All For the Children…
Now, only in Thailand could I take countless bottles of whiskey, beer, and wine coolers to a private island for my colleagues to drink on our organizational retreat. And only in Thailand could I then take those very same bottles and sell them to my colleagues for a profit. I learned a lot that week, for example, the mark-up on beer is phenomenal, and people will apparently drink more for a good cause. Why was I doing this, you ask?
FOR THE CHILDREN!
Room to Grow Foundation is not only about the refugees. There are many disadvantaged kids around here, orphans or not. Thailand and Southeast Asia, for that matter, has myriad poverty stricken villages and some of them just happen to be near us in Mae Sot. And all of those villages have children, many of whom share the same ethnicity of the kids in camp that we help support. It just goes to show that barbed wire and an organized ration system doesn’t necessarily make anyone better or worse off than the next.
My Thai friend, P’Nung, knew about our foundation and told me about a really poor migrant school about 20 km from our town. His cousin’s wife worked there as a teacher and attested to the deprived situation, which I later confirmed when I visited the school. With the Thai King’s Birthday approaching (one of the most important holidays in Thailand), we thought it was a great opportunity to have a celebration at their school.
So, thanks to the thirst of my colleagues, I was able to raise enough money to buy school packs for 110 kids. Each school pack consisted of: two notebooks, a pencil, an eraser, some pencil crayons, a toothbrush, some toothpaste, a cup and candies. My Thai friends were the real models of Thai generosity – thousands of baht was donated to buy sandals, sports equipment, medical supplies, food and fun for these poor migrant school children.
We arrived there in the morning, donning our signature Thai King yellow shirts (Thai people wear yellow to commemorate the King on Mondays and major holidays) and were welcomed by a crowd of children, most wearing their special signature Karen clothing. Except for the novice monks, who wore their robes. Because it is officially a Thai school, the children all learn and speak Thai, but with each other speak their own Karen language. I almost felt like I was at camp.
The children performed special dances and skits for us, we played games involving LOTS of white talcum powder (much to the kids’ amusement and my chagrin), and then all of us adults started to dole out the food. Man, there was so much food, and so many children, it really took a long time. But it was done and the children all said a prayer and then most proceeded to eat every single morsel of food on their trays.
I couldn’t believe it – I mean, some of these kids couldn’t have weighed more than 12kgs and there they were, resting calmly after consuming about 2kgs in food! And don’t even get me started on the ice cream dessert and the second or third helpings some had. I just walked around trying to talk to the kids, alternating between a phrase in each language: Karen – “Have you finished eating?”, and Thai – “You eat very well!” They just giggled at me, this white-faced (and not just from the talcum powder) foreigner who kept uttering the same two undoubtedly incomprehensible phrases.
After the feast, the teachers had the children dutifully line up according to age to receive the school packs and sandals. Those who couldn’t fit everything in their stomachs during lunch put their extra cookies and fruit in the packs to eat later. They were also given some sports equipment, like takraw balls (cane ball, played in Southeast Asia, is one of the most popular sports), and soon took to an impromptu game in the field.
We said goodbye to everyone and wearily went back home. I felt pleased not only because those kids could have a nice party and get some cool stuff, but also because I was yet again reminded of one of the reasons I remained in this country for so long. Not the climate, the food, the fun, the chance to help, but it was the opportunity to see this still-developing country’s people helping each other.
Thai people are generous, whether it’s whiskey, curry, a chat, or in this case, support to underprivileged children in their own backyard. And I was glad for Room to Grow to be a part of that. It made my Thai King’s 80th Birthday holiday complete.