In the news – the generosity of PresCare people

15 October 2014

PresCare Volunteer Program Manager Julie Hoffmann is practicing what she preaches, and is off to Thailand to donate her time to a local orphanage. Read on for Julie’s story…

I am only three weeks away from my second trip to Thailand to again stay with the children and staff at Baan Than Namchai.  Baan Than Namchai (BTN) is an orphanage started by Rotjana, a woman who worked for a children’s foundation and helped the children in the slums of Bangkok.   When the tsunami happened she set up a tent one of the worst hit areas, Khao Lak, to take care of the children.  Rotjana was noticed by a leader of our forensic assistance team called Peter Baines, after some time Peter came back to Australia and started fundraising for Rotjana.  This chance meeting and Peter so eloquently telling the story of what he saw and experienced has resulted in 6 homes across Thailand and hundreds of children now having a life full of promise, care and support.  The organisation Peter started is called Hands Across the Water and Peter himself recently received an OAM and is a Pride of Australia nominee.

I met Peter through PresCare and after listening to the story he told of the tsunami, the aftermath, the children, the breakdown in Thai family structure I had to ask him ‘how do I volunteer’.   Being a mature age I thought maybe I would be ‘too old’ but according to Peter the only criteria for volunteering with the children was to remember to take my hugs and love with me.

My first visit was last May and words are not enough to describe the joy, the kindness, the willingness to share and help that I found with the children and the staff.  My arrival was a quick greeting and then ‘just in time for lunch’ and that was the beginning of my love for Thai people and Thai food.  I helped with the children at meal times, taught a little English, helped in the kitchen however they were at school all day and even the babies go to another Hands home where they play with others.   Time wise, the bulk of my volunteering was helping the craft ladies who made the souvenirs for the craft shop.   They made handbags, tops, bags, t-shirts and some Hands merchandise and as crazy as it seems I loved ironing for approx 8 hours a day in the Thai heat!   I loved being a part of the women’s conversation as they included me even though I didn’t understand Thai.
The children are amazing, at the time of my last visit there were 80 children there and I didn’t hear a cross word in a month, the older ones help with the babies and the middle kids help where needed.  They all pitch in with food prep, laundry and hanging out, they wash up and, of an evening,  it was amazing to watch all the children occupied, chattering, washing and clattering their tin plates, singing and laughing, all working together, some hosing down the tiles and others showering the babies, some sweeping and some picking up rubbish and within minutes, all dressed for bed and then into the ‘meeting room’ for singing and chats with Rotjana before bed.

While I will stay at BTN again my next trip will include a visit to another ‘home’ called New Life Project where an amazing hydroponic garden is being maintained and boys are cared for and taught life skills.   Hopefully I may get to Home Hug, another home for children with Aids however that is a bit of a distance away.

Peter is responsible, with the help of some amazing sponsors and donors, for six homes in Thailand now.  They are all beautifully maintained by ‘task force’ groups of people from Australia who work on the buildings.  Working to make sure their environment is clean, tidy and they have clean mattresses and storage is another way of showing that someone cares.   Day visitors to BTN usually bring rice, sweets for the children, sometimes toys and sometimes clothes.  As a volunteer I also bought treats for the children, clothes and school needs for each child and a new big LG twin tub ($165!) which immediately halved washing time.

I can’t wait to return there, to see how the children have grown, to meet the new babies who have come to BTN and to once again, sit and iron with my friends.

If anyone is interested in donating to Hands Across the Water, head to http://handsacrossthewater.org.au/get-involved/donate/