Leuy from Baan Nonthapum

10 Ways to Give Back this Holiday Season

You probably already do give back, but if you could use some inspiration:
(I will be updating for real at some point, but for now....)

1. Buy an XO with the get one give one program.
One Laptop Per Child is an organization that developed an inexpensive, child friendly, solar powered laptop to be distributed to young students in developing countries. The computers are opening up educational opportunities for some intelligent kids who would not otherwise have access to this technology. Their efforts support sustainable development in these areas. This year, for every XO laptop that you buy one will be donated to a child who needs it. If you know a kid who could use a cool new laptop, consider buying an XO, and make the holidays special for two kids for the price of one. Go to www.laptop.org for more information.

2. Buy a fake Christmas tree.
It's super simple, invest in an artificial tree. It'll last you years, save you money, and save a life. Just do it people. If you want your great grandchildren to have oxygen to breathe quit buying dead tree carcasses and adorning them with ornaments.

3. Click the Hunger Site.
At www.thehungersite.com you can donate without spending any money. Through ad revenues this organization generates funds to help those in need with just one click. They also have sites for children's health, breast cancer, literacy, animal rescue, and the rainforest. You can afford the 10 seconds it'll take to click them all. Take some time away from Facebook and make a difference.

4. Read to a child.
I don't care who it is, whether it's a child whose spending his holidays hospitalized, a kid at a homeless shelter, or your 5 year old cousin, READ. They may not remember the story but they may just go to college because of it.

5. Join the U.S. Campaign for Burma
Unimaginable atrocities are occurring in Burma right now. Go to www.uscampaignforburma.org and find out more. Join their mailing list, sign the petition, educate others, and tell some people a world away that you care about them.

6. Thank someone.
Did your mom raise you well? Does your best friend understand you like no one else can? Do you love your boyfriend? Tell them. Thank them. It's free, and it's a really great gift.

7. Support Kids with Cameras
If you've seen the documentary Born Into Brothels then you know the impact this organization can make on a marginalized child. KwC provides cameras and photography instruction to some kids who have been shunned and forgotten by society. They also advocate for these kids, get them into school, and give them a future. Go to www.kids-with-cameras.org to learn more.

8. Pick up litter if you see it.
Just pick up the crap you see on the sidewalk. It's not that hard, just carry some hand-sanitizer and you'll be fine.

9. Get on the National Organ Donor Registry.
If every American citizen was registered then no one in this country would ever die waiting for a transplant. As it stands, 100,000 people die each year because they do not get the needed organ. You'll be dead anyway, check off that box on your driver's license, tell your family, and register at www.organdonor.org. Why? Because you can.

10. Forgive someone.
This is a gift to yourself. LET IT GO. Charity begins at home. Tell them you forgive them and MOVE ON. The rest of your life will thank you.

Just an update...

I haven't been writing and won't be for the next month or so because I'm on holiday throughout Southeast Asia (I'm the only american surrounded by Brits and Aussies... I'm starting to talk like them!) I've just arrived in Vietnam and have so far found it to be quite a bit rougher than I expected. I can honestly say I feel the least safe here out of everywhere else I've been, fortunately I'm rarely alone. Cambodia was lovely, despite it's sad history and reputation revolving around poverty and hassling salesmen. We saw some truly beautiful places and had some incredible experiences. I'll go into more detail when I'm back in Bangkok and can upload pictures.

As for Bangkok, I really miss the kids and find myself talking about them too often, I don't think these people find it quite as interesting as I do. Frustrating as it was, as you can tell by my last entry, it is precisely what I feel I'm meant to be doing and it feels funny to be away from it. The last few weeks before I left I just focused on having fun and enjoying the kids and our time together. I even had a nice surprise.
Yai, a 13 year old girl with mild CP always made me a bit sad. I used to call her Cinderella, since she was made to clean up after the other children but not allowed to go to school. Well, since returning this year I hadn't seen her and was unable to get any information from anyone as to where she'd gone. A few days before I left she walked into the CP Ward yelling "MALINEE!" ran up and hugged me. She'd been at boarding school, and was home for Constitution Day. Yai was very proud to tell me about what she was studying; and she spoke with such confidence, a far cry from the shy, submissive girl she was when I met her. Her speech and walking have improved as well. I'm so happy, this means a completely different future for her with far more options.

Yai, last year

As for the holidays, though I wasn't at home with my own family I was with some people I really care about. I had Central World Plaza instead of Rockefeller Center, it even had a big tree! And i got a few very special gifts. Hope everyone's holiday was joyous and peaceful and that we're all starting the new year with high hopes.
Gwang from Baan Nonthapum

Being Sure of Yourself Means You're a Fool

Too much has happened of late, and I clearly don't update enough. This may end up being more of a list, of sorts; I've just got done writing the first of my reports on the CP Ward and I'm a bit exhausted of writing skillfully at the moment. I'll admit I was a bit harsh, but after an equivalent 5 months of polite suggestions, the modest progress they've made is just not going to cut it for me anymore. Basically I'm too tired to hold anything back, and I don't care if I make enemies, the wellbeing of the people I help care for is my only priority. Just the fact that I am now submitting reports to the administration is a good sign, not of improvement quite yet but of the potential for it.

These past weeks(or has it just been days? I can't keep track anymore) saw illness, death, and abandonment. I know that sounds negative, but I find it impossible to sugar coat anything anymore. To say a child has simply been "dropped off" at the CP Ward implies a lack of permanence; it downplays the magnitude of fear, grief, confusion, and rejection that child will feel as they slowly realize that no matter how much they cry their parent will not return. Our new "baby", appropriately named Niou, is lovely and I'm very happy to have her here, though as her mother left I had to hold back the urge to beg her to take the little girl back home. I try not to judge, since I don't know the specifics of each family situation. I used to believe that these kids would be much better off at home, but in many cases that's just not true. It's not fair to blame parents who, regardless of the circumstances, have just made a painfully difficult decision in giving up their child.

Niou, one of only a few little girls who still have hair!

That day we got Niou, a staffmember walked through the ward saying "Krai kii-a, yok mehh," "whoever pooped, raise your hand!" About 6 hands shot up and after some investigation it was clear that more than half the kids had food poisoning. I must say, that the staff did take excellent care of my sick pals. They kept the place surprisingly clean and patiently gave sips of water with rehydration salts to some reluctant kiddos. No one had to be sent to hospital and they were all over it by the next day. As for hospital, a friend of mine who used to be in CP, Som Jao, has been in hospital since my return this year. At first it seemed like it would be a short time, but the longer she's there the more I fear that this may be where she lives now. I guess I could ask, but I'm not really ready to know yet. We all miss her, especially Aun. Without her best friend around, lately she just sleeps all day.

Aun & Som Jao in CP together last year

Som Jao in hospital.

The Baan lost another student, she died last week. It's getting hard to keep track of who's at boarding school, who's run away, or whose funeral we're headed to today. It reminds me that as bad as things are, they can always get worse. If that's true then it also means things can get better.

On the truly positive, not just sugar-coated side of things, I have officially put down the names of those of my students who will be getting wheelchairs next time around (not quite sure when that will be). It's legit too, they got measured and everything. I've also been spending a lot of time in "the shop" adjusting our existing wheelchairs and learning how to make new ones out of spare parts and the skeletons of old discarded wheelchairs. It's like frankenstein, but with wheels and seatbelts and headrests instead of arms and legs.

Big news, Leuy is now going to physical therapy which he desperately needs. Little by little things do get better. I have to remember that an accomplishment benefitting only one child is still an accomplishment. Bpok did go to the movies with me, he loved it. He wants to see Alien vs. Predator 2 when it comes out but I'm not too psyched about that prospect. Gii is in a much better mood these days. I got a cheap CD player for the ward, I think the wisdom of the Beatles has helped her relax. Kaeng likes to sing along to Thai love ballads even though he doesn't know the words, I'll try to get it on video, it's the sweetest thing ever. Laksit and O of course like headbanging to rock & roll, Ngam Ta is a fan of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and everybody else likes a little Mozart while they wait for lunch.

Gii, laughing and drooling chocolate ice cream all over herself

Not a day goes by that I don't seriously question if my presence here is doing any good. I've got to believe that at some point, something will click and someone there will begin to see what I see when I look at the children I've come to care about so dearly. I see myself. And that's why I want so much for them, because I already have everything I could ever need or want.
While I waited for the bus the other day a foreign man struck up a conversation about karma. I explained to him that I refuse to believe that the children I work with are anything but innocent, that disability is not a penalty for karmic debt. It's a way of being, it does make some things like walking and eating difficult, but a punishment it is not. This is what I'm up against. At best, these kids recieve kindness motivated by pity, at worst, disdain and disgust. We are all entitled to our beliefs, I just want a way to keep certain beliefs from preventing these people from leading full, meaningful lives. I would like to speak this year on concepts of personhood, dignity, and respect with regards to the person with a severe disability. It can be a hard message to get across just about anywhere, let alone here. I will certainly try.
Kaeng from Baan Nonthapum

There Are No Great Acts, Only Small Acts Done with Great Love

The only way to describe how it feels to be here day after day is simultaneous heartbreak and euphoria. Some days seem to exemplify this.

On Monday United Cerebral Palsy came to deliver wheelchairs, as part of a program called Wheels for Humanity. First I want to thank Eva, Michael, Susan and Richard; they were the team of physical therapists who spent many painstaking hours fitting and adjusting over one hundred chairs for the kids and adults. I was surprised initially that any of my kids made it onto the list of wheelchair recipients, let alone ten of them.Naturally I was skeptical, so I made a point of asking if there were enough and the woman in charge assured me to be patient, that they wouldn't have brought anyone out here to wait for eight hours if there weren't enough. Long story short four of the ten got cut at the last minute, after having sat outside all day watching other kids get fitted for chairs. Someone even told Kaeng he was going to get one, asked what color he wanted, and let him get excited before sending him back without even an explanation. Typical, yes, but it's still a low blow. At the very end I noticed there were extras and asked if they would be used, so Susan helped me get Bpok a wheelchair. He's thirty years old, very smart, and never goes outside because there is no way to transport him. She also had me bring out one of the kids who got bumped off the list, and that's when the woman in charge, shall we say, "reprimanded" me for trying to sneak in kids who weren't on the list. Good thing Thai culture has taught me to keep my head down and my mouth shut, cause it wouldn't have done any good to defend my actions at that point. Susan is amazing for trying to stick up for my kids, and Bpok and I are both thrilled that he finally got a chair, now we can go to the movies! I did over hear that woman saying that they didn't want the chairs to go to adults, only small children (she was speaking in Thai and obviously didn't think I could understand). I'm not going to speculate why she felt that way, but it seems wrong to me, people are people. The staff at Baan Nonthapum agree and are going to help me get as many chairs as we can to the remaining people who need them.

L to R Leuy, Susan, Bpok, Gwang & Eva
L to R, Um, Eva & Richard

L to R Michael, Fa, & SaSi

For a non-ambulatory person, not having a wheelchair can be like a prison sentence. The gift UCP has given my friends is incredible. Even with the frustrations, that day is worth celebrating... and celebrate we will, today, December 5th, is the 80th birthday of the King of Thailand, Rama IX. I haven't slept all week thanks to the disney on ice meets Thai burlesque spectacle directly below my apartment, honoring the King or "Dad" as they call him. I don't mind though, after all this time I really do love that King, and lately there's a lot to lie awake and think about. 
Gwang & Jay from Baan Nonthapum

A Sincere Effort is All You Can Ask

This week's been a busy one, with being sick not making anything easier. Sunday was finally the day of a long-awaited trip to the mall with my two good friends, Mam & Samone. I had been wanting to do this since last year but with the size of their wheelchairs, I had no idea how I'd transport them. Most of the people I've taken on trips before are tiny, and their chairs fit in the trunk of a taxi. They let me know last week that their friend Haeng had a solution. See the pictures below, yes, that's a wheelchair tied to the back of an autorikshaw(possibly the most rickety, unreliable mode of transportation available). I clung to that chair the whole way to the mall, not as though I could have saved it if it had come loose. Shockingly all of our equipment made it safely there and back, and we had a great day. Mam bought a new cellphone, and I got stared at as much as the girls did, so none of us felt weird.
One tiny piece of rope stood between the wheelchair and total destruction. L to R Samone, & Mam at the mall.

 As many of you know, I went through hell last year trying to get the cp ward staff to adopt upright feeding, to prevent all the gagging and choking that inevitably occured at evey meal. Well no, they're not fully sat up, but they do prop the kids up on pillows for meals. Not only that, but they begin feeding earlier and give about an hour for eating so they can give smaller bites at a more reasonable pace, as opposed to rushing through in 20 minutes, shoving spoonful after spoonful of rice into their already full mouths. And it really has seemed to help, I rarely hear coughing and haven't had food hacked at me from across the room yet! They've also got some kids working on feeding themselves, and give the slow ones as much extra time as they need; it used to be if you couldn't get the food in fast enough you just didn't eat as much. I'm impressed with the effort the staff has made in this area. I really believe the improvement in how the kids take in food will have a great effect on their overall health and wellbeing.

Other than that, this week Fa sat up on her own for the first time, Leuy is speaking in sentences, which he apparently hasn't done in years (and I can even understand him half the time!) There's a new little one in the ward, Gii. She's adorable but she wailed all morning and nothing I did comforted her. I'm not sure if she came from FoonFah(the babies home), or if her family brought her, but either way it's a big adjustment.
L to R, Fa & Gii.

Right now I'm also in the middle of a lot of tedious work; I'm trying to write detailed reports on the kids that I know well, to take a lot of the guesswork out for future volunteers. To do that, though, I need some accurate background information which involves going through the kids' files with the help of a translator.  It's possibly the most painfully frustrating task ever, since there isn't anyone available who has a good command of English. This may motivate me to learn to read Thai.

Count on new pictures on the picasa page each time I update here.... they're cute aren't they? I've already finished one memory card. And to think, when I was little I always complained about having my picture taken so much... sorry, Mom!
Bakkhan from Baan Nonthapum

Decency is a Relative Thing

So I'm here, exactly halfway across the world like I show the kids on their blowup globes. Some things have changed, many have not. Kaeng still has a crush on me and I have to ignore the kissy faces and comments from across the room, but he no longer gets jealous and throws a fit when I work with another child. Laksit still thinks he's my son, and he has almost got me convinced as well. He was the first child I met and spent time with. He's very smart and finally going to school. He knows a lot of english but not how old he is. Five of the kids from the cp ward now dress in their cute little red vests and are off to their very own classroom every day. It was the first word out of each of their mouths, (and Gwang's hands, signing) "Bpai rong-rian" ("I go to school.") They are so very proud.

O and Laksit at school.  Here, O works on writing skills while Laksit is stringing beads to improve his fine motor skills. This time last year these kids were likely lying on the floor and looking forward to physical therapy only once a week. Now they go to PT 3 times a week, swim, field trips, and Laksit is (finally) being potty trained!

The most obvious difference is that the ward has beds now, which is (mostly) wonderful as it's much more dignified than lying on the floor. I even saw the staff changing their positions in the afternoon, which is something I had been pushing for but never saw them initiate before. It's not all good though; they are old fashioned hospital beds and sometimes when Aun tries to move around her arms and legs get caught between the bars. It also has changed their whole social dynamic, since they are separated it is almost impossible for them to communicate and connect with one another. 

Beds, both a blessing and a pain in the butt. Top from left to right Aun, Kaeng. Bottom L to R Leuy, Worawit.

Kelli, another volunteer who works with the deaf children, said she's seen the cp ward at assemblies and activities, that means they are being included when I'm not there which is amazing! They also recently went on a field trip and included a wonderful little girl, Sa-Si who had not been given the opportunity to "bpai tiao" in the past, because of her extensive physical needs. I vaguely remembered talking about 'including ALL children' when I conducted a discussion with the staff; but even with all the hope in the world I still feared it might not be possible for some of my kids. It's encouraging to see progress, no matter how small.

The baan has also been through some tough times recently. A little boy, Poom, passed away about a month ago. Many of the children are not well but it still came as a shock when Kelli told me. He was a resident of the hospital ward but he was often allowed out to play; he was a happy, active kid. All we know is that he had a collapsed lung and did not recover. He will be greatly missed. 
We also had our awesome superintendant transfer to another home without much warning. Pruthinan was well loved by the children and the staff. He was proud of the home and everyone benefited from the support he provided. Tragically as a result of his sudden absense, a deaf student who was very close to him attempted suicide. Once he recovered and was released from hospital he ran away. He's been seen by a student in the area within the past couple of weeks, so we know he must be surviving somehow, but I wonder how he is coping and communicating outside of the deaf community at Baan Nonthapum.

Poom, in January '07

It's not easy hearing news like this and showing up to work with a smile. Kelli and I joke that being here is like a daily slap in the face, and yet we both came back for more. So, why, again? I think I got a black eye today. Worawit, Som Jao and Tok-Tak are sick. When I brushed the kids' teeth this morning their mouths all bled. I've calculated it before, for every bit of good news I get six things go wrong. Hey, it's better than seven.

Check out the NEW album at the photo link on the right side of the page. 
*please be aware, one young woman featured in these new pictures has severe facial damage, images may be disturbing. I know that it took me a while to get used to her appearance, though now I rarely give it a second thought. She is a gentle, sweet, happy person, as you can tell by her smile.