Monday, February 27, 2012
Pak Kret Babies Home
Shortly after our arrival in Bangkok, I began to look into the different opportunities available to do volunteer work in the local community. I did a lot of volunteer work in Miami but it was limited to the kids' schools - PTA secretary, school advisory council, fundraising events, class functions, etc. I left Miami totally burnt out on school volunteerism and pledged that, at least for our first year here, I would help out only a few times at ISB and that would be the extent of my involvement in the school. I really wanted to find an opportunity to do hands on work and be of direct help to the Thai community.
Well, I am so happy as I have found the PERFECT place for me to volunteer! The Pak Kret Babies Home. This Home (I hate to call it an orphanage) is located less than 10 minutes from Nichada and I will be going 2 or 3 times a week for 2 hours each time to "mother" an abandoned baby. There are 300 babies/toddlers/children living at the Home, ranging in age from newborn (and I really mean newborn) to 5 years. Right after we moved here, I heard about the Home from a friend who has volunteered there for almost 1 1/2 years. She has cared for the same little boy since he was a few weeks old and he is now quite an active and happy toddler! Last September, I was going to go with her and see what it was all about. However, first there was a stomach virus spreading through the Home so I couldn't go. Then, the babies had to be evacuated because of the flooding so I couldn't go. Then it was Christmas, yada yada yada... it just never happened. Well, today it did and it was such a great experience. I cannot wait to go back on Friday (if not sooner!).
The Home is funded by the King and members of the Royal Family do visit often so I think the Home gets a good deal of exposure (and maybe more donations) from that connection. Although there are a lot of babies/toddlers living at the Home, they are obviously very well-cared for. All of the children I saw this morning were clean and nicely dressed. The grounds and the "houses" (similar to dormitories) where the children live are immaculate - nothing fancy but neat and maintained. We passed several areas with nice play/climbing equipment, tricycles, little riding toys, etc. The children that we saw were very happy and they loved to touch our white skin! A lot of women from the Ex-Pat community volunteer at the Home - quite a few from Nichada but also a large group from downtown. The British Women's Club runs a shuttle van on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to bring the volunteers from downtown to the Home. Caitlynne went to the Home a few weeks ago with a friend and her friend's mother who is regular volunteer there. She loved playing with the babies and feeding them so I am sure she will come with me to help when she can!
This morning, my friend first gave me a little tour of the Home and then we went to find a baby for me. The process was a little weird. We walked up to a screened window (almost like the take out window at Dairy Queen) and my friend motioned to the nanny that I wanted a baby. The nanny randomly selected a baby from one of the cribs, changed him and then handed him to me along with a bottle. She gave the baby a peck on the cheek and off we went. No questions asked and I did not have to show one piece of identification!
The little boy I was given is named Semit and I will care for him each time I visit. I did tear up when we went to the "house" where he lives. There must have been thirty cribs in the room and each crib had a baby in it. While the caregivers definitely had things under control (not one baby was crying or fussing), it made me so sad to know that not every baby gets held or has significant attention paid to him/her each day.
My best guess is that Semit is about 8 months old but I really can't say for sure. Most of the babies at the Home are behind quite a bit developmentally so it is hard to use the typical milestones in an effort to guess their ages. Semit has his first tooth coming in and he was quite happy to sit and chomp on my fingers for a while. I forgot how much drool a teething baby can produce! He was scooting a little and I expect it won't be too long before he is crawling. He certainly wanted to get moving! He was very interested in the toys I brought to him and we had a lot of fun looking in the mirror and making faces at each other. He was content just to sit on my lap while I patted his belly. The volunteers and their babies meet up in a large room and we all spent about two hours together in there. There are soft mats on the floor and lots of toys and books available to the toddlers and babies. There is a separate room with a bathtub and the Home encourages us to give the babies baths and play with them in the water a little. A few of the other volunteers did bathe their babies but I didn't want to push it on the first day! It has been a LONG time since I have taken care of a newborn and I want to take things slowly and make sure that Semit is comfortable with me. I don't think I have too much to worry about though because he was smiling a lot (never cried or fussed) and even fell asleep on my lap for about 15 minutes. Giving the babies a bottle, diaper changing, etc. are all part of the package too.
I was conflicted about "choosing" a single baby to care for as opposed to just mothering a different baby on each visit. However, the other volunteers told me that caring only for Semit will be a great benefit to him and I will see how he grows and thrives with my visits and the bonding we do. I am scheduled to visit again on Friday but I have nothing planned for Wednesday and Thursday mornings so I might go one of those days as well.
Have a great Monday!