A few months back our "Buggies for Good" programme sent an urban jungle buggy to Thailand with an amazing man called Graeme. Graeme had met a young disabled boy whilst he was volunteering there and was so touched by his grandmothers love and devotion that he decided to help her out. You can read the full story here .
Graeme is a volunteer with Creating Balance Foundation of Thailand - a program designed to create hope for families living in some of the worst conditions in the hill tribes of Northern Thailand. He emailed us the other day to tell us how he was getting on and let us know how the urban jungle was holding up to the rigours of rural Thailand. This is what he had to say:
It's been just over a month since I last 'put pen to paper' and a bit has happened in that time. I went back to the hills, and the children, last week, but the circumstances had changed somewhat. My original intention was just to go and see how the 'Mountain Buggy' was performing after some four weeks of use, but, as so often happens here - 'the best laid plans of mice and men' etc. (which I always thought was a Shakespearean quote, but it isn't. It's from Robbie Burns' poem, 'To A Mouse' - and Steinbeck 'nicked' it for the title of his book.) Anyway, a few days before I left I got a couple of unexpected donations. Both from people I had never met before and one of those people I STILL have never met. The first was from Karen Petterson (ex. 'Hair') who, whilst we correspond, we have never met. (Karen had left the Australasian production to join the German production before I joined the cast). I send these emails to numerous, interested people, and Karen is one of those. My stories about the children prompted her to give a donation, which, as you will see, was of real practical help. The second donation came from the most unimaginable source. I was sitting at a street-side bar, having a beer, when a very attractive young woman (well, beautiful actually. Oh, yes, even at my old age I can still appreciate beauty) walked by, obviously lost and, seemingly, a little nervous. Chivalry, being my strong point, I Ieapt to her aid. Anyway, the upshot was that she had misplaced her hotel. No problems. It was close by. We talked. She drank water. She was Saudi Arabian, on holiday. She asked what I did and, with my iPad close at hand, I showed her the kids in the mountains and told her my story. Next thing she gives me some money! Just think about this. You are in a strange country. You have a conversation with a total stranger and the next thing is you give that stranger money for some children, that he tells you, are in need. Oh my God. Oh my Buddha. Oh my Allah. Whatever your persuasion might be, people are so trusting in this world. There are so many wonderful, wonderful people who are so willing to give - and without suspicion.
I have adapted, as my 'mantra', the words of that wonderful New Zealand eye surgeon, Fred Hollows , (if I have a hero in life it is surely he) 'the basic attribute of mankind is to help each other' , and throughout this 'journey' of mine, over the last six months (is that all it's been - six months?) I've meet so many people, like phil&teds from New Zealand, like Karen Petterson from Australia and like Saba Tshir Su Jeddah from Saudi Arabia, who just GIVE. No questions asked. They just give. Bloody amazing. They really have no idea who I am. It could all be just a 'con' to get money for something else. They really cannot be sure about me. But they trust - and they give. I have often heard people say 'I feel so humble' and I cringe because it seems, often, so false. But I really do feel humble that you trust me. Thank you all so much.
So, what did we do with the money? I'm glad you asked. On the Thai/Burmese border is the border town called Mae Sai. It's well known as a 'visa run' town for foreigners wanting to extend their Thai visas. Cross over the border, into Burma, at Mae Sai and then turn around and cross back over the border into Thailand and, hey presto, you've got another fifteen days on your Thai visa. Mae Sai also is a market town with a lot of Burmese made goods for sale there. Including Burmese made 'Super Soft Mink Hand - Cutting Blankets'. We bought a number of them, plus some fleecy pyjamas for the smaller children and some fleecy "hoodies" for the older children.
We packaged them up and then set out to deliver them.
It gets cold up here in the hills of Thailand in the Winter. Gets down to 2-7o C. Not cold by NZ standards but not t shirt weather either. The problem is that we cannot 'pass the clothes down', as we would in Australasia. Come summer and the 'wet season', and the humidity, the blankets and the clothing will rot. Next Winter the cycle starts again. Find more money to buy more clothes and blankets.
I have to tell you about a sad case. We have come across a family. A grandmother, whos' daughter dies, leaving her with three grandchildren. (Father gone years ago.) Grandmother has no income and scavenges what she can, in the jungle and elsewhere, to feed the children. Very poor. We help with food when ever we can.
The 'house'. One adult and seven children.
The 'bathroom'. A new project coming up to make a new bathroom. Just have to raise the money first.
Daughter number two gets caught trafficking 'yaa baa' (Ice) and gets put away for some years. Grandma now has four more to look after! Seven in all!!! Ok. We give them food and they also get a blanket/clothing package each and we gave grandma a 'hoodie'. The Thais are not really emotional people but the look on her face was just incredible.
Not all of the children in this picture are from the family. Whenever we arrive at these places, loaded with candy for the kids, they swarm around us. It's hard to keep track of who is who.
This family of three is who we call "The Bamboo Nest", from high on the mountain. They come down to school each week and the older girl looks after them. They live in a house, on the school property, that we persuaded the local Akha village to allow them to live in. We supply the food each week. Parents run Yaa Baa ('Ice'. Pure Methamphetamine) from over the Burmese border.
This girls parents are addicted to opium. One of three children. She's too
scared to stay at home at night. Both father, and grandfather, high on
opium, keep molesting her. She spends the nights at Mentas' sisters' house.
This is Jahaa he's 44. You've met him a couple of times before. Totally bedridden. Born crippled but at age of 10 his father, on Yaa baa, pushed him into a fire. Burns to a large part of his body. Mother, only 57, insisted on dressing him up with the jacket and blanket so we could photograph him. Don't think he was too impressed. He has very bad arthritis and has trouble walking but goes into the jungle everyday to get food. He stays alone, outside on this bamboo bed, so the jacket and blanket will be great for him. You could see the relief on the mothers face when we gave the package to her. She knows I have arthritis in my hands and so, whenever I visit, she takes my hands and rubs them.
Thought you might like this shot. I just seemed to get her perfectly framed, looking at me from out of her window - while the King of Thailand looks on in benevolent silence. And so the packages, made possible by Karen and Saba, have made a huge difference to twelve children and families up in the hills of Thailand.
I've went off course a bit so I shall get back to our Grandma and the Mountain Buggy. This was really the reason for my return to the hills, but, as so often happens, other things got in the way, like the need for winter clothes for the children and the Grandmother who's family of three suddenly turned into a family of seven, but, today the priority is to see how the Mountain Buggy has fared after, nearly, one month in the hills.
Well, in short, the answer is - BLOODY FANTASTIC! The buggy was unmarked and was well looked after - the Grandmother kept wiping it down every ten minutes. It has stood up to the rigours of rural Thailand, but, just as importantly, it has made a huge change to the way this family is able to live. The Grandmother just kept smiling. This has been such a wonderful, and so practical, gift. Life changing is an understatement. I took some more video of the Grandmother, this time with Menta, the Akha woman from the foundation, asking questions of the Grandmother about the buggy. Well, it wasn't quite like that. Menta is Akha, who speaks English, Thai and Akha. The Grandmother is Lisu and does not speak Thai or Akha. But, we found an Akha woman who lives in the same village as the Grandmother, who does speak Thai and Lisu - so, no problem. I ask Menta the question in English. She translates to Thai for the Akha woman who speaks Lisu. She, in turn, translates in Lisu for the Grandmother. And then it comes back in reverse. Easy.
I have taken a lot more videos, hoping to stitch it all together as a bit of a doco for you guys, but I'm not too good with Windows Live Movie Maker and so haven't, as yet been able to do so - but I will - so, in the meantime, I hope this un-edited stuff might be of interest.
p.s You're all invited to my 70th on the February 16th. Get the office to visit Thailand!