The orphanage I was adopted from was called the Phayathai Orphange and was located in Thailand’s metro region of Bangkok. Since the late 1990’s the orphanage merged with another orphanage and now run by the Thai Government. When the two orphanages merged together it took on the name of Pakkred (or Pakkret) Babies Home and became the largest one in Thailand. It is located around 40 minutes north of Bangkok. Part of my desire to come back to Thailand was to volunteer at the orphanage…Babies home. I keep calling it the orphanage but they no longer refer to it as an orphanage. I honestly don’t know what I expect to get out of this experience. I don’t know if it’s closure; giving me a sense of coming full circle? Maybe I will feel more connected to the country if I go back to where it all started? I am not sure. I just know that Thailand->Bangkok->Orphanage was always part of the plan.
Since the relocation of the babies’ home they have less volunteers dropping in. It is not conveniently located and many tourist find it hard to find. From what I have read from online blogs and other internet sources –many people find it too difficult to contact the administration. People wanting to donate or volunteer their time became too frustrated by the lack of communication resulting in a redirection of their donations to other charities. Reading those stories made me sad and even more determined to volunteer some of my time.
I checked out of the Embassy Hotel and taxied to Pi Sangwan’s apartment (that will be a separate blog! LOTS to say about that topic!) Together with Pi Loong, we headed off to find Pakkred Babies Home. Having left Bangkok, we thought we would be able to commute much more easily! The bus stops are right outside BIG C so it is our one stop shopping. It is the place to go for shopping or find transport. Pi Loong didn’t know what bus to take so she asked the lady beside her. The lady happened to be going in the same direction and said that only ONE bus turns down the street we need. After waiting for nearly 30 minutes, Pi Loong layed out the options: tok tok, motorcycle, walk or mini truck. It felt like we had climbed on the next truck we saw. I got the sense we were lost/in need of directions. I was trying to ask Pi Loong how she knew what truck to take, as there had been absolutely no number or any signage. Do you just communicate with the driver once you are on? What happens if the other passengers are going a different way? When Pi Loong started conversing a lot with the only other passenger my suspicions were confirmed. Well we got off that truck pretty quickly. Pi Loong told me I could get off..but since I had NO CLUE what was happening I thought it best if she got off first and I followed her. I really didn’t want to be on the side of the road while she was still riding in the truck! She asked me if I had a phone number for the orphanage. I gave her a longggg look of, ‘no… I thought you knew where to go.’ She tried to reassure me that she DID KNOW, she had been before with Mom and Dad. She just needed to know how to get there. OH DEAR OH ME OH MY. She had to ask a lot of people for directions. Good thing she was with me because I definitely would not have found the place on my own. Eventually she began to think out loud that maybe they would be closed by the time we arrived. Not the motivational words I wanted to hear on our ever going walk in the heat. I told her I wanted to at least get there and see the place. I didn’t care if we had to go back another day when they were open I wanted to see it. I was becoming super agitated. I felt like we were walking and getting more lost. People were meaning well when they tried to give us directions but sometimes EVEN I COULD TELL that they were kind of guessing in hopes of being helpful.
We stopped to ask for more directions at the Centre for Crippled Children (so not politically correct!! I am fully aware) and Pi Loong sank into a deep conversation with two security guards. I could tell she was asking for directions AND TELLING THEM MY BACK STORY. They kept looking at me and looking back at her. They asked to see both our IDs and by this point I was OVER the small talk. I wanted to just get to the orphanage. This detour was no making me happy. I was so flustered that we were so close but had not made it yet. I told them I had ID but why did we both need to show if we weren’t at the right spot? We needed directions to the Babies Home. She told me they gave her directions and we were really close but we were allowed to go inside and see the children. They were asking for ID because they need to hold on to them during our visit. I remember trying to stay calm while explaining to Pi Loong this was not the Babies Home. If she was worried about them being closed or closing soon, we should not be making any stops but heading directly over. I know I was coming off rude as to not wanting to see these children -but I truly didn’t. I was so close to where I actually wanted to be. We had to keep moving.
I was so relieved when we finally arrived. The gates were open and there were two staff members on their break eating food. I tried to explain in English that I moved here and wanted to volunteer. They understood the word volunteer and said, “Chai chai chai”. They were saying yes but they were not able to reply back to me in English. Thankfully Pi Loong was with me (hurray for a personal translator) and she explained that I should come back on Monday. There was an English teacher that came to see the kids and he could help organize something for me. That made me happy that I was allowed to volunteer. I really had not thought of what I would do if they said no.
I was pretty sure that I would not be allowed to take pictures once I had entered the premises. I was correct; there were even laminated pictures of cameras slashed out around the property. Clearly there has been an issue in the past! We were allowed to see the children and visit. There were about 35 Thai children around the ages of 2-4, playing in an enclosed metal playground. Well more standing around then playing. Lots were leaning on the gate or sitting with the one staff member that sat on the floor leaning against the gate. There were 3 other staff members outside the play area walking around or watching. I wasn’t attacked by emotions! My first observation was that it was sad that no one was playing or entertaining the children. They weren’t doing anything. Some of the children came up to the gate to say hi and gave us big smiles but most of them just stood around. It felt weird to be watching them like they were a zoo exhibit. I wanted to put my bag down and go in and cuddle and play with them. One of the most outgoing girls noticed Pi Loongs watch and was asking her what time it was. Then they started to have a little conversation in Thai. The kids all looked so tiny and cute. They were well dressed and groomed. I couldn’t understand what they were saying but it wasn’t too hard to get the gist of it.
One of the smallest girls kept crying for Momma. Later we learned that she had been dropped off today. HER FIRST DAY! That broke my heart. She was crying so one of the staff took her away from the play area and out for a walk. When she came back she was told she had to get her haircut. She started crying again. No one hugged her or tried to calm her down. They gave her a little trim while she was standing there crying. She did not enjoy it but seemed to calm down relatively quickly afterwards. I don’t like seeing children cry! It was awkward witnessing this child’s first day away from her parents. What would probably become a permanent stay.
Before we had entered the property I was joking to Pi Loong that she could adopt 1 or 2 of the children since she loved kids so much. I knew she wasn’t going to adopt but maybe she could play with the children weekly. She joked that she was tooo old but then the conversation grew serious. She said that she would not even be allowed to take them out on play dates. The government is very strict on who adopts them. She is too old and doesn’t make enough money so they would never even consider letting her look after a child. That made me really sad to hear too. Here is someone who is great with children and could give them much needed one-on-one attention but she is discriminated against due to her financial background. I guess it is for the safety and welfare of the children but what a loss for the children…Good thing they don’t require my financial history too volunteer!
We watched the children have dinner/snack. They lined up and each got a small bread roll. When they were done they were given another bun that had pork inside. One of the little boys started crying because he got told off for just picking out the meat on the inside. He didn’t want the bun and started crying. His cry was so cute…but he did eventually eat his entire bun! Good boy. Some of the children then lined up along the gate to share a water cup. The cup kept getting refilled from a big jug and passed along until everyone’s’ thirst was satisfied. They were all so polite about it.
I left not knowing how to discern my emotional state. I was happy to be invited back to volunteer. I was glad the children looked healthy. I was concerned that they weren’t playing and having fun. I think my role will be to go and speak English to them and bring a bit of joy. To help create happy childhood memories. All believe that all children deserve to be happy and fun. I hope that I can do that for them. Selfishly this volunteering will probably be more meaningful for me then them; but I am hopeful that we all share in the good times.
Thanks for reading…sorry for another long one!
xox Amanda Sumalee