My most interesting, enlightening, uplifting and enjoyable trip in a few years was a trip to Thailand in September 2016. Sharon and I started with a couple of days in Bangkok. We stayed in a nice hotel overlooking the river. We didn’t really get to spend too much time in Bangkok and it didn’t really make much of an impression, I think you would need more time there and perhaps with someone who could show you around and learn about the highlights.
Here are a few shots taken in Bangkok by Sharon and I.
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But then Bangkok was really only a stop-over on our way to Northern Thailand. Our destination was the Sarnellii House Orphanage in Nong Khai which is very close to the border with Laos and the Mekong River. What brought us to Sarnelli House is our great friend Brian and his wife Kate who is the nurse at the orphanage.
They have a very good web-site that can give you more details than I can, see Sarnelli House. However, if you take a few minutes to view the following video it will give you an idea of why this trip had such an impact on us.
In brief it is a home for children affected by HIV/AIDS and poor and abandoned children. It currently has about 150 children but began in 1998 with just seven and one house. The founder is Father Michael Shea an Irish American priest with the Redempterist Order. He has lived and served in this region for 50 years. The naissance of the orphanage was the dying wish of an AIDS mother who pleaded that Father Shea would look after her surviving children who had also contracted HIV, and he agreed.
HIV/AIDS began in the early eighties, had a terrible reputation with suffers treated badly and spurned by communities. Since the introduction of effective treatment, about fifteen years, this has greatly improved. However, not so much in the poor and outlying villages of Thailand where it is still a stigma that forces families out of work, school and even their homes and communities. It is probably similar in other poor regions of the world.
As I said there are about 150 children in the orphanage and 27 who are in college. Over the years they have looked after over a thousand children. They provide them with shelter, food, ensure they get educated and any medical treatment they need. Fortunately Thailand has eradicated HIV being transmitted from mothers to their babies so the young infants no longer suffer from HIV/AIDS. There are older children that have unfortunately acquired HIV and they need to be closely monitored and properly medicated. The children taken in have been either abused, abandoned or the families are so poor and destitute that they have taken the difficult decision to send their children here to receive a proper education and a better chance in life.
The orphanage employs about 60 staff over 90 percent who come from the local villages and act as house mothers, cooks, cleaners, drivers, office administrators, farm hands & farmers. This is money that goes back into the local community. They run their own farm with: pigs, chickens, ducks, cows, fruit and vegetables and rice. This is a big project which is very expensive to establish with farm equipment, land, stock and fertilisers to mention just a few. But it provides the older boys in particular with great experience and training and a small income. The project gets much needed financial support but it also makes the orphanage self-sufficient in many of its food needs.
Our friend Brian was introduced to Sarnelli House a few years ago through a friend of his and started by sponsoring a child, started volunteering on and off for short periods of time and then about two years ago decided he would work there full time. Last year he married Kate.
Our visit had a huge impact on us and made us understand why Brian and Kate have decided to dedicate their time to working for this very worthy cause. Although the stories behind each child, is always very sad and sometimes disturbing it is great to see them mostly flourish and enjoy a much better life than they otherwise would have had. We spent time with the children and they just lapped up the affection and love you gave them. The smaller babies and kids would jump all over you and loved being played with. The older children also enjoy company and interact with staff, helpers and volunteers. Even the language barrier doesn’t prevent one from enjoying your time with them. Initially I felt a little uncomfortable taking photographs but they enjoyed it as I had a small portable printer which meant I could give them their own photographs.
You can’t help yourself feeling for the children and making a connection with one or two of them. I was so touched when one I had connected with wanted to see us off at the airport. It made it even more difficult to leave, but a cherished moment. It is so nice to hear from her now and again, now that I’ve returned home.
It was truly an amazing trip which Sharon and I hope we can repeat again in the near future.