At the Orphanage

28 Jun

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Our first volunteering stint as a family brought us to Baan Kingkaew orphanage, a home for orphaned children aged from three months to six years old.

I’d wondered before whether spending an afternoon playing with young children could be meaningful. Could in any way improve these little ones’ lives.

And, yes. Something as easy as arranging a visit, bringing plasticine, paper and art materials, toting tearful children around on one’s hip and doling out the physical affection which orphaned three and four year olds crave so intensely did, I think, help a little.

Not far from the remnants of the medieval wall and moat which delineate the centre of Chiang Mai, Baan Kingkaew is a neat, modern building. Committed, professional staff tend little boys and girls clad in a melange of mismatched hand-me-downs, look after the garden, supervise their play on colourful equipment and nurture them as best they can.

The Asian financial crisis has hit the orphanage hard. And, compared to the sheer quantity of plastic tat and furry friends the average Western child accumulates over years of birthday parties and Christmases, these children live with very little.

The nine-year-old and I spent the afternoon with fourteen nursery-age children, some three, some four. He taught them how to make paper aeroplanes and plasticine jewellery. Pushed them on swings. Fell down dramatically when shot by a popgun. Helped the littlest ones eat their dinner of egg and rice.

Did, in fact, just what any older child would do when looking after younger children. And they were happy.

Me? I found myself, a lot of the time, picking up the ones who were tired, clingy, had just fallen over, lost a toy… needing mothering, I guess, which carers, however devoted, are too pressured with the sheer practicalities of managing that many children to provide.

One little girl, toting two teddies in a plastic bag to which she seemed almost surgically attached was desperate not to be put down. Another, cheeky, three-year-old, who had perhaps not long ago lost his own mother, wanted nothing more than to be lugged around on a hip, hand firmly on squashy maternal breast.

There are messages on the orphanage wall from happy Western families, who had adopted children from Baan Kingkaew. It makes you realise what a worthwhile thing it is to do, to lift a child out of communal living, and give them the sort of love which carers alone cannot provide.

And I wonder, honestly, whether the folk who commented so snidely on Madonna’s baby-hunting missions, or Angelina Jolie’s blended family, had ever visited an orphanage and seen how it is to live as a child without a family. Conventional or otherwise.

Baan Kingkaew orphanage does fantastic work. You can donate to them by clicking here. In Thailand, you can volunteer at two levels: an afternoon or two spent playing with the children and helping them at dinner, or by committing to a month or longer of full-time work. Contact details are on their site: Baan Kingkaew Orphanage.

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4 Responses to “At the Orphanage”

  1. Matheikal June 28, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    Nice to know how Thailand cares for the orphaned children.

  2. Gappy June 28, 2010 at 1:59 pm #

    Without wishing to state the trite and the obvious, that is just so sad. At least these children are receiving a measure of decent care though. How did your boy feel about it afterwards?

  3. jessiev June 28, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    amazing that you can capture so well this experience. i knew you would gain more out of it than you’d expect. and mothering those kids, even for a few hours, makes the world of difference. will you be going back? and yes, how did your son feel about it?

    • MummyT June 28, 2010 at 11:09 pm #

      Gappy and Jessie: he enjoyed the experience. Was saddened that the children had no parents. But I think he found them relatively happy. He’s seen an awful lot of poverty — child labour, child beggars — and I think, as per Matheikal’s perspective, these children have a happier lot than many orphans elsewhere on the continent.

      I was surprised, to be honest, how much he took it in his stride… Hoping it’s a good thing, acceptance, etc, rather than insensitivity. But we’ll talk about it a bit more.

      As for going back. We will definitely volunteer, more extensively, as we travel. But I am not entirely sure here. Sir has agreed to learn meditation with the monks tomorrow and Wednesday, which involves being woken at 5am by a gong (he has never been a morning person), and we need to be heading southwards to meet up with family.

      Today he wanted to play minigolf on a championship course. So it seemed unfair to deny him that in favour of the orphanage. Though he too wanted to go back. So we will try for Wednesday, if he isn’t too tired from meditation.

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