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Over a year ago my friends Frances and Thanit (Boom) Watthanaya started a grassroots Muay Thai gym in Boom’s village in the Isaan region of Thailand; the gym wasn’t just about Muay Thai, it was about uplifting the village kids from poverty. This had been a dream of Boom’s and now it was becoming a reality, but not without struggle! Navigating through the culture, local politics, suppression and poor education system is just the tip of the iceberg for what this power couple is doing on a daily basis.
Boom and Frances didn’t intend to start the gym. While Boom was working in Malaysia, Frances started training with her long time trainer Dam in the village. They were just hitting pads in the dirt. She had been training just a few weeks when kids started to showing up and asked if they could train too, thus begun Wor. Watthana Muay Thai gym.
Boom sent some money over from Malaysia, and Frances had some old equipment at home. They hung a bag from a tree, and hand an old piece of carpet donated. The kids were showing up everyday without fail.
Frances shared a video of daily training on social media and it went viral! People from all over the world contacted her asking if they could help. After some discussion with Boom, who was still in Malaysia, they decided to officially start Wor. Watthana gym.
Now that the gym had a name, a Facebook page was created documenting their progress. The response they received was huge, and completely unexpected.
Thanks to the hard work of Frances, the gym became very well known in just a short period of time. For me personally, I think word spread so quickly because it was such an in-depth look at the poverty that surrounds Muay Thai, something many in the West had yet to see or experience. People began donating equipment, and helping the gym out financially. But it became apparent that the kids would soon need a roof over their heads, and a ring to train in. Friends in the Muay Thai community told Frances to start a gofundme, she initially had her reservations but with so many people stepping forward wanting to help she launched a campaign in February 2015.
The goal was $8’500 CAD, they smashed that and made over $11’000 CAD. With the money in the bank they began construction. I talked to Frances about her plans to build the gym before they started and she told me,
“Of course we could put up a straw roof that will eventually blow over when the monsoons come, but I want to build these kids something long lasting. The need stability in their lives. They live in poverty, I want to build a gym for them to be proud of.”
Frances single handily build this gym. She took the kids all over the region to fight and was holding up to 20 rounds of pads per night! She had a few people from the village come out and help, and some other local fighters, but at the end of the day she was the one holding it all together. Needless to say it was exhausting, and hard on her daughter too. Frances knew that she couldn’t do this without Boom. It wasn’t just support for her, the kids needed him as well.
Booster Fight Gear understood the need and offered Frances a unique Isaan based job allowing Boom to come home.
The gym is 100% donor funded. After the success of their gofundme Frances launched a website allowing people to make monthly donations to the gym. Donations range from $5 to $100 a month and go towards things like school supplies, clean drinking water, electricity, travel expenses, doctors visits, and nutritional supplement . They also have three corporate sponsors on board: Booster Fight Gear, Smart Partners KK, and CNEXS Wear. In addition to what they do for the kids at their own gym, Frances and Boom help out three other gyms in the area, Lookboonmee, Sor. Samanmeechai, and Dor. Pewlapakdee.
Before the gym there was very little to do in the village; when kids finished school their was nothing for them. Boredom, lack of positive role models, and bad influences led many youth to go down a dark path of drugs, alcohol and gang violence.
The gym is more of a community center with a Muay Thai added on. Anyone is welcome whether they want to fight or not which is not the typical model for Muay Thai gyms in Thailand. Normally you go to train to become a fighter and earn money for the gym, but Wor. Watthana wants kids to come without the pressure of fighting, and just participate in a strutted activity. In addition to that, Frances and Boom both speak English so it is a fantastic opportunity for the locals to learn a vital language which can help further their career when they reach adulthood.
Frances is also helping fighters in the Isaan region to gain a stable employment at gyms around Thailand and abroad. One of their fighters Bus, recently went to Singapore earned 30’000 Baht for one month and had all of his expenses covered. In Isaan there is little to no options for employment other than working on the rice field. Furthermore it was a great experience for him to leave the community, which at times can be very a challenging place to say the least. The networking and awareness Frances and Boom have created is amazing for a gym that hasn’t even been opened for two years.
I am so proud of what my friends have achieved! This is only a short snippet of everything they have had to go through. They have made so many sacrifices, and it is very inspiring to know them. Getting to be a part of the gym has given me the opportunity to see first hand how difficult these kids lives really are. The obstacles that Frances and Boom have had to overcome has changed the way I view life and makes me realize that I am doing just fine!
I hope you enjoyed this and it has given you a different view on how a small donation made on a larger scale can build something great! I am proud to be a monthly sponsor at Wor. Watthana.
If you would like to donate to the gym please visit their website, a small donation of just $5 a month is about the same as a cup coffee, it’s nothing in the grand scheme of things but will make a whole world of difference to these kids.
Wor. Watthana Muay Thai Gym
Website – WorWatthana.com
Facebook – Facebook.com/WorWatthana
Instagram – Instagram.com/Watthanaya
Donate To The Gym – WorWatthana.com/Donors
An interview with Boom is coming very soon……
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