill with stress and anxiety.
This is really just the tip of a very ugly iceberg! There are nearly 60 children's lives that this man is playing with. These are just the children that he is directly involved with if you look at his website you will see the amount of other organisations he is involved with. This is a very unhealthy and unsettling situation and the potential outcome is harrowing.
Since being home I have contacted the Thai Child Protection Authorities and they said that they had received many calls of concern regarding Starfish Foundation.
I can't stress enough to you how much I and the other volunteers I worked with feel this man should be stopped. I am begging anyone who reads this do not support this man. He is dangerous!
See www.akha.org http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2007/02/354569.shtml for more information.