children, sickness and Kaosan
I din't have time to spell proof this entry, wanted to get it out before I leave for Ko Tao in...45 minutes!
As of tomorrow I will have finished my two week stay at Baan Dada. My experience here has been a humbling one, enhancing my gratitude and widening my views on the world and its many conditions and forms.
About Baan Dada:
Baan Dada is an children's home on the boarder on Burma. It provides a safe home, love, food and much more for the children of the near by Karen hilltribe. It was founded by Dada #1, Richard, who is a member of the Enohumanism foundation, in 1991. It has grown from eight children and one building to 60 children and five buildings, plus two in the making since then. It is located a half hour drive from Sangklaburi in a small jungle surrounded village.
The working people:
There are many people who live and work here, helping the whole home run smoothly. The two main men are called Dadas, which means 'brother' in Sanskrit. There is Dada 1 who is like the backbone and heart of the whole foundation, working endlessly to maintain the well being of the children. He has a heart of gold and has been here since the start. He doesn't even claim his own room, as he could, and sleeps in the office instead. Dada 2 is also a member of the Enohumanism foundation and is here on a one year placement, six months into it now. He is a gentle man who holds a song signing and meditation session almost every night for the kids who want to join in. We regularly engage in discussing mystical topics such as the vibrations of objects and how people perceive the world in different ways. There are four 'Mothers' who take care of all of the cooking, laundry and the cleaning that is not done through the kids chores. Dada 1 has an assistant for the office work named Fon who also teaches Thai sometimes and a main Thai teacher named Kik. There are also three construction workers who labor away on the two building being built.
The other volunteers:[/i]
When I arrived there were six other volunteers. Debbie is the most busy, a 27 year old from Toronto, who helps out in the office endlessly and has been here for two months, staying a few more weeks. She also was stuck with a badly infected eye for several weeks! She is extremely friendly and kind, and I shared a room with her for the first half of my stay. There were two Aussie gals, Hellen and Clair, who are self described typical Aussies - loud and somewhat outrageous! They where contantly using Aussie phrases like 'look out!' (applies to anything that happens) and 'ourtrageous!' (also all-applicable). There is was Pauline, a quiet insomniac, a real beauty from France. She was a self taught photographer and had a wicked camera. There is also a couple (the only ones left besides Deb) named Jessica and Sander. Jessica is from Seattle (yes- we discussed the regions constant rainfall somewhat wistfully). She is the vegitarian-pagan type with a fantastic tatoo on her back that symbolized the interconnectedness of the world. Sander is from Estonia and was travelling in Australia when he met Jessica, also travelling, over a year ago. The volunteers play a vital role to Baan Dada, or their time and more vitally for their donations. The majority of the money Baan Dada uses is from volunteers in fact. There is one legendary volunteer who stayed here for 9 months named Bee, from Alberta (us Canadians!). She made a huge difference here and is greatly loved. She is returning to study international policy in Bangkok soon and plans to utilize her knowledge and degree to help the children of the home.
On the grounds there is a building for the boys to sleep in which is attached to the office and TV/computer/general room. That is where I am right now, typing as the kids lye on the floor watching endless Thai TV. There is a girls house, pink painted walls of course, which is beside the play ground and boys building. There is a weaving/medical room, a small round empty hut that is the class room, an open style eating area and a band room where the Baan Dada band practices music. A new girls room is being built as it is overcrowding and a building to hold proper classes in is also being built. Everything is made out of mud bricks. Up a path about five minutes form the main area is the volunteer house and there are also several small homes for the families that live and work here. Along the path towards the volunteer house there are newly planted rubber trees and a stable for goats. From the top of the path towards the guest house you can see the stunning sun sets every night. There is a tone of critters as it is surrounded by jungle. These friends of nature include abundant non shy spiders, giant gekos, flying beetles, mossies, millipedes and snakes. One day I saw a snake that is listed as a nearly deadly snake! ek!
The children here are aged 2 to 19, most of them in the range of 7 to 12. They vary greatly in their approach to the volunteers. The youngest ones, there are about 5 or 7 who are younger than 4, attach to you right away and run up to you with their arms up, wanting to be picked up. The girls are all friendly right away, some of them shy and some not so much. The boys take longer to approach you and play with you, mostly playing among themselves. For the last few days they have been wanting to play with me, playing chasing games with make shift weapons. There are no older girls, the oldest is 13, the older ones here are the boys who have been here since the place opened. The most notable of the group are Harrish, Fa, Ali Baba, Nachie, Nadoo, Prickadee, Cheeripon, Eh dodo and of course Walawut. Harrish has been here since day one and is one of the oldest. He taught most the mothers to cook and has naturally taken on the role of an older brother, letting the kids know when they are out of line or need to do something. Fa is a four year old girl, Dada 1's favorite and has what you may lightly call a strong personality, willing things to go her way via yelling her head off. She is a sweet as can be and seems to find a way to match her cloths. Ali Baba is 3 or so, chubby as can be, always has snot running and never wears pants. You can tell he will grow up to be a manly man. Nachie and Nadoo are sisters and look identical to me, about four years old. I think they must have been very very bad off because they seem to love going threw the garbage and want anyhting you have in your hand for themselves, even a tinny piece of crumpled paper. Prickadee is three year old girl and immediately 'claimed' me, viciously hitting and pinching any other child who got my attention. Cheeripon is 7 or so and seemed to take a liking to me after I gave her a private English lesson. She had to have a spot on the top of her head shaved because of some skin mold. Eh dodo is a 7 year old girl and is so friendly, when she first saw me she came up to me, got me to pick her up and kissed my cheeks and forhead several times, hogged me and said 'i like you' a bunch of times! Walahut a boy and is...we are not sure. He is cross eyed and to me it seems like he has autisim...or hyper active disorder...or something. He loves the volunteers so much, he is always the one waiting for the truck to arive, and when i came, he leeped into my arms. He will throw himself at you, screech laught, leap around, dance hysterically and lye on the floor in odd shapes...that sort of thing. There are so many other great kids as well. They tend to hang out in groups of the youngest, the 7-12 year olds and the older ones, although they mix a lot too.
The situation of the children:
When I was thinking about coming here, I expected to feel sad for the kids here, with no parents to care for them. When I learned about the other option for the vast majority of them though, I realized it was a happy place and situation. Alot of the children here are from the local Karen hill tribes of Burma whose families have been marginalized by the Burmese government, forcing them into poverty with no way out and no resources available. Many of these poor hill tribe burmese people walked across the boarder and now live in Pilloke village. They are there illegally and thus it is hard for them to have any way to make money, so they live off the land as very poor farmers. Pilloke village became a further isolated place with little to no livelihood since a dam was built near by to provide hydro power to Bangkok. Most of the kids have no father in the picture due to various reason more or less caused by the government. They are left with just the mother and while this may be something of a trendy thing in the Western world, it spells c-a-t-a-s-t-r-o-p-h-e for these local mothers. With no way to afford their children's food, education or time needed, they turn to Baan Dada to provide their children with medical attention, love, healthy food, a place to sleep and hopefully an education. Without Baan Dada many of the children would be living in extreme poverty, always hungry, forced to move to a city and beg, have no medical attention and possibly homeless. So being here at the bustling and alive children's home is a true blessing for all of them, and they all seem to know it and be grateful. They do fight and argue like normal kids but they also look out for eachother and have a strong sense of community.
Some of the children have obtained Thai citizenship papers but many of them have not. When I asked Dada about how many of them didn't have their papers, he just said 'alot'. This is not such a big deal when they are children or teens, living at Baan Dada, but when they are adualts and it is time ot leave Baan Dada many of them will gave very little options in what to do with themselves. For the ones who are not citizens, they also do not recieve a formal education, just the Thai and English lessons from the Home that have no credability. So with no Thai citizenship papers available to get and no education, they will have no choice but to return to the poverty that sent them to Baan Dada in the first place. They will be forced to live in Piloki village and be an extremly poor farmer or a hilltribe and suffer the opresive and limiting laws of the Burmese government. It is a sad thing to think about happening to these bright wonderful children. As I mentioned earlier, Bee is studying International Law in Bangkok and is going to utilze her expertise and passion for the kids to try and make changes in the laws which restrict them to poverty and opression. It is people like her that make the world a better place! I commend her for being so selfless and deciding to dedicate so much of her life to helping these helpless people.
What happened during the day and what it was like:
A typical day of volunteering is rather relaxed. There is no set schedule to follow, just things that you can choose to do. I usually would wake up at 8 or so and go have a breakfast of rice, cooked veggies and tofu. For the first part of my stay here I would get up to be at the girls house for 6:30 ish to help the youngest ones bath. They stood on a large square brick while I pored cold water on them and soaped them up with soap. The mother that usually took care of this was away, so when she returned she resumed her position of morning bather.
After breakfast I would sometimes help out with the English class for the children who could not go to school because they didn't have their Thai citizenship papers or are too young. It was held in the tinny round mud brick room and was rather chaotic. After this it would be lunch so we would go and eat more of the delicious mother cooked food. For the afternoon in the first half of my stay here I would paint 5/6 meter poles in preparation for the new buildings. Some kids would always join me for some time, helping with the painting. Then I would take a break and read or play cards for a while at the volunteer house.
After the mid day break I would eat dinner and then play with the kids on the courtyard and park. In the evening they watch TV, about 40 of the crowding into the 4m by 10 m room, all lying on each other, arms and legs draped. I would join them for this, not to watch lame Thai TV but so that the kids could claim me to lye on and snuggle with. Every other night or so Dada 2 would hold a singing/meditation session for the willing kids. Everyone would sit on their bums cross legged on straw mats on the courtyard and sing along with Dada and his guitar to a thai song and another song that Dada made up. It says 'love is everything, love is everywhere' is thai over and over. The words sound something like 'baba na kay vala baba na, kay wa la'. I would always join in on this and have a kid sitting in my lap. The mediation followed for five minutes and I kept my eyes open the first time, noticing that most the kids had theirs open too and where not mediating! One night when one of the kids was not paying attention in the middle of love song, Dada ironically yelled 'get out noina! leave if you don't want to be here!'. I had to contain myself from laughing at his obvious contradiction!
Two times I went to the Thursday morning market, held by and for the villages people. Since the only foriengers who visit this village are volunteers for Baan Dada, all the locals knew why I was there and greated me with warm smiles. The first time I carried Fa around on my hip and looked for cookies to bring back to the other kids. I got Fa a toy cell phone filled with candy and made her eat it in private so that the other kids would not hound her down for it. The second time I carried Malaee, a three year old girl, with me. I bought the five of the girls who were walking with me hair accesories and ice with sugar syrup, which they loved. I also got grapes and cookies for all the other kids who came with us. It is kind to buy them treats because they very rarly recieve them from Baan Dada as it is not a priority at all for their tight budget! We rode back in the back of the truck, about fifteen of us crammed in there.
On three seperate occations in the late afternoon everyone went to the near by river, which was a blast! I waded in the shallow area tending to the younger kids who could not swim well, throwing them around and carrying as many as possible in my arms. They all swam naked, in their undies or pants. It was great fun and I nearly drowned with the kids clamoring on me, a few times needing to yell 'off! get off of me!'. i think it was the from handling sick Prikadee on the river that I got sick too...
About half way through my two week stay here I woke up with a stuffy nose and itchy throat. I got more and more sick, practically blowing my nose and horking 24/7. Lovely. I cut down my interaction with the children and reduced my activites to next to nothing, not wanting to stress out my system. It didn't work so well for getting better though and after several days I woke up in the night at 4:30 with a retched ear ache. I sought out the medical woman and she gave me some strong painkillers and mysterious pills to take for three days to make me better. It knocked me out till noon and when I woke up I spent the day with a painful ear and totally stuffed up head. I spent the next day treating my sinuses for hours with steam and Tea Tree oil, and my throat with hot lemon tea. I am still not that healthy, all stuffed up and I can't hear that well. Some water seems to have made my ear it home. I am not so worried about getting sick, it happens, it just sucked to be needing to rest and not being sure if I was resting too much and wasting my time here. I gave up resting a few days ago and now I am thankfully out and about playing with the kids again!
At the end:
For the last half of my time at Baan Dada I was sick and resting, as I mentioned above. For the last three days though I got so frustrated with the cold hanging on and wasting so much time not being with the kids and helping out. So I gave it up and decided to atleast help with some office things and play with the kids a bit, while obsesivly washing my hands after handling them. I was glad I did because now, at the time of wrtting a few days after leaving, I am still somewhat sick. I helped out in the office by packaging the hand made cards and on the last day I spent the whole afternoon writting the monthly newsletter.
To be honest I was extremly happy to be leaving at the end! I realy enjoyed my time there and learned alot and love the children and was very greatful to be able to volunteer while in Thailand...but I really really wanted to get out to the real world again! Just like when I did the mediation retreat, I was glad to have done it and glad to leave too (haha).
I left the morning of the 25th on the back of the motorbike at sunrise, Dada 2, the trippy one, driving me. The sunrise was amazing as we drove through the nature to get to the bus. One the bus ride to Bangkok I felt so sick and tired, having had three hours of sleep. The bus driver was compelled to blast Thai music, which I unfortunalty realy don't care for, for the first two or three hours. I aked him to turn it down, he turnedit off for twenty minutes and then desided to turn it on again, but louder this time! And then when the bus stopped for a break, I asked the Thai worker something in English that she didn't understand. She shook her head and shrugged to show she didn't understand a word of English and then the bus driving asshole said something realy loud in Thai at me and pointe dat me, laughing in the least friendly way you can laugh! He was a bonafide jerk, had completly greasy hair and skin and wore pink sunglasses. I gave him my best glare down and stormed away. I realized I was extremly tired and was probably over reacting so I let it go with some meditation haha. Still, the jerk.
I arived in Bangkok in the late afternoon and got a room just off of Kaosan road which resembles a prison cell. I realy didn't mind though, it was cheap and convienient. Like fast food, but I do mind fastfood. I napped and then went to check out Kaosan Road. It was evening by then and the raod was jam packed with backpackers, a motorbike could harly squeez through! The streets were lined with clothing stalls selling trendy travelers wear, food stalls selling fresh fruit and meat on sticks and music stalls bumping loud Western tunes such as King of Leon and Riana, competing to see who could out-loud who in music. There were a ton of crammed bars and a surprizingly high number of dread locking stalls, tatoo stalls and people doing hoy. It was totally overwelming and awesome at the same time. I walked the length of it many times, getting the fruit from either end and walking back while eating it. I eventually went back to the hott cell and passed out for a much needed sleep.
Today I walked around Kaosan again, got a dress, shorts (how have I had NO SHORTS in THAILAND until now???)some earing, my way over due hair cut and my purse repaired. I finally figured out that I wil be staying in Thailand until May 1st, thanks to Dave doing a very nice thing for me. Now I can fully fantisize about being on the Southern Islands for a month with Anna and Jevan, two of the coolest dam people I know! It will be a trip to be with Jevan in Thailand as I first learned about what Thailand is like to backpack in from him some three or so years ago. I remember him telling me about scarfs for $2, Hilltribe people, treks and the full moon party and being totally in awe and intriged. I will arive the morining of Annas 19th birthday and I can't wait to be with her to as she is a bestfriend!
In an hour I will be catching the bus to Ko Tao. I probably won't have much to write about in the travel blog for this part of my trip. If I did it would say " I shared a bucket with annd and jevan, went swimming, tanned, slept, ate, drank..." . The full moon on April 9th will be deservant of an entry of course. So perhaps that wil be my last entry! I am so looking forward to going to the Southern Islands...and like everything else else I have done here so far, I am so glad I came, and I will be just as glad to come home, to Victoria, my mom, sister and friends. I wil be glad to talk to my Dad soon too as it is hard to get a hold of him too! I think he must wan to hear about what I have been up to out here in crazy Thailand.
Thanks for reading my blog this far, love and miss you all.