Broken heart strings
Trip Start Sep 01, 2010
142Trip End Jun 18, 2011
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We got picked up today by our volunteer supervisor for our orientation day and, along with the two other current volunteers, we headed off to one of the areas of Thailand which was hit hardest by the 2004 tsunami called Khao Lak. The charity we are working for supports numerous projects in Southern Thailand which aid orphaned and underprivileged children, but today we were only going to see two of them: a nursery for Burmese children up to the age of 6 and a learning center for children aged between 6 and 13. Neither Tom nor I have ever visited anywhere like these projects before and we had no idea of what to expect or how we would feel; it turned out to be a really emotionally draining day as we were faced with so many new and challenging experiences.
On the way to nursery we chatted in the car and learnt more about the tsunami; Tom and I were only 18 when it happened and we are ashamed to admit that we don’t know many of its details. Our supervisor flew over to Thailand to help build houses after the tsunami hit, so she could tell us some really shocking, emotional and heartbreaking stories about that time. We also learnt more about the political background of Burma because the charity also aids Burmese orphans and communities
Our first visit was to the nursery, which was only built six months ago and is an absolute testament to the work of our charity. The building is quite small, it has 4 rooms as well as a bathroom, but it can hold a maximum of 50 children (it would be one heck of a tight squeeze though). On the day we visited there were only about 33 children in attendance and they were in the middle of having language classes. As we entered the building some of the children caught sight of us and started getting excited, so we were whisked off to the front office so the kids could finish their lessons in peace (we could hear the kids knocking on the door though because they wanted to see us). We were introduced to the nursery workers who talked to us about the political situation in Burma and told us the background of the Burmese children and orphans, who have been doubly effected by both the political struggles and the tsunami. After this quick introduction to the children’s backgrounds, we were taken back into the nursery where the kids were getting ready to have their lunch. The children at the nursery are quite simply beautiful. They are so well behaved, so polite, so funny… it is impossible not to smile while you are near them. The children were seated on the floor eating a lunch of rice and egg. We learnt that some of the children have both parents, some have one and some have none; in the case of the child being orphaned the nursery workers take the orphaned children into their own home and care for them as their own children. They do not receive any kind of government support (financial or otherwise) for taking these children into their homes, this makes for a very difficult life for everyone in that family and home
During lunch, some of the kids were getting really distracted by us being there and one or two plucked up the courage to come and sit near us on the floor. There was an older boy of about 6 and a young girl about 4 years old, who finally came over to us and shook our hands
Our next destination was a learning center just a few doors down. The learning center is like a makeshift school for 6 to 13 year olds, although most children do not stay until they are 13 because their parents need them to find jobs to help support their families as soon as they are old enough. The charity we are volunteering for does not have enough money to help the learning center as much as it would like; one of the biggest problems which the learning center faced was that they could not afford to provide lunch for their students. This meant that the 50 children at the learning center were having to go all day with very very little food (some would go without breakfast, lunch and dinner) and they could not function properly at school
Inside the school we met the head teacher and some of the children; we went into 3 different classroom, some of which had 2 or 3 different grades being taught in them, and we were greeted like guests of honour
When we arrived back we were really surprised to find that while the children were sleeping the nursery workers had cooked us a traditional Burmese lunch! We were so surprised because we hadn’t expected to get anything, but they invited us to join them on the floor next to the sleeping children and we had an amazing lunch of Burmese rice, curry and vegetables. It felt like such a ridiculous situation; as Westerners have everything that anyone could ever wish for and yet we are being treated to a special lunch by ladies who can barely afford to feed their own families. It felt like we should be providing lunch for them, not the other way around
Set back from the main road we drove into an expanse of land just on the edge of the jungle. You will have to forgive my crude descriptions, I have never been anywhere like this before, the closest I have ever come is seeing them on the news, so I don’t know if I am using the correct words or terminology. The community of construction workers lived in a housing complex which I can only compare to a refugee camp
From here we were taken to the town which saw the greatest loss of life during the tsunami; the town was home to a huge amount of Burmese migrant workers prior to the tsunami, some legal and some illegal. As only legal migrants are counted in official records it was estimated that this town lost over 600 legal migrants to the tsunami; when you take into account the illegal migrants in the area, that figure jumps to over 1200. That is over 1200 deaths from one town- it is a number that your brain cannot even comprehend. We were taken to the tsunami memorial which shows you how high the wave was when it hit the beach; it was a staggering height which you can’t even fully grasp. You are looking at the memorial thinking: "oh so that’s how high it was", but it’s all just words, you can’t understand that something like that actually existed in this world. It had been an incredibly difficult day, so we headed back to the nursery to collect our things and started the drive back to Phuket and the office. On the way back I tried to remind myself that the children we met today are actually the lucky ones; they have the chance to go to school, they have at least one meal a day, they have friends, they can laugh and play together, they have a roof over their heads at night. And most importantly, they can enjoy a happy and loving atmosphere at the nursery or school, for the few hours that they are there. It has blown my mind to pieces visiting these projects, but it is above my comprehension to imagine the lives of the unlucky children who have nothing. I can’t even begin to understand the life of a child who has no parents, no home, no friends, no guardian, no food, no school, no laughter and no hope. The drive back was quite a difficult one.
Back at our accommodation we were sitting outside talking about our day, when we received a text message from my mum. She wanted to tell me how much she loved and missed me and to ask us to be safe during the rest of our trip; she also told us Christchurch had been destroyed by another earthquake. I felt like my heart had been torn out of my chest. I phoned my mum in tears and she told me about the devastation in Christchurch and I just cried and cried and cried. I couldn’t take it anymore. At that moment I just wanted to go home and feel safe and protected, I didn’t want to think about a world where babies are orphaned, children starve to death and cities come tumbling down before your very eyes. I wanted to go home and watch TV and eat food from a cupboard that I know will never be empty. That night was one of the worst I can remember in a long time. It has taken me a few days to finally write this blog entry because every time I tried to write it I couldn’t get past the first paragraph.
If you are interested in finding out more about the charity we are currently volunteering for then you can check out their website. They are called ChildTRAC and their website is at: http://www.childtrac.org/
If you feel that you can, then please lend them your support. They really need your help. Xxx