Excerpts – The Orphanage
My first date with Beth (What is a Thai Woman 29/9/2003) was at the palace and the second one was to Chiang Mai to Visit her Aunt and then get stuck with a 12-year-old niece of hers whom I spent countless hours teaching English to. The third one is to
the border between Thailand and Myanmar to a yearly pilgrimage that she does with her business friends to an Orphanage! It was a trip of a lifetime. No planning and last minute and I had no idea what to expect.
We go in 5 Toyota 4-wheel trucks into rough terrain and cross a river approximately 6 hours total out of Bangkok. We started the journey from Nakon Pathom. It is my third trip to Thailand and I barely know 20 phrases of her language. None of Beth’s friends speak English except for one Sean who was educated in Australia. There are 14 of us total with only three other guys bringing their girlfriends, which makes only 4 girls and 10 guys. I thought I was not going to survive the trip as all the drivers were drinking alcohol on the way up there while driving! These were some rich Thai guys in their mid twenties to thirties.
Beth picks me up the night before we leave from Bangkok and take me to her hometown in Nakon Pathom and she is very well known there so she sticks me in the local hotel. She said I couldn’t stay with her at her Mom’s house as everybody will talk about us. Agreed I said. The following morning we go with Tom one of the Thai guys and head over to big C. Beth asked me if I wanted to donate any money or pitch in whatever I can afford. I put in 4,000baht. When we get to Big C the manager comes out and apparently everything has been prearranged and we stuffed 4 pick up trucks full of stuff like Shirts, slippers, soaps and other sundries. We head off to the other rendezvous point, which happens to be a pig farm. One of the guys owns it and two big roasted pigs were loaded up.
Now we are all ready and I can see the girls asking who I was and Beth talking to them and Sean inquired as to my relationship with Beth. They just teased her I think all the way up to the Orphanage about me. Every time I get near Beth I see the others with ear-to-ear smile and attention to every move and reaction we both have to each other. It is actually quite funny. Now I know why she always keeps her distance. Here is when I spot all the guys starting to guzzle down beer and start driving. They even offer me some! We have open containers in the driver seat and passenger seat. The last town we passed we bought even more stuff and I asked Beth how many kids are in the orphanage and she said she did not know, as she has never been there before. They all pick a different one every year. They all do it for what I understand as to make merit! Two hours to go still and it is already pitch black and no lights and no sign of any civilization. I got so dizzy from the bumpy roads that I fell asleep and next thing I know it is 9pm and we are here. Sean and Tom greets the head of the orphanage and I figured out that there are only 3 ladies maybe in their mid 40’s running the whole operation. I did not see many kids at all at first and we unloaded everything into one of the buildings. Or should I call it shack.
I was told that the kids vary in age from 4 to 15 with approximately half boys and half girls. They have comfortable room for 200 but they have at least 250. They have 6 other elder women there who had nowhere else to go so they help them. Not a single man! When I saw the dining hall, there was no kitchen. They make do with big boulders of rocks on the ground and use whatever natural resources they have for the cooking. Now I start seeing kids maybe 10 year olds coming over to help get firewood for the cooking of the Pig as I am sure is way to cold for consumption now. Every child that I get in contact with constantly bows to me. I got to play ping-pong with some except the other half of the table had a foot long hole on it!
By midnight the guys decided that they are going to get drunk some more as everybody has gone to bed. I find out they have no electricity and with my sleep apnea, my C pap machine is now rendered useless! I tried my best to sleep on the concrete floor accommodations and mosquito net. The next morning Beth is worried as one of the guys is very sick from the nights drinking binge and is coughing up blood. I told her his liver is probably shot and should quit drinking. Sean tells me this happens to this guy all the time but he cannot seem to stop. He is on his third Toyota 4-runner as he totalled the other two from drinking and driving. He also happens to be the son of the Pig Farm owner. They just put a wet towel on his head and he is going to gut it out for the rest of the trip.
Som, the head of the orphanage spoke a little English and was curious as to how I got involved with the trip. She said I was the first foreigner that they had ever seen or met. She thought I was Thai and did not give me much attention in the beginning. She approached me after hearing me talk fluent English to Sean. Well here are some facts about the orphanage. The government helps them by giving approximately 200baht per month per child that they take care off. The pig that we brought would be the first meal for the kids in six months in which they get to eat pork. I saw a few chickens running around and Som says those chicken lay eggs so they cannot be killed yet. There were a few dogs that look worse than the ones I saw in Bangkok. There was no shortage of activities for me to get involved in as my observations being correct that there were no men there. So the 10 of us just started doing all sorts of manly things and even the girls pitched in. first we had to scrape the paint of the outside toy gym that was previously donated and that took a better part of the day and then we painted it which took us all till night fall. The others guys did all sorts of odds and ends like fixing their water tank as the well was pretty much bone dry. We were offered showers but when I walk over there I declined. There is no hot water. It is the end of November and we were in an upper altitude and it was a little chilly for me.
The food that we ate was great and apparently there was enough for everyone. I was touched by the behavior of the kids as they set themselves up in which the youngest members get food first and on to the eldest and nobody got seconds until everyone had their turn. And the teachers need not organize it as the children organized themselves. Som asked me if I wouldn’t mind talking to the kids the next day and teach them English. How can I say no. Sean had a better idea as he remembered the last town we hit before getting to the orphanage had ice cream and asked Som if the children might like some. She answered that no one has brought ice cream up there in almost two years so some of the kids would not know what it is. That was all Sean needed to hear and I got volunteered to go with him. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the ice cream guy to part with his tub of ice cream when we hit town the next morning so Sean just said will have to take him along. And we also took his brother who also has a cart so two carts up to the back of the Toyota and I was surprised they did not fall over. Right on time we arrive back right after lunch and when Som announced the surprise ice cream and only the older ones seem to know what it was and the young ones had no clue. I was quick to volunteer as one of the scoopers as this is going to be precious for me just to see the look on their faces. Words cannot explain the feeling I was having.
Afterwards, I stuck to my promise and started teaching English and first I had to find out what the kids knew already. Well, Hardly anything but Hello so I just taught them the numbers and how to say their ages in English. Also how to ask questions like “Where are you from” Though most of the boys were shy the girls I was able to convince to speak so I can correct their diction. Amazingly enough my Thai friends were also listening and learning. With my background as a sales trainer I know they can only pay attention so long so I asked what else they would like to know. The Teacher Som asked me to teach them a song and of all songs I picked “Fragile” by Sting! A guitar comes out of nowhere. I did not bother to translate what it means to sing “If blood will flow, when flesh and steel are one” But at least I was able to have them sing the chorus together and go “On and on the rain will fall like tears from the star” Afterwards, it was on to Blackbird by the Beatles and I got them whistling.
I asked Som what happens to the kids when they turn 16 as I was told they had to leave. Well the boys usually end up at the monastery to become monks and the girls try to learn other skills other than farming. I was afraid to inquire deeper.
Well as evening number two was setting upon us I was asked to help with all the stuff we brought to be separated into packets and this is when it really hit me. This is not the same as when you send money to some charitable organization in which most of it gets eaten up in overhead. This is in your face you get instant reaction from the child as we were told that we were the ones who are going to give these packets to each child individually the next morning. I could not hold my tears back as I put together stuff that I take totally for granted. Pencil, pen, paper, Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, slippers. (None of the children had any!) Shirts, Small dresses. And we even had a bit of candy. We did not have enough Crayola for each kid. Unfortunately we had NO toys. But had two soccer balls. . If I had extra warning as to what we were actually going to be doing I would have easily donated 20,000baht for this experience!
The next morning the kids put on a show for us as they played a bit of sports before we all gathered and all the presents were given out. Again the perfect polite behavior of the kids was so touching. I asked Sean why they do not advertise about this, as I am sure, a foreigner would love to be able to help these causes. His answer was no! The Thai government does not want to expose this and do not want outside involvement as non Thai’s are not allowed in these orphanages. There are no kids there from Myanmar as they are sent back and there would be political turmoil if word gets out about the situation. The area did not look dangerous either, just a lot of tropical Forrest. There is also a consensus that there is money already that is suppose to have been going to these causes, but it is just slow and difficult to get it to them as there are many more like the place we visited. 200baht a month per kid! They are practically just surviving off the land. If we did not bring the Pig, they just eat rice and vegetables. Well to their credit the kids did not look like the advertising for UNICEF and those African Nations. I don’t think I would have been able to handle that. Sean made me promise not to show the pictures that I took to the public and just keep this Thai. I still do not understand but decided not to ask any more questions. He said if I would like to come with them every year I am welcome.
Well Beth said as soon as we get back she has to go to Korea for business and invited me to come along. Somehow I don’t think that will be as much rewarding as this trip.
This trip was December 2001. Unfortunately, after I broke up with Beth I have no way of getting in touch with Sean. I will try again to go this year and if anyone of sticks readers wants to come along (If you don’t mind the 12th century accommodations) drop me a line. It’s a great way to make merit!
The state of some of the kids in this country is really rough, enough to touch even the toughest fellas.