Orphan Annie (not her real name)

The long holidays start in March here and ends in mid May. Songklan, the main festival in Thailand, is in the middle of April, so everyone is on holiday at that time. Chiang Mai, where I live, is the best place to celebrate Songklan and the whole city takes part. People come from all the surounding villages to join in and we had lots of people come and visit and many stayed at my cafe. Amongst these visitors was a little boy of about 9 years whose name I did not hear. He was a little scruffy but polite and helpful. He seemed a nice boy but I took little notice at the time. He came with a lot of people that I knew and I was too busy chatting with my friends to pay him any attention. When they left they met up with some other friends in the square next to my cafe and the little boy had a 6 year old sister with them.

After they had all gone I was told the story of why the little boy and girl were with my friends. The children's parents had been involved in the drugs trade and had been arrested. The standard sentence for selling drugs in Thailand is death but the father had got off with life in prison which here, literally means he would spend the rest of his life in prison. The mother was given 25 years, which means she will serve 10 years. The sort of prison that the father was sent to is not like a prison in Europe or America. There are no creature comforts like wash rooms etc. or health care and the food is not really edible. To survive in one of these prisons you need help from outside, someone to bring you food and pay for a doctor when you are sick, and no one was going to help him. He took his own life. So now the children had no one to care for them.

The next time I visited the village where they came from I noticed a girl who was sitting doing nothing, just staring into space. 15 minutes later when I passed again she was still sat in the same place and still in the same position doing nothing. This was strange and I realised that something was badly wrong with this girl. I then remembered the story about the boy and the girl and realised that this must be that same girl. I saw her several times after that and she now plays with a little boy that lives there. She is a good little girl that is happy to help when asked and she plays happily but sometimes she goes deeper into thought than a child of that age should. I no longer saw the boy around so I asked where he was. I was told that as there was no one to pay for his school fees he has been put into an orphanage. This may seem like a good thing to some people but an orphanage here is not a caring place. They are understaffed and overcrowded. He will not get an education as we think of it and he will not get any attention or kindness. A child that grows up without kindness does not learn to be kind; a child that grows up without love does not learn to love etc. I felt very sad to know that no one could afford to help him.

Last weekend when I saw the little girl she was wearing tatty clothes and still playing with the little boy. I was told that as soon as the school asks for fees she will also get sent to the orphanage.

The lady that is looking after her is very kind but earns a fraction of what I earn so literally cannot afford to spend money on this girl. She gets to sleep in the ladies house and eat with the family but when the family goes out the little girl normally gets left behind. I want to make this girls life better. I would also like to get her brother out of care before he is lost to a life of crime. These children are young enough that with education and care they can grow into good people but if left to fend for themselves in state care they will almost certainly turn out like their parents.

Update

Thanks to some very generous help, Annie and her brother and now living together in the village again. Getting him out of the orphanage was an ordeal even though it was of course worth the effort.

When he went into the orphanage he was fully dressed and clean. The lady that is looking after Annie came into Chiang Mai to get him and she brought several other family members as well. It took all day to sort out. By the time they got him out it was too late for them to go back to the village and they all had to stay at my house. When he was given back, the orphanage had lost his clothes and his shoes, all he had was a pair of shorts and he looked like a mechanic after a days work. He was really filthy.

We gave him a good meal and a shower and then took him and his sister to a large Tesco store near where I live to get some clothes. The children were very happy but Annie was soon reduced to tears as she simply could not cope with all the excitement as they had never seen such a large store before and they had never been allowed to chose their own clothes before.

We got them a pair of school shoes each as well as a pair of sandals each. The boy now has new shorts and some new t-shirts as well as underwear. Annie chose a couple dresses and some underwear. The next day they were taken to get school clothes and went back with the family to the village. They are now being treated as a part of the family. This terms school fees have been paid.

Although this is a great step forward it also fills me with dread as it would be terrible to fail to keep this up. There will be many other events to cover and many years of school fees and clothes. There are also medical bills etc. I have not succeeded by any means but this is a great start.

Update 2

After spending time with the boy I have realised that he is very bright and has considerable potential. He has got over the transition to his new life and is relaxed enough to be himself. I introduced him to computers and within a couple of hours it became hard to drag him away from the machine. We have decided to send him to a better school so that he will get a better chance to achieve a higher standard of education. The school where he was is cheap but not really that good. He will now go to a much better school in another town. This obviously involves much higher costs to cover transport etc. as well as higher fees. Annie will also have to follow at some point as I would not like her to feel that she is not equal. 1