Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Big Day Has Finally Arrived

By Athena Boulgarides, Western Region Development Officer (North) for Christian Children's Fund

Finally; the big day is here! Before we ate breakfast we were asked – ever so kindly – to eat light. The roads up to the project site were very windy and therefore can cause motion sickness. In addition, they had Dramamine available for anyone who needed it.

What were we in for? We climbed into several vans and began our journey. Our drivers estimated it would take about four hours to get to the project site. About three-fourths of the way there, the roads became windy and unpaved in some areas.

The last 10 miles were … how can I explain? We could not go faster than 5-10 mph without damaging the car or turning our stomachs. One question kept running through my mind. What happens during the rainy season? Travel must be virtually impossible.

Suddenly, the Mae Kapu School was in sight! Study Tour participant Nikki Headlee remembered, “When we pulled up to the school and I saw all the kids standing there waiting to greet us, I just cried.”

We were greeted by the children, teachers and directors of the school with garlands made from jasmine and quickly escorted to a multi-purpose room.

While we were waiting, I took a moment just to take it all in.

The children were absolutely beautiful. Each possessed a countenance that appeared to be open, bright and vulnerable. The school buildings were modest and clean. It was larger that I had imagined with several buildings and lots of land for physical activities.

We learned about the school from a board made by the children especially for our visit. Then, finally, came the moment our sponsors had been waiting for.

Every sponsored child was invited to come up to the front of the room and CCF sponsors were invited to come up for hugs and hellos.

I’m so thankful I was there to witness the kind of love that makes our world such a beautiful place. Love that transcends language, culture, politics and day-to-day difficulties we all face. It was a moment I will never forget.

Balloons and bubbles aided the celebration. I thought we might have to show them how to tie the balloons – silly me – they knew exactly what to do with them.

The girls made crowns and tiaras while the boys made belts with swords and headdresses. They were so happy. One little girl gave me her balloon that she had on her head.

Study Tour participants who did not sponsor a child in Thailand engaged in several activities with the rest of the children and students from the school.

The Mae Kapu School serves 174 children who live scattered in five Poks, or villages, from kindergarten to ninth grade. Some of the Poks are up to 10 miles away from the school.

To deal with the commute, children walk to school Monday morning and stay until Friday when they journey back home to be with their families for the weekend. During the week they sleep in simple dorm type rooms. They do have one old TV, but access is limited so it’s rarely on. Blankets are hard to come by and the winters can get cold with no heating.

The children are instructed in activities that will lead to self-sufficiency such as gardening, farming and weaving. In 2005 the school joined a Distance Learning Program via satellite to aid computer learning. Through the program they received four computers and Internet access. The program was so successful that they received two additional computers in June 2008.

CCF’s intervention in the Mae Kapu School has brought about significant changes and improvements not only for the108 CCF children who now face hopeful futures, but also for the other children whose lives are also improved through CCF services that affect the entire community.

Success at the Mae Kapu School demonstrates that child sponsorship and program support can change the life of a child forever.

One former student, Pra Prachak Sothano, a Buddhist from the Karen tribe has become a visionary informal leader of the school and the communities.

“I finished fourth grade from this school and had a dream that all Karen should have the opportunity to learn Thai language so as to be able to give back to Thai society and His Majesty the king who allows us to live in Thai territory,” Sothano said.

The day was soon coming to a close, but we were not ready to leave! We were treated to a traditional wrist tying closing ceremony conducted by a monk and the tribal elder who has 10 children and the happiest Thai smile I had ever seen!

We all hugged each other and promised to write and e-mail. And in case you are wondering about Luc … he had a blast; finally having kids to play with!

The traditional Thai “Thank you” – “Kop Kun Ka” and “Kop Kun Krab” – somehow made it through the tears and echoed throughout the humble school. We took one final group picture and we were back in the vans.

The ride home was silent.

This experience could give new meaning to the word overwhelming. The day left us truly speechless and our hearts were filled with gratitude. All was right in the world, if only for a moment. And that moment that will last for all eternity.

While we have another day of sight-seeing in Thailand, the mission for trip has been accomplished and will remain with us forever. Thank you for reading.

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