Twelve hours total in travel. A train, a shuttle, a bus and a hitch hike. Yes, mom, we hitch hiked, but in our defense we missed the connecting bus.
Before we get into that I’d like to start from the beginning. Having worked our bums off to make this trip into a reality we needed some beach time. A few days of salt air, ocean and coconuts and we were ready for our next planned adventure. We headed back into the city the evening before our long travel day. We were greeted by Mary and husband Matt (who unfortunately couldn’t join us for dinner) at Cabbages and Condoms. Yes, you read condoms and no, there isn’t another meaning for the word on this side of the world. Matt and Mary are friends of an old colleague back in NYC who gave the gypsies the recommendation of volunteering at Baan Dada. Immediately seeing Mary it was like we knew her for years. She is sweet and soft spoken and in her earlier ages she enjoyed traveling just as much as us. Ok, I know you want to read more about condoms. It’s cool. The establishment is Thailand’s largest private non-profit in the country. They use a catchy name to promote family planning and highlight serious issues: sexual health, sustainability and anti-corruption.
Money from your meal is used to support these issues and programs initiated by the Population and Community Development Association (PDA). The restaurant’s motto is, “Our food won’t make you pregnant.”
We left Bangkok at 7:30 am and arrived in the town of Sangkhlaburi at 5 pm and as instructions told us, we waited outside the CJ supermarket for the kids’ bus to pick us up on their way home from school. Not adjusting to their culture, meaning everything is late, we assumed we missed our connecting bus. We asked two young girls to help us with any information on Baan Dada, the Burmese Orphanage we were to call home. The two offered to drive us. So we threw our heavy backpacks in the back of their truck and within minutes we were on our way, either parties not knowing a lick of one another’s language. We listened to them talk and sing and giggle in their language as we sat in the back and talked and laughed, too. It’s about a 20 minute drive from town when we finally arrived at Baan Dada.
Baan Dada Children’s Home and Community Services is a project of the Neo-humanist Foundation and is located near the Thailand/Burma border. Baan means “house” in Thai and Dada is Sanskrit for “brother.” Baan Dada supports 47 disadvantaged children; 37 currently live at Baan Dada.
Baan Dada started in 1994 as a boys’ home in an effort to protect the growing number of orphaned and disadvantaged children in the area. Many refugees and migrant families moved to this area due to poverty, disease, and political repression by the Burmese military government.
The main objective is to empower the children through education, both formal and non-formal. They are encouraged and taught many subjects including: music, handicraft, art, language, and technical skills. The children are taught to practice vegetarianism and respect all people, creatures and religions, based on the Neohumanist philosophy, “love for all created beings in this world.”
The home is proactive in helping itself. The children draw cards and bookmarks to sell, and take part in musical, cultural dance and yoga performances. Baan Dada grows many fruits and vegetables, and have planted rubber trees for harvest. Of course, they also welcome support from volunteers like the gypsies and donors!
Baan Dada is situated in Huay Ma Lai, a remote village near Sangkhlaburi close to the Burmese border. It’s one of the few remaining rainforests in Thailand, however the political situation in Burma has greatly affected this area.
The people here, including the kids at the orphanage, are not fully recognized as Thai inhabitants and therefore don’t have the same rights as Thai people. They face major obstacles in acquiring adequate health care, education, and employment opportunities. To protect the social, political and economical well-being of Thailand they are not allowed to leave the area without permission from the government.
So where do the gypsies come in? Well, we plan to assist in teaching English, cooking, exercise, and in true gypsy fashion, spread good karma.
We were dropped off in front of the organization with not a soul in sight. Starting to yell, “hello” over and over I was getting worried. Where are we? What are we doing here? Then, a tiny voice came out from an even tinier little boy’s body, later to be introduced as Paho, and greeted us. We ate fresh fruit and played a game of kick ball/goal game with two little unsupervised boys until the bus arrived with all the kids from school. We were welcomed with warm and loud greetings as everyone wanted to be our friends and learn our names. Girls helped us make our beds and showed us how to take a cold bucket bath. Dinner was served where we were able to properly introduce ourselves to everyone and tell them about being a gypsy giver. After dinner, we talked in depth with two other volunteers from Indiana. Emily, has been here for a couple months and her boyfriend, David, just arrived a few days prior. We helped with a few evening chores and went to bed. We were exhausted! Linds and I share a thin mat on the floor with a big net around us both. We slept with eye masks and the lights on because we weren’t too sure about any unexpected overnight guests.