A Muay Thai gym in rural Thailand can change a child’s life. This is particularly true in Thailand’s North East region of Isaan which is home to some of the country’s poorest families. In such communities, Muay Thai offers an option for the children who have few. A Muay Thai gym in a small, rural community can make the difference between a child securing a future and a child choosing gang membership and/or substance abuse.
Almost a month ago, we released that MBSB contributor Frances Watthanaya, in conjunction with her husband Boom, and longtime family friend and Muay Thai trainer Dam were opening a gym in Boom’s hometown in the Muang Yang of Nakhon Ratchasima Province (Khorat). The gym has since been named Sit Phanom + Wor Watthana Muay Thai Gym. Its mandate is to facilitate change in a community that could very much use it and secure a stable future for Dam.
The gym began as an uneven patch of dirt and a lone bag hung from a tree. Neighbourhood children began showing up and Dam began training them. After just a few weeks of training, the children had their first fight. This was also the first time they set foot in a ring.
Frances and Boom would love to build a ring for the children to train in and a roof to house them from the rain. They’ve set up a GoFundMe campaign to help them do so before the Monsoon season hits in May. At time of writing, their campaign has amassed 44% of the $8,500 required to make this happen. Their cause has also been shared 2,600 times on Facebook.
Although I’m not directly involved in the campaign, I want to really express my gratitude to and appreciation of all of you who have helped in any way that you can. Giving when you can is a beautiful thing and for those of us who train Muay Thai, many of our teachers, or our teacher’s teachers (etc.), come from similar circumstances. The Muay Thai that has enriched our lives was passed on to us through people who, I suspect more often than not, needed Muay Thai.
Boom Watthanaya is currently splitting his time between Sit Phanom + Wor Watthana and his full-time job as a Muay Thai instructor at MuayFit in Kuala Lumpur, Malasyia. He took time from his active schedule to answer a few questions about the gym and the GoFundMe campaign. Many thanks to Frances for facilitating the following dialogue.
What does this gym mean to your village?
It provides the local children with a safe space to come after school and gives them a productive activity to take part in. The villagers are very proud of the gym, for many years people have always said they were going to do something like this, said they were going to help the kids, but no one has done it until now. People in the village are grateful for the opportunity, and understand that without this gym, many of their children and relatives will end up on drugs and in gangs like so many before them.
Is it hard being away from the gym?
It is difficult being away from the gym but I need to also focus on my family. I need to make money for both my family and the gym so I am very focused at work. I want to spend more time with the kids,
I see their enthusiasm and their dedication and it reminds me of when I was a kid.
It is difficult to trust people, even in my village because I don’t know if they are 100% focused like I am. I am grateful that my wife is there running the gym, because she loves Muay Thai and I know that her heart is pure.
What do you think of the gym’s progress thus far?
It is real; it is built from the ground. It is like planting a garden and watching the vegetables grow; I see these kids grow. We are starting from nothing, training on the ground, in the dirt, but we still do it. The kids get matched at the temple fairs, it is like the old style, it is real. I want to improve the environment for them so that when they get better the don’t need to leave home. This way they can stay with their families while continuing their Muay Thai careers.
What do you think of the GoFundMe campaign?
Together with the people who have been donating we are making merit. We are helping the kids, and you can see it is real. It’s not the same as people just giving to the temple, this is a genuine donation that gives these kids a future. A lot of the people who have donated, I don’t even know, it is very humbling. A lot of us think that we don’t have a good life, but there are so many people worse off than us. We are helping those people who are worse off than us. This gym will produce top fighters because it is built with love.
Thank you. Thank you so much for all the donations. You are giving the young kids of my village a opportunity to a better life.
I promise you, that I will do this from my heart, 100%. I believe that people who do what they love will be successful.
This gym has begun, just a small group of people, mostly family, who love Muay Thai, but together we will make this become one of the top gyms in Thailand.