Bangkok Thailand, 24-January-2011
Dear friends of the Kharma Foundation,
It’s a little later than usual, but here is the awaited letter from me the organizer to you the donators. This year you will receive two stories as we had two teams. The pictures will be added soon too, but here already something to read and to look at.
What a great year it has been… I was a little worried for while about the target we had set; the 1000 or so kids we wanted to reach this year. As there were 4 schools all run by the Border Patrol Police district 13, it would have been a disaster in my eyes if we could only help 2 or 3.
The donation really started coming in around the Christmas period. People had some time off, reflected on the year and remembered the Kharma Foundation.
Every year we strive to help kids in the rural areas and try to give help on different levels of life. Not just a shirt or a ball, we like to support them with 1. health, via healthy food we bring with us and seeds plus equipment to make a vegetable garden; 2. clothing and blankets so the children look sharp and are better protected in days and nights; 3. school material so there is mental food for the kids and last but not least 4. sportive equipment so the kids can work out by having some physical activity and of course enjoy!
Nion this year carefully picked this BPP (Border Patrol Police) project as it was running project under protection of the Royal family (as almost all things are in this country) and showed they were very serious in taking care of their children. We wanted to support projects like these this year, to see if we can contribute to improve the lives of the youngsters. This compared to last year where we worked with an orphanage that did not have any running projects or ever really got any help. We found it hard to make something out of nothing, especially when the leaders of a school or orphanage have to learn from the beginning what to do with for instance seeds and a chicken farm. And also when the area is poor or unsupportive, many good ideas and help will go lost.
This year we wanted to help a school/orphanage that helped itself and its students. This has been a strange year, for me but also for the Kharma Foundation. I sadly lost in a very quick succession a very good friend and a person as close to me as a brother; Dan Mapstone and Niels Groeneweg.
We, Nion and me and other people very close to the foundation, decided to donate all our goods this year in the name of these two handsome fellows. They both had huge hearts and would have contributed this year again, like earlier years and we want their love to go on. We have created a picture frame with their pictures with a little text and these have been given to the 4 schools.
It was a strange year for the foundation because it seemed not to be so successful this year; I had to chase many people around haha and a week or so before the deadline we still could have used quite a bit of money just to make the 4 goals we set completely covered for all 4 schools.
But thanks to some amazing late donations and some slick PR and collecting of Terry, a good friend of mine and the father of my god son, we managed to reach the target point, and over!! And this never happened in our short history. There is actually money left! Do not worry, this is not left for me to have a drink on… this is left to help more kids. We have our eyes set on Mae Hong Son, two small orphanages. This will be later in the year, as we want to collect some more money and Nion needs a deserved rest.To donate and to collect money is the easy part.
She has been an absolute trooper this year and done most of the pre-work. The last month as said before was terrible for me and I was an emotional wreck. Nion kept on calling, arranging, traveling to the border… She had meetings, more calls, more emails and more and more shopping.Every time a good donation came in, she had more shopping power! And we came to a never before seen amount of over 3000 kilos of goods!! Hello!
And I was not on the scale myself trying to get it heavier. Just the jackets were close to a 1000 kilo. Then the 1000 pairs of shoes, the 1000 blankets, the food, man, it was such a pretty sight to see it all in big trucks. The chief of the BPP told Nion that he had never in his career and life seen so much stuff together. And this comes from a guy that had received more donations from for instance the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and from the Thai government. The Kharma Foundation blew them out of the water.
We all made this possible together!
And of course we always donate goods and not money as Thailand and many other countries in this world are not run by the most trustworthy people in general, so you need to be careful the money does not disappear in to the wrong wallet.
The last few days before the weekend of the 15th and the 16th of January 2011 I spend with my good friend, donator, volunteer and driver Scott shopping. As said the money came in even on the days we were in the sticks (slang for the back country), so even on Friday evening we went to a Makro and a Tesco, but also on Thursday. We bought an amazing amount of school books, school itinerary from pens to rulers, drawing paper, clay for the really young kids, paint, but also footballs, volleyballs, badminton rackets, balloons, etc.
Thursday we also went to Jathujak Market in Bangkok and bought over 50 kilos of seeds, gardening equipment, sun blocking screens for the veggie gardens, fertilizer, insect poison and name it more.The rented pick up was full, we had to empty it in my house, arranged a lorry to come pick it up on Friday night to drive it to Kanchanaburi. We had a load of office equipment like cork boards, itinerary, white boards, etc. that was donated by Dan’s family and widow to load in our Toyota and we went on to drive to Kanchanaburi city that same day with our 4×4, stopping on the way by more Tesco’s.
On Friday night I met up with my team; team number Two. ‘We’ consisted of Scott, my Thai mother from Kanchanaburi pi Pen, her husband Gerhard and my Thai brother pi Kwan (pi is a respect term you use for older people). Pi Pen’s grandchild J.J. joined in on Saturday and also Dan’s sister Ceri. The goods were divided on the large army base near Kanchanaburi where the headquarters of the Border Patrol Police district 13 is based.
Team One or team Nion had the short straw when it came to traveling to their two schools as her team had on day one, after coming in from Bangkok early morning, another 3 or 4 hour drive to the first school. The second day would be a 4 hour 4×4 jungle trek to reach the second school and 4 hours back. And this was just traveling hours, not calculating if something went wrong; which it did of course.
Luckily this year Nion will write something too, so she will tell you all about her adventure herself.
Our Saturday started off a little hectic. Leave it to me to chase everyone for donations etc, but had forgotten to print out the map how to get to the BPP. My team member, a local, thought it was in town. Turned out to be 20 kilometer out of town! So we ran a little late to say the least 😉 Logistics is not my strong point. After some stressing we managed to find it and were welcomed by team Nion and the police chief. The goods were split mostly down the half so after a little while the two teams set of on their journeys. We had a 3 hour drive towards Songklaburi and had stop in a little town Thong Pah Pum. Here we had to go to a local BPP camp to drop of the goods for the second school on Sunday, which we could only reach by a boat.
The police were very helpful and all guys there, from the top to the normal cadets to the teachers were amazed on how much stuff there actually was per school. We had much fun splitting it in two; the bales of blankets and the shoes plus jackets were huge packages and heavy, so I impressed the Thai tough ex military guys by lifting them up myself and help them like one of their own. Needless to say, I was exhausted when it was done. We moved on and had another 2 hours to drive and we arrived at the first school.
It is called Sahathanakharn Krungthep and has 340 children from which about 30 are orphans and live within the school premises. As it was in the afternoon on a Saturday the playground was very quiet, but still I think there were about 100 kids present. The boys came out to help with the unloading of the truck; some of the girls came out with refreshing cold water.On a higher mountain nearby a little Buddhist temple was on the top and it looked over the school like a caring mother over her child. It gave a very serene feeling.
The friendly teacher and head of the school mr. Supheera was very proud to show us around, showed us their veggie garden and chicken farm, the last was donated by the Chamber of Commerce of Japan.After the tour all the goods were unloaded and put on display on tables. The tables were making noises of the heavy load they had to carry. The donating of goods is taken very serious by the BPP so I had to sign some official documents and estimate the amount it was worth. I proceeded to hand over the picture frame and the teacher was very interested in hearing the story behind it.
Then there was a photo opportunity with one class of the school and all the goods. It was funny that they, the BPP, made more pictures than us. They thought I would like to pose with class after class, but for me one is enough. I come there to help, not to be some kind of photo model 😉 We had to write in a guest book a wish for the kids and who we are etc. A funny but also proud fact was that the first page was signed by the daughter of the King, princess Somdet Prathep. We suddenly mix within good circles.
Although I had two Thai speaking people in my team, it was a little bit hard to communicate. The teacher did not dare to speak English, which is normal in Thailand as they are afraid to make mistakes and my Thai ‘translators’ were to shy to interact with the officially dressed BPP staff. But with my little Thai, hands and feet, a lot of smiling and a lot of repeating we learned a lot. They had a fish pond which we visited and threw some feedings for the fishes and we had a look in a classroom. The buildings were well kept and the goal of supporting a school that supports itself and the kids was definitely a fact. We did wonder if next year we should return to our statement of helping the most unfortunate kids. The problem you face there is that the goods you give might easily be sold so they can buy some food for the very next day.
I do like the idea of not bringing a fish for a day, but teaching how to fish.
Every year we get wiser and better in aiming our help. The kids seem very impressed and happy when they saw the footballs, badminton rackets etc. Of course this is the thing that attracts most attention. But when we went to bed that night and no one turned on the airco and I even took a second blanket as it was definitely nippy, the thought that those kids could tuck under their new blankets for a warm night’s rest brought me a smile.We decided to drive back to the small village near the first stop so we did not have to drive back in the morning. Team One had a little dinner on a mountain side overlooking the lake, and then back to Thong Pah Pum.
Pi Kwan arranged the rooms, very Thai style, cheap, but good. The men of our team ironed out a bottle of Thai whiskey but were all in bed by 12 as the day was a long one, and we had another one waiting. Sunday the 16th, a beautiful morning. We had to leave around 8:30, so up at 8. Almost all did well barring pi Kwan who we had to wake up about 10 times. I have to say in his defense, he is a raving alcohol enjoyer and bar manager that normally that wakes up at 3 or 4 in the afternoon.
Scott, Ceri and I jumped in the 4×4 straight to the BPP camp site; the other car went to get breakfast. The teacher and head of the second school mr. Veerachat was waiting for us with the second lorry full of goods. We had to drive for a small hour to the lake shore.
There two long tail boats met us and one was loaded full with our goods.
The second boat was our taxi. Nion told me before we left that she heard it was a four hour boat trip. Then Scott heard from the teacher, or thought he heard that it was only 15 minutes. We had no clue anymore. Luckily the truth was in the middle. 15 minutes would have been way too short, but 4 hours and then back too would have been a mission and a half. Luckily it took us a good hour and a bit to reach the river delta after crossing the lake. Even on a normal map we could see we were getting very close to Burma. That was a little spicy as just days before that a civil struggle popped up again and months before 20.000 refugees fled in to the area we were. Luckily nothing happened and we ended up in a small harbor kind of place with three old trucks.Due to the very low water level in the lake the water resided to 10 to 12 meters lower and we could not come with the boat to the little village called Ban Pi Lokki. From the little harbor area we had to upload all the goods in the old pick ups and drive a proper 4×4 road to the village.
It was an old missionary village so in the middle of town (read 50 huts spread out) was a little church. Weird to see that in the middle of absolutely nowhere in Asia. Then again the Christ loving world has travel to far and beyond places to bring God’s word. Most of the Thais, even when Christian, are still Buddhist and also will believe in ghosts. So the mix of church, temple and shrines all over was a colorful mix. The small kids spread over the village found it extremely interesting to see a few white people in a pick up and all came waving and you heard the ‘hello’s’ and ‘bye bye’ from everywhere, even from a tree where one of the little nippers had climbed in to have a better view.
We arrived at the school and as it was Sunday and these people were apparently Christian, a lot of kids were else where. But again, easily a 100 of the 260 were present. Again the same, the boys helped carry the stuff and the girls giggled at Scott and I as the two big white guys and a few came out with refreshing drinks. The pick up had to go up and down two times to get all the stuff, so we had time to get a little tour. A very well kept veggie garden, a different chicken farm and even a few pigs were on the school grounds.The 12 kilo of seeds for planting will be absolutely perfect in place. Scott and I worried about this when we bought it, if it would be of good use. Yes was the answer! When we got back to the square all goods had been unloaded and again spread out on tables. It looked impressive.
Then the usual followed of handing over our photo frame, the teacher would pray for our friends and the frame would get a nice place in the office. I had to sign the documents again and also the book. I left them a positive message. I hope to return here in a year or so and see how they get along. The country side is amazingly beautiful and the people very warm. The kids were so quiet and so polite standing there in line that we decided to pass out at least one of the gifts, the blankets one by one.
We had pink ones and other colored ones, so every time when a group of girls would come up one by one to collect we would quickly get the pink ones out and when the boys came, we gave them the different colored blankets. My hole team joined in, even little J.J., who is only 4 himself, and he helped passing out the blankets. We saw many happy kids running home or talking with each other. A blanket the size we gave can warm a family! The rest would be handed out by the head of the school the next day when all the kids were complete. Scott played around with one of the footballs for a bit, we had another refreshing drink and we were off.
The head teacher wanted to bring us to a fisherman’s village nearby so we could have a lunch together. Hungry as we were, and to be honest a little tired to from all the new sights and little stress if all would go okay, we all agreed with him that that was a good plan! We jumped back in the pick up, to the boat, out of the river delta, towards the lake and there was this very idyllic fisherman’s village floating on the lake.
All the barges were floating on bamboo piles, attached to each other with ropes, and by roots. Roots? Yes, roots of about three or four trees that had popped up from seeds many years ago and were now at least 7 or 8 meters high, proper trees. The roots of these trees had woven barges together and did not touch ground. It was a weird but beautiful sight. Between the barges and floating houses they had little fishing nets where they were farming fish. The fish we ordered were caught with a net, a few hard bangs on the head with a stick, scales got removed and in to the pan. How do you mean fresh?! After the lunch which was great the head teacher continued with us on the boat to the lake shore where our cars were.
Some thoughts and reflections:
I learned something good this year. An Indian friend told me about the teachings of Karma/Kharma and a famous saying in Indian translated in “do good and throw it in the river…” Meaning something like when you do good, a good deed, it is no good to dwell on it or to try to show off with it. People do not have to know you did well. Its nothing to brag about. You just do it and then leave it. You do not even have to feel physically good or get any reward. It was obvious for Nion this year that this is the case. She was sick as a dog the hole 3 days we were on the move.
Last year we were in such a hurry to reach the orpahanage, we only had little time to spend there with the kids and before we knew it we were on our way back due to hard road back and the daylight disappearing. I was some what disappointed, wanted to get more out of it, wanted maybe more pleasure for the effort. I knew this was not correct, but I could not help but feelign that way. Hearing this Indian saying gave it all a place. Its not about me, its about the people you try to reach. Its not about my feeling, but about what you can do for the other without wanting or needing something back in return. Just do what you can do and forget about it. It was not special or perfect. You do not need a compliment…
Its never what it is. To help is not easy. If it was, people would not need it so much. You come with good intentions. You come with your own background, your own story. You come with your own vision. You come with your own pre detirmined image of how it will be… Nothing ever is what it is.
To care and to love spreads a message. Food spreads life. Luckily we are all in a position to do something for kids in need. We need to focus on life improvement. Sometimes the blanket will be sold for food, sometimes it will warm a family or kid for years. Sometimes the seed will fail to grow, most of time it will do fine. We need to focus on the good we can do, rather than only focus that what is needed is too much to give.
More research, more and better targets. More help, more goals. Grow every year by word to mouth. One year will be better than the other, so what? Step by step more professional and always with the right intentions.
The beginning and end of it all is to take a little time out of our busy lives to see what you can do, then proceed to do it and then throw it in the river…
Thank you all for your amazing help!