My Heart has found a New Home in Thailand
Emma McNamara takes care of International Fundraising at the Father Ray Foundation in Pattaya. Her experiences at the project have changed her life forever.
Thailand was never a country I saw myself living in for very long. Sure it would be a great experience, interning in the International Fundraising department of the Father Ray Foundation, living in a country that is beautiful, full of culture and well deserving of the title ‘Land of Smiles’, but it would only be six months.
Well, that was almost two and a half years ago...
The moment you meet the children and students that the Father Ray Foundation cares for, you cannot help but smile. Smile at their happiness, their laughter, their energy and most of all the notable feeling of contentment.
The Father Ray Outreach Work & Drop-In Centre is where I am able to see the true beginnings of the positive impact we are able to have on the children’s lives. Children living at the Drop-In Center are the newest arrivals at the Foundation. Often coming from complicated family situations and unforgiving living environments well beyond what a child should ever have to experience, the Drop-In Center is able to give children the stable and caring environment they need to feel safe again.
Every child is different, some take a while before they feel comfortable and at home, while many children fully embrace all the love and attention coming their way. Recently I have been spending more time at the Drop-In Centre really learning about what the first few months of transition are like for the children.
It has been two months since Nong King came to the Drop-In Centre. First unsure of his new surroundings, he tried to quietly blend into the background, something I have a feeling he has been doing for most of his short eight year life, but slowly he has begun to show a hint of the smile hiding under his uncertainty.
I have a (not so) secret weapon that always seems to be a magnet for children no matter where I am. You see I am white. I am not talking about a little pale, I mean I give Casper a run for his money, and this is the best ice-breaker/smile-maker I have in my back pocket.
At first King like many kids I have met seem so shocked and confused to see me - he just didn’t know what to think. Then a methodical inspection happened; King went over every single one of my freckles until he got to my wrists where, to his sheer horror, he could see my veins through my skin.
Well this was cause for announcement. King brought over every kid he could find at the Drop-In Centre, and even some of the staff, to show them his new ‘discovery’. The best part is when he did the side to side comparison between us to determine just how white I really am. His smile stretched further across his face when I took out my phone and he could see the two of us together in a picture.
Today, a few weeks later King’s shyness has vanished into thin air and he is now just one of the gang, smiling, laughing and of course getting himself into some mischief. And any time a camera or phone comes out King is the first one looking around to see who has a pair of sunglasses he can borrow to show off his best rock star poses.
This past week we celebrated Mother’s Day here in Thailand. Rather than focusing on Mother’s Day and the absence of the children’s mothers, it was decided it should be just a fun day. The children spent the day bouncing, flipping and causing trouble on the trampoline, making food, cooking over an open fire, and of course replicating the ubiquitous and unique dance moves seen in their favourite Thai music videos.
After the food was finished and it was time for clean-up. I expected to see the kids run off to try to avoid dish duty. Not today - they insisted on cleaning up. Brooms and cloths were a flutter, with only the littlest ones getting distracted by the dish soap bubbles. And although I am sure the three women working at the Drop-In Centre caring for these children had to rewash many dishes, the small task of cleaning up confirmed to me that the kids at the Drop-In Centre really appreciate the love and care they get and they know that there will always be someone there for them.
This is just one of the many occasions that has made me realise that there is no way I am ever going to be able to leave this place fully intact. Once the Father Ray Foundation gets a hold of your heart, you may as well resign yourself to the fact that you will not be getting it back, and for me that is just fine.
Find out more about the Father Ray Foundation Drop-In Centre >
Written by Thai Children's Trust