Previously published in Enfants du Mékong magazine, Thursday 5 June 2014
Mathilde, a ‘bambou’ volunteer in Laos, tells us of her intense discovery at the Baan home hug Centre, which takes in children who are victims of AIDs. A poignant experience.
The Baan home hug Centre is situated close to the town of Yasothon in Isan, the region bordering on Laos. Considered to be one of the poorest regions of Thailand, a lot of Thai people leave to look for work elsewhere. Many fall into prostitution in Bangkok or Pattaya then contaminate their families when they return home. This is one of the most AIDS-affected regions in Thailand.
The centre was created around twenty years ago with the primary aim of taking in orphaned victims of AIDS. It was founded by Mae Thiew, an extraordinary woman of a rare kindness and generosity. Today the centre is home to 55 children, with ages ranging from 18 months to 22 years. All these children have something in common: they are orphans. Their parents have died, abandoned them or are unable to look after them properly.
“When I arrived at the centre, I wanted to know each child’s story. But I soon realised I would have preferred not to know”
17 children are infected with AIDS. Moreover a large number of the other children have a link to AIDS since one or both of their parents have died from the virus. Sometimes these children also have brothers or sisters who have died for the same reason. The centre does not solely care for children affected by AIDS; it also takes in children who have lived in an unhealthy or even dangerous family environment. For example, they have been exposed to violent parents, drug addiction, or alcoholism. About two weeks before this article was written, a young girl came to the centre to escape child trafficking. Now the centre is her new home.
Everyday 13 mothers called ‘mé’ (‘mum’ in Thai) and 4 fathers called ‘po’ (‘dad’ in Thai) look after this troop: they take care of the children night and day. This kind team is charged with raising the children, caring for them, and loving them. These mothers and fathers genuinely consider the children to be their own; it is very touching. Incidentally, when I asked a ‘mé’ if she had any children and how many, she replied without hesitation that she had 55. Some of them have always lived here because they were taken in when they were very young. The first thing that struck me upon my arrival was the discovery of such alert children. They watch over one another and look after each other as if they were brothers and sisters.
“The centre’s founder said something which has really stayed with me. She told me that she did not pity these children but she understood them”
As soon as I arrived, I found myself surrounded by 3 or 4 children. Without fear, they took me by the hand and showed me where I would be staying. For the duration of my stay, they gently and kindly tried to explain to me what to do and what not to do. These children’s levels of maturity and problem solving ability are incredible! The older children start to look after the youngest ones from an early age. For example, a little girl of 11 is in charge of bathing the youngest child, aged only 18 months. A toddler of 2 explained to me how to put on her nappy and where to find her pyjamas. As soon as possible, the team of mums and dads teach the orphans how to be responsible and take care of things themselves. When they cry, they have to learn to soothe themselves. I have rarely encountered such affectionate and smiling children. When you least expect it, they come and stick to you like glue. Even someone who is not overly fond of children would fall for them. It’s truly magical!
You quickly forget where they come from and what they have been through.
When I arrived at the centre, I wanted to know each child’s story. But I soon realised I would have preferred not to know. Everything I heard sent shivers down my spine. Some of the children had been abandoned in the middle of nowhere when they were very young, or even when they were 7 or 8. At this age they knew exactly what was happening to them. I am completely astounded by these children. If I hadn’t know about their backgrounds, I wouldn’t have imagined that they’d lived through any horrors. They are such happy, smiley and funny children! They are incredible! The centre’s founder said something which has really stayed with me. She told me that she did not pity these children but she understood them. Her solution to try and bring some relief to these children is simply to bring them love and tenderness. “Baan home hug is the place where we give and receive,”, hence the name of the centre. Those few days at the centre passed very quickly and I would have like to stay longer. The days were very busty. My stay at the Baan home hug Centre has given me one of the biggest life lessons I have ever received. The centre is concrete proof that with tenderness, joie de vivre and smiles, we can really make a difference.
Text and photos by Mathilde Levivier
This is a translated version of the original article.