There are over 1.4 million orphans and vulnerable children in Thailand.
As I've shared with you before, these kids are at risk of sex trafficking, drug trafficking, child slavery, and many other horrors that come with poverty and corruption. That's why we're passionate about the work we're doing to care for vulnerable children here - including building a Children's Home that will be used for many, many years.
Unfortunately, that home is still "in progress". We are actively raising money for it and things are happening - but without the project being finished, there are no children there!
We support another Children's Home in Thailand, but it is inside a refugee camp and our access to it is minimal. (It takes the approval of the Camp Government for us to be allowed in and even when approved, our time inside is limited).
So..... I found myself in an odd predicament. Here I am - a woman with a heart for orphans, in a country with over 1.4 million orphans in it, and yet there were no children for me to spend time with?! This week, I decided to remedy that!
After doing some research, I was thrilled to find a Government orphanage in Chiang Mai that allowed volunteers! And even though it's not an orphanage we (The Sound of Hope) partner with, I knew I wanted to go! Even if I won't have a long-term role in these kids lives, the least I can do is go and spend time with them while I'm here!
So today, Rusty and I went to volunteer at Viengping Children's Home.
This is the only government orphanage in the Northern area of Thailand - and they are responsible for the care of the children in 17 provinces. They are also one of the first homes in Thailand to extend care to children with HIV or AIDS. We talked to the Superintendent of the home - a very kind woman named Jiraporn, who shared some information with us about their work. There are over 1,100 children in their care - 600 that are orphaned or abandoned. 300 of them live at the Children's Home, with another 300 living in either foster care or other private orphanages. Then, there are 500 more who are "at risk" of being orphaned or abandoned (in a single parent home, with sick parents, in a poverty stricken area, etc). They are working with the families of these children - providing assistance and training with the hope of keeping those families together.
She told us that they have children from newborns to the age of 22. There are boys and girls up to age 6, and then girls age 7 - 22 (the boys are sent to a Boy's Home). She said initially they only kept the girls until the age of 18, but then they found that they would leave the orphanage with no real life skills, get married, have children, and then bring their children back to the orphanage because they could not take care of them. It was a vicious cycle that they knew had to stop. So now they are committed to the girls until the age of 22, and they are sending them to University. She said she hopes that will help them "not rush" into marriage, because they will have the skills to take care of themselves.
After talking to Khun Jiraporn and getting a tour of the facilities, Rusty and I volunteered in the Suwadee room - which was full of 2 year olds. I wish I could show you pictures of the adorable toddlers we spent the afternoon with, but we are not allowed to take photos when we are with the children. (You can see a few pictures on their website and their facebook page.)
These children are beyond precious, and they are so desperate for attention. Can you imagine a room with 26 two-year olds in it.... and only 2 nannies?! It was mass chaos to say the least. The moment we walked in 26 pairs of chubby little hands reached for us. When we sat down they ran to us, anxious to be held. Within seconds we had at least 4 babies on each of our laps!
As overwhelming and tiring as it was (think about it again - 26 two year olds and only 4 adults!) we loved our time there. We committed to volunteer at least once a week for the rest of our time in Thailand, and we can't wait to go back!
I'll be sharing more stories about our time at Vienping in the coming days. If any of you are ever in the Chiang Mai area, I would really, really encourage you to spend at least one morning or afternoon volunteering here! I was impressed with how clean and organized the orphanage was.... but they are terribly under-staffed. (which is not their fault - they just can't afford it!) Of course, it's the children that suffer.... 2 year olds need to be engaged, cuddled, and watched carefully, and it just can't happen with a 26 to 2 ratio.
If 2 year olds aren't your thing, there are also babies and 3 - 6 year olds that would love your attention! The process is simple, just fill out an application form and then you'll be allowed to volunteer as often as you like! We can't wait to go back next week!