We had a nice sleep in, and a leisurely breakfast (the amazing buffet again!) then had a car delivered to the front of our hotel. We headed north, up to Takuapa town, where the Baan Tharn Namchai orphanage is located.
The orphanage started after the devastating 2004 tsunami – many of the children were up in the hills at school when the wave hit, while their parents mainly worked on, or near the water. Many Thais can’t swim, so hundreds of them drowned in this province – whole fishing villages were wiped out.
A Thai charity sent a woman called Rotjana down to Takuapa province, and she ended up with about 20 children, who could not find their parents or any relatives, and had no home to go back to. They set up tents to live in and took what donations of food, water and clothing they could get.
While this was happening, an Australian called Peter Baines was in the area, leading international teams in the identification process of dead bodies. He came across the tent village and was very affected by seeing the number of orphaned children in the area, and swore that he would return to help them.
In late 2005 (nearly a year after the tsunami had come through) he set up Hands Across the Water, for the purpose of raising funds and awareness for the Thai orphans. This charity does not spend any money AT ALL on administrative costs. Since 2005, the orphanage has built two orphanages (including Baan Tharn Namchai), purchased a rubber plantation (to help ensure a sustainable and regular income), constructed a medical and community centre in the Khao Lak region, and is currently working towards the construction of a HIV Paediatrics Hospital in the north east area of Thailand.
After some time, Peter Baines quit his job, and starting doing corporate speaking events about his experiences, and putting the money back into Hands Across the Water. It was reading about Peter that made me want to volunteer at Baan Tharn Namchai about four years ago, and being able to return there and show Justin the good work that they do was very important to me.
The children that were orphaned after the tsunami are older now, but the orphanage keeps expanding, taking many of the children of women who work in the sex industry in Phuket and Bangkok. Many of the Australian men who visit these areas should visit this orphanage and see how the sex industry in Thailand affects the local population. It isn’t just harmless fun.
We arrived shortly after lunch with two big suitcases full of toys, clothes and shoes, that Justin had taken his six godchildren to buy last Christmas. The children were all sitting in rows on the floor, but we could see they were all watching the suitcases, wondering what was in them. Some of the older girls performed a traditional Thai dance for us, while a few others unpacked the suitcases. Allyson, an English woman who lives at the orphanage, explained that there would be a big Christmas celebration and that these toys would be wrapped and be given to the children on Christmas day.
After the dance, Allyson took us around the orphanage. We went out the back to where all of the young children were having an afternoon nap. The beautiful little boys and girls were all spread out, sleeping under the ceiling fans. Allyson explained how some of the younger ones had come into the orphanage, including one gorgeous little two-year old girl.
Her parents had been older when she was born – her father had been 60 years old. He had a stroke shortly afterwards, so her mother had to go out and work each day, so that the family could eat. The father could no longer move his arms, or speak, so he sat in a chair each day, and the young girl stayed with him. When she came to the orphanage, she didn’t speak at all, and when she sat in the laps of the adults of the orphanage, she would lift one arm, and then the other, and put them around her, because she was used to being with her paralysed father. Although both of her parents loved her, they had to give her up because they couldn’t afford to feed her.
We then went upstairs to where the older girls slept. Allyson explained that they have more older girls than older boys because as the girls get older and mature, it can be become dangerous for them to stay at their home. There was a beautiful little girl, who looked about nine years old, who was packing her suitcase to go to another province to visit her aunt. Each girl had a little cupboard for her belongings, and this cupboard was totally spotless, and all of the clothes were immaculately folded AND colour coded – Justin joked that she would be the perfect daughter for him.
Allyson explained that one of the other nine year old girls had only recently come to the orphanage after asking her school teacher to find her some where to live where she didn’t have to go out begging at night.
After this, Allyson took us to the back of the orphanage to show us a rice paddy that the orphanage had set up to show the children how rice is grown. Then she took us to a glasshouse where they were growing hydroponics. When I had visited four years ago, the glasshouse had been set up, but was not in use. After the tsunami, there was a flood of foreign donations that came into the area, but this didn’t last long. World Vision had donated the money to have the glasshouse built, but the orphanage didn’t have the skills or the money to get things growing. They have since planted lettuce and other greens, and it looked fantastic.
Allyson mentioned that the orphanage had recently gone back to World Vision to ask them to fund a second greenhouse, citing how successful they had been with the first one. World Vision agreed, only on the condition that the orphanage put a large sign out the front of the orphanage (not the greenhouse that they would be paying for, but the actual orphanage, which they did not start, and haven’t been involved in) with the World Vision branding on it. The orphanage declined this, so World Vision declined the support.
This makes me really angry - when you have a small charity like Hands Across the Water that spend all of their money on those children, asking for help from a large organisation like World Vision, and being able to show that the donation would make a real and impactful difference for these children – but being declined because World Vision doesn’t get to advertise to their donation. Quite frankly, that is disgusting.
If you want to help make a difference with a donation, or find out more about this great charity, please visit: https://handsacrossthewater.org.au/pages/