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Archive for September, 2007

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Just a quick note to say that I’m back from my one month visit to Thailand and Malaysia. The day I arrived in Thailand my wife learned the painful news that her niece was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. It was a difficult week for all of us because Sophie (her niece) was only 5 years old. She is now entering the third round of chemo therapy but is doing pretty well. She is still as active and as charming as ever. She is just adorable.

After spending a week in Malaysia, I returned went straight to Mission College in Muak Lek, Saraburi Province (2 hours north of Bangkok). Met many of my old students who prepared a very delicious meal for me. The next morning I gave a convocation speech at the college stating that the entire purpose of education rests on one very important principle…the principle of love. If we do not learn to love, we’ve learned nothing.

In the afternoon I left for Kampangpet (5-6 hours north of Bangkok) and stayed over night. Kampangpet has a UNESCO world heritage site consists of many old ruins. Returning to Bangkok, I went to Mahidol University and got in touch with Dr. Nithat Sirichotiratana from the school of public health and Dr. Somporn Kantharadussadee-Triamchaisri. Dr. Somporn has spent many years providing spiritual care for cancer and hospice patients. She based on work on the teachings of Buddhism. We had a long conversation and I plan to engage in a qualitative research using her samples on the benefits of Buddhism among cancer patients in Thailand.

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The following day I flew to Chiang Rai. My first visit was a small public elementary school 25 kilometers north of Chiang Rai city. I met with 4 students who were HIV positive. In the evening I had dinner with 5 students in our scholarship program-the program that seeks to help at-risk girls. One will be graduating with an AA degree in accounting end of this year. There is already a job waiting for her. There are two Aka girls in the program. One will be graduating with a bachelor degree in information tech and the other Aka student will graduate next year with an AA degree in accounting. A Hmong student is starting a vocational program and a Karen student who will graduate with a bachelor degree in Thai Language program (there are also another four students in Bangkok. Three just completed their bachelor degree and one has one more year to go). The following day a staff member from Adventist Development and Relief Agency took me to visit homes of three of these students. We travelled the entire day moving from village to village. The last village was an Aka village in Mae Jan. I slept over night in this village. It was quite an experience eating the local food and staying over night in an Aka home in this village.

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After returning to Chiang Rai city I spent a couple of days preparing for my up coming lectures for Burmese workers. On the 5th of September I went to Mae Sai (a town bordering between Thailand and Burma), crossed over to Burma and walked around acquiating myself with the area. Spent the following two days offered training on PTSD to a group of Burmese workers who provide assistance to prostitutes and victims of trafficking in Ta Ke Lek (a town across the border). I had a wonderful time. These Burmese workers are very passionate, energetic, and committed to help these population. They work with an NGO calls the “House of Grace” runs by Mark and Christa Crawford (if you wish to help, you can actually sponsor one of these workers. They are paid $ 30 per month to cover their expenses and to assist the underprivileged). Mark and Christa are also hoping to build a nursery in the area for help children of these women. It was rewarding to be able to witness such passion from these Burmese workers and from Mark and Christa.

The night before returning to California I met with another two girls from our scholarship program in Bangkok. Mine just graduated and she has already started working. Her plan is to support her young siblings. It was rewarding to know that this contribution that we made for her will continue to impact many others in her family. Before we departed, she said, “If not because of you, I would not be able to get to this place in my life.” I wish to convey this to those who help contribute to this program. It does make a difference.

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I had the priviledge of visiting another two Aka villages.  They were homes of two of the students that we are currently sponsoring.  Their homes are located approximately 45 minutes from the city.  Most Aka engage in planting rice and corns.  For about 6 months in a year they work in the rice field or in the corn field, planting and harvesting.  Rain is most essential.  At the beginning of the planting season, the take out a loan to buy seeds for planting, then they take another loan for fertilizer, and they use part of these loans for their children to go to school.  The annual income from selling the corns is about 10,000 baht.  The rice is used for their own consumption.  It usually lasts for the entire year.  For the rest of the year they seek daily employment depending on the local needs at the time.  The daily wage is about $ 3.  This is one of the main reasons why they can’t really offer financial help for their daughters going through college.  One of the two Aka girls told me that when she was young her village was really under developed.  The road was really bad and so often she went on a horse back with her dad to the field located 12-18 kilometers away from home and stayed many nights until the work was done.   

One of the two Aka students in our scholarship program has one more year before completing an AA degree in accounting.  The second Aka girl will be graduating with a bachelor degree at the end of this year in ‘information technology’ from Ratchapat University, Chiang Rai.  Already there is a job waiting for her.  I was deeply impressed with these girls.  They were kind, hard working, caring, and all of them plan to keep helping their families, sisters, brothers, and others from their communities. 

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Last Saturday I had the opportunity to visit the home of one of the girls who receive scholarship from our project.  Her house is located 40 kilometers from Chiang Rai city.  We drove for about 50 minutes till we get to her place.  We pulled into a small dirt road.  It is a small wooden house raised about a meter and a half above the ground.  There is one bed room.  This girl was born and raised in the nearby village.  Her dad came from the north eastern part of Thailand.  He met her mom in Phuket.  She was working in a restaurant.  They got married and moved north.  Because of the lack of sufficient fund, they spent many years taking care of orchards.  By so doing they were able to stay within the orchards themselves.  This was how the family survived for many years until the father was able to save enough to buy a small piece of land to build this small wooden house for the family.  They grow fruit trees.  During harvesting time they may earn about 6,000 baht ($ 250).   The rest of the time they work odd jobs depending on the needs of the employers.

This young woman that we are sponsoring left the village when she was 15.  To sponsor herself through education, she worked in a karaoke bar earning enough to support herself.  During this school year she receives scholarship from our program.  She will be graduating in four months with a AA degree in accounting.  She maintains cumulative GPA of 3.8 and already has a job waiting for her.

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Just want to give a short report of my recent visits to various places in northern Thailand.  My first stop was at Bo Thong Elementary School located approximately 20 kilometers north of Chiang Rai city.  My wife and I and a couple of friends have been supporting about 30 children from this school.  This time I met with four children from kindergarten to grade one.  They are all HIV positive.  I just want to share what I gathered regarding the an Aka girl (Aka is one of the tribes in northern Thailand, migrated mostly from Burma) who is HIV positive.  She is in grade 4 and could not speak Thai very well.  The family moved from other location to this little Aka village located behind the elementary school (about 40 families in all) about 2 decades ago.  Right now she lives with her great grand mother.  She has no money to spend.  Her great grand mother does not work (she is approximately 75) and not in good health.  Her great grand mother receives financial help occasionally from her relative living in Taiwan.

This little girl’s grand mother passed away because of AIDS 7 years ago.  Her mother went to Chiang Mai city to work.  While working in Chiang Mai she married a Thai men who left her when she was pregnant.  She died of AIDS 5 years ago.  This little girl has no relatives left except for her great grand mother who is pretty old and in ill health.  Her future is unknown.

I also had the opportunity to visit homes of three of the at-risk girls in the project that we sponsored (we currently are sponsoring 8 students).   Two of the girls are from Aka tribe. The other girl is a local Thai girl from a small village near Chiang Rai.  I will continue to report on these three visits the next time I have the opportunity.

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