“Everyone deserves to be loved, ” I thought to myself, while choking back the hot tears that flooded my eyes. The little girl, dressed in baggy, blue boy’s clothing jumped into Leanne’s arms, wrapping her spider-like legs around the trunk of her new heroine.
We had only just arrived at Orphan Home in Chiang Mai, Thailand and already my friend was being referred to as a long lost “Mama.” Just waking up from their naps, the children had massive amounts of energy and flocked to our visitation group, while still chewing their mid-day snack. Pong, a native Thai man who had brought us to the orphanage upon our request, was a popular choice among the 3-6 year-old clan, since he could communicate with the kids. His dominant follower proceeded to introduce Pong to the rest of the gang as his daddy, urging the others to play elsewhere and hoping for 100% of the adult attention.
Above: Leanne was attacked by this girl the moment we walked into the orphanage.
Somehow, each of us 5 adults was singled out by one orphan as their special visitor, convincing themselves that we had arrived just to see them personally. It was the children’s way of fanning off their “competitors” and claiming their stake to our affection for the 90 minute visit. Each orphan was so desperate for play time with us that I personally had 3 hanging on my frame at one time.
“How did they come to this place?” I asked Pong, who translated and questioned the head caregiver. Many of the children were given up by their parents voluntarily, hoping to make the kids’ lives better by releasing them to Baan Kingkaew. A few however, has just arrived, and were children of Burmese illegal immigrants, who had been caught trying to sneak into Thailand. The parents had been sentenced to prison until able to pay a fine for their endeavor, at which time they would be shipped back across the border. Until then, the Burmese children would be held at the orphanage for safe-keeping.
I glanced over at my friend Thierry, who had tried to spread his love to more than just the 2 at each leg. In walking away, one little boy had started to scream so loudly that we were all startled. Shooting a teacher a concerned look, she explained that this particular boy commonly felt deserted, since he was left in a box for a passerby to find on the streets of Thailand. This was the second time in 20 minutes that I felt a tear roll down my cheek, but quickly flung it off with my finger, smiling and bouncing my admirers on my hips. I had too much to accomplish to be sobbing in a corner.
As I previously mentioned, each one of us visitors had one special orphan, who connected to us on a higher level than the rest. Mine was this little boy, who clung around my neck giggling and said, “OB!” when I put him down on the cement playground. Ob means, “Up” in Thai and my little ball of energy would speak it with such vigor, stretching his arms to me and reaching for the prize of my affection. Unlike the others, he always grabbed his best friend’s hand, urging me to embrace a second orphan. This other boy was the same age, but could barely walk, due to some complications with his knees and I believe he had some mental disabilities. This attitude of sharing was something that drew me to my favorite orphan and is also how I became a human play ground for the remainder of my stay.
Above: My admirer clung to my shoulders, smiling before I set him in the sand box to play.
The place was simple, ranging from a medical clinic and bedrooms to low monkey bars and a meager sand box. Setting my 2 clingers into the dirt to rest my back, I noticed the other boys were taking off their shoes and “driving” them as cars, putting along with their little lips. “How many of those dang matchbox cars did my brother and I own when we were little?” I mumbled under my breath. “How many days would pass that we would not step foot in our sandbox, beneath the luxury playhouse our family built us?” I thought. These children had no sand toys and nothing to call their own, but were ecstatically screaming as their flip flops collided into rocks and sticks. What could I do besides take off my own size 8 and start bull dozing their “matchbox cars?”
Above: Orphans digging tunnels in their sand box.
Although an emotional day for all of us volunteers, the support we provided to them was evident. I only wish I could have promised to return, giving them confidence and security. Nonetheless, they were not sad to see us go. I turned hesitantly, not wanting to upset anyone by sneaking away to leave, and saw the boy with the disability blowing kisses in my direction. I can only pray he finds a family that will blow those kisses back to him soon.
To sponsor a child here for one year, send only $100 to:
75 Wualai Rd.
Chiang Mai 50100
Above: Jason’s little boy loved trying on his sun glasses.
Above: An orphanage with prosthetic legs took his shoes off to play “trucks” in the sand.