Note: In Thailand I never once heard the word Myanmar. It was always referred to as Burma. I believe the U.S. also supports the name Burma and out of respect for Burmese refugees, I will do the same.
When I was looking for a volunteer project in Thailand, I started by skimming the guidebook. I read about a couple of projects assisting Burmese refugees in two border towns. While these projects were not a good fit for me, it sounded like there was no shortage of NGOs in these areas. I narrowed it down to the area of Sangkhlaburi due to time constraints and transport options. I found Baan Dada through a Google search and was impressed from the get-go. It is a home for sixty children and has loads of active community projects. Their homepage was also advertising a big fundraising walk in October to raise $2 million for a technical school. The area’s closest place for higher education is more than three hours away; Sangkhlaburi could definitely benefit from a technical school.
About Baan Dada Children’s Home
Baan Dada is located in Huay Malai, a remote village about 15 km. from Sangkhlaburi. The landscape is green, lush, and feels like a jungle. The town is mostly people of the Karen and Mon tribes from Burma. These tribes have been persecuted by the Burmese government and as a result, have fled to several border towns in Thailand, as well as to parts of Malaysia and China.
Dada (Sanskrit word for brother) started Baan Dada as part of the Neo-Humanist Foundation in 1994. There is also a second Dada who has been at the project for two years. It has grown from a small home for boys into a home for 60 girls and boys as well as community projects. Most of the children are Karen, lacking the rights of Thai citizens. Baan Dada is making every effort to get legal paperwork for all of the children and provide them with an education and a loving home. Some are truly orphans, while many have mothers that simply can not afford to care for them. Dada1 and Dada2 work tirelessly (seriously, I think Dada1 got about eight hours of sleep over three nights) to help these children succeed.
Volunteering with Baan Dada
Within hours of my arrival, I had email passwords in hand and was responding to volunteer requests and writing letters to Thai Embassies on behalf of the project. As a volunteer, you can jump right in. On the flip side, you need to be good at initiating projects as there is not much direction given. If you are a self-started you’ll be just fine. The volunteer house is a muddy five-minute walk from the project (it’s currently rainy season). There were two other volunteers during my one week stay.
I assisted Dada2 the first two days with administrative tasks while the kids were at school and then taught an English class in the evenings. On my third day, I started private English lessons with a 13 year old girl and her 11 year old brother who had been at Baan Dada less than a month. They could say “Hello,” and that was about it. I had four lessons with them with the assistance of my 10 year old translator. It was too short but I feel like I at least got the ball rolling and then can say basic greetings and a few common phrases. I also helped with some fundraising activities and games. The week went entirely too fast!
Christmas Cards Fundraiser
I posted recently about Christmas Cards for sale that were made by the kids. Thank you so much to all of my wonderful readers and friends who purchased 235 cards! From every dollar, the child who made the card gets about $0.15 and the remainder goes towards the home’s expenses. While some kids may use the money for a treat in the market or a toy, many of the kids save it and give it to their families. One boy was saving to buy a cell phone for his mother. It’s very sweet and also shows the kids that they can help themselves.
Speaking of the home’s expenses, there are many! All of the children go to a private school because the school helps Baan Dada with legal processes for the children. Sixty kids in private school is not cheap. They also have a minimum of four school uniforms: a standard uniform, a scout uniform, a gym uniform, and a Karen tribe uniform, which they wear on different days. It’s costly! We were taking all sixty children to school in the back of a small pickup truck (by some small miracle everyone crammed aboard) but thanks to a generous donation, Baan Dada bought a bigger truck the day that I left. Dada provides these kids with every opportunity that is physically possible. There are five boys there that have a band, have been playing together for about six years, and they’re really good. Dada found out about a competition in Bangkok (seven hours away) at the last minute, and took all five of them overnight to perform. It’s fantastic work that is happening at Baan Dada, and I highly recommend it for interested volunteers.
Fundraising Walk for Technical School
The fundraising walk for the technical school starts on 10th October 2010. Volunteers will walk over 100 km. for a week to raise awareness. Dada1 is planning on continuuing his walk until all of the money is raised. He will walk to southern Thailand, and he said if they haven’t met their goal by then, he will turn around and head north. It’s shocking and inspiring all at the same time. To find out more about the technical school, click here.
I have loads and loads of information about the project, but it’s almost like, Where do I begin? If you have further questions about Baan Dada, please feel free to ask.
A very special thanks to the following who donated to my Sole Purpose project. As a result a donation was made both to Baan Dada and the Technical School: