A Future for the Forgotten
By Nargis Kelley
For the past four years since I've been in Chiang Mai I have been involved with Piyawat Orphanage for the Hmong hill tribe children. Two brothers Khun Preecha and Khun Manop, who themselves are sons of a very poor farmer from the Hmong tribe, run the orphanages. They too were raised in orphanages called World Vision and Life Center and, when they finally left the institution upon completing their education, they vowed that they would give back to their community what they received from the generosity of others. When Piyawat Orphanage reached its capacity of 30 children, the younger brother Manop decided to branch out and work on starting another facility called Bandekdee Orphanage (House of good children) in order to continue helping his people. He approached me and some other folks with his plan and I told him that I would do whatever I could to help him succeed in reaching his goals.
The first step was to visit the Hmong village which is in the sub-division of Samuang, up in the mountains northwest of Chiang Mai. The drive was bumpy and dusty even though we were quite comfortable in our Toyota Avanza SUV. Being in the middle of January, the weather was pleasant and cool as we were driving up towards the mountains. The view was fantastic with the mountain side dotted with wild cherry blossom trees in full bloom. The beautiful scenery ended as soon as we arrived at the Hmong village to recruit some children for the Bandekdee Orphanage.
Except for the headman's house which was partially brick and wood with a thatched roof, the rest of the huts were mere hovels. Living in the present high tech sterile world of comfort, brightly lit and air-conditioned malls, shopping centers, supermarket wrapped foods, restaurants serving gourmet menus and every imaginable kind of appliance in the home one tends to forget that there is still a whole universe full of people in appalling living conditions barely able to eke out one proper meal a day.
As soon as our SUV stopped we were surrounded by children of all ages – from teens down to the tiniest toddler and most of them had a baby on their arms or backs. Their little grimy faces had a look of expectancy...they knew that folks from the city usually come with goodies for them....snacks, clothing, etc. We too had a couple of bags of snacks, candy and juice drinks and this we distributed to them. They were surprisingly very well behaved. There was no grabbing or shouting. As soon as they saw us bring out the bags they started to form a line and came up one by one to receive whatever was being handed out. Most of them only spoke in their Hmong dialect. Manop, the main caregiver of the orphanage and being from the Hmong tribe himself, spoke to them and explained that he and his wife were in the process of starting an orphanage and wanted to know if any of the kids were interested to go and live with them. Almost all of the children put their hands up without even turning to look at their parents or guardians for permission. Of course Manop could only take 15 children to start out with. There was also the question of being able to get enough funds to run the orphanage in a proper manner. A couple of Thai volunteers as well as Manop and his wife started to talk to the children and had a simple question and answer session to determine their learning ability as well as whether they would qualify as far as being orphans or destitutes with one or no parents to take care of them. At the end of 4 hours we finally picked 15 kids ranging from ages 10 down to 3 years and informed their guardians that they should bring the kids to the city on a certain date with proper ID papers and that way they would also be shown the facility where the kids would be staying.
In the meantime back home in Chiang Mai, I started to help Manop get ready for the children by soliciting some donations from friends and relatives here and overseas...buying mattresses, sheets, pillows, fans, kitchen equipment, books, etc. as well as some building materials as Manop was adding on two big bedrooms, two bathrooms and an outdoor kitchen to his existing small house which was in a sub-division just outside of Chiang Mai proper. There was a lot of excitement in the air and finally the day of the children arrived. They came looking just as grimy as ever, wearing the same clothes they were wearing when we first saw them. We noticed the excitement in their little faces – they seemed all ready to tackle the world! I cannot explain how emotionally uplifted I felt just seeing those little faces full of hope! They were anxious to see where they would sleep. The mattresses on the floor seemed to them like golden beds in a palace and as soon as they were hosed down with soap and water, changed into clean clothes which we had ready for them, they started jumping around on the mattresses and checking every nook and corner of Manop's very simple and unpretentious home which would now be their home for the next few years until they finish their education.
Having being involved with Piyawat Orphanage I have seen those children evolve from little grimy village children into savvy, intelligent and hardworking kids. Two of them started college this year. I am confident that Bandekdee orphanage too will do well since both Manop and his brother are dedicated caregivers and the happiness on the faces of these children clearly tell their own story. I feel very blessed that I am able to be a tiny part of this worthy organization. The greatest satisfaction and joy I get is when a child looks up at me and smiles. It just brightens up the day and makes me extremely happy! Giving a forgotten child a good upbringing and a bright future is the best thing in life for me.