Pinned against the Chao Phraya River to the south of Bangkok’s reaches, Klong Toey has the dubious honor of being the city’s largest slum. Inhabited by a mix of Bangkok locals, Thais from the poorer north, as well as people with no official status from Lao, Myanmar and further afield, Klong Toey provides a refuge to many who are unable to make a successful life for themselves in Bangkok’s ‘mainstream’ world.
Khun Poo is a long-time resident of Klong Toey who represents a remarkable model of success and positivity in an often stark and complex landscape of poverty and hardship. For the past couple of years she has been running her own cooking school for the tourist market as well as local residents.
Khun Poo worked for seven years selling home-cooked food to her neighbours. Prior to this she had been involved in a patchwork of different odd-jobs, including working in a garment factory. In late 2007, as the price of rice in Thailand doubled in the wake of a rippling global food crisis, Khun Poo found herself fighting to break even. As one of only two breadwinners in a household of ten, including her two children, she had to reconsider her options. Fellow residents and Australian national, Anji Barker, has been working with the community centre in Klong Toey for more than ten years on a number of community development initiatives. Using their contacts, Anji and some friends supported Khun Poo to start up her business. From fairly modest beginnings in the front room op Khun Poo’s house, the initiative has grown rapidly. The school has since generated enough profit for Khun Poo to rent a dedicated room that can accommodate up to 10 students and she is running her class six times a week.
Cooking with Poo is a Helping Hands initiative. Helping Hands supports Klong Toey residents to develop micro-businesses based on their skills and talents by linking them with markets and credit support. Other projects that have been supported by Helping Hands include catering services, , a sushi delivery business, handicraft production , a fresh food delivery service, two Thai dessert business, a coffee stand and a soon to be opened café/restaurant.