I wrote this piece last year for my Media Relations class but decided to share it here as well:
BAAN SAN FAN ORPHANAGE: HOUSE OF DREAMS
As if a divorce was not bad enough, imagine having to give up your child or even children? Not because you cannot afford it but because that is what happens in your culture after a divorce. The plight of many poor divorced Thai families leaves thousands of children as orphans every year, expected to fend for themselves in a world that gave them few opportunities even when they had a home.
Once a father has remarried he often cannot afford to support his extended family and generally the new wife will not look after his children from the previous marriage. Commonly the man’s ex-wife will not be able to financially support her children and have no other choice than to abandon them. But what happens to these children once they are out there on their own? Do they have the chance of finding another home?
The answer is yes- Baan San Fan Orphanage, meaning House of Dreams in Thai, does exactly that.
Gai and Sam, a married Thai couple, came to Phang Nga province in 2004 after an earthquake caused a massive tsunami wave that struck off the west-coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. They left their own three kids with their parents and lived for a year in Phang Nga taking care of the children who had lost their families and had nowhere to go. Swiss missionary, Dr Donat Schibler, offered to buy the couple a piece of land nearby after hearing about their work so that they could set up an orphanage.
And so their journey began.
Moving their own children to Phang Nga in 2005, they put their own needs aside in order to create a loving home for those who had nothing. The little financial support they receive all goes towards feeding, clothing and educating the children they have taken in. As the country recovered and the children grew up they were left with empty beds to fill. But it was never an option for Gai and Sam to stop helping the ones who are less fortunate.
In 2008, Baan San Fan Orphanage took in their first child who had been abandoned when their father remarried. Word spread quickly about this safe haven, located in the small village of Bang Wan, surrounded by trees and a big patch of land and a nearby waterfall, and soon Gai’s phone would not stop ringing with families asking for their children to be taken in.
As the orphanage grew, the funding became tighter since the missionary had pulled out and soon Gai had to start turning children down because she cannot afford more. With tears in her eyes she tells me, “It is the hardest thing I have to do. To turn down families knowing that the kids will end up on the streets is heartbreaking. I wish I could take them all in but it would be at the expense of the education and nutrition of the children who are already here. And I just can’t do that.” Despite having space for 40 children she can only accommodate 12 because of inadequate funding.
I went to stay at Baan San Fan Orphanage for a month and expected it to be one of the hardest things I had ever done. I imagined how upset these children must be, knowing they were abandoned by the two people who are meant to take care of them. I pictured a dark and gloomy place where children had little reason to be happy and were dying for some love.
The only thing I was right about was the love but not that they needed it from me. There was so much love in their home; you were always surrounded by it. I do not think I had ever received as much love as I had there. Everything else, I could not have been more wrong about. It was one of the happiest places I have ever been to. The children appreciated the little they had and made the best of it. They are one big family- Gai, Sam, their three children and the 12 children they have taken in.
Baan San Fan’s main objective is to give the children a safe and protected environment to live in and Gai and Sam try to give them as many skills as they can that will help them in the future.
The orphanage is more like a big family than just a place for the children to live. They all have their chores and get in trouble like any other kid if they did not do them. But little fighting and bickering goes on despite seven of the children all being almost the same age. The only difference to most Western families? They are all very independent. Get up in the morning themselves, do their homework and chores, do their own laundry, clean their rooms, help cook, and take care of the animals. If you ask me they are more prepared for the real world than most of my friends.
The laughter and love that is present in Baan San Fan Orphanage is addictive, you cannot get enough of it. And when you leave you almost feel like you are going cold turkey and you need to go back straight away. The feeling does not subside, even a year after having visited. It is just like when you know something is good for you and you know you need to get your hands on it again- the love these kids had for life.
For more information on Baan San Fan Orphanage, opportunities to volunteer or to donate visit: www.baansanfan.org