Our routing was Bangkok, Pisanalouk, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai (Thailand); Vien Pu Ha, Luang Nam Tha, Luangprabang, Vientien, Savanaket (Laos); Hue, Hoi An, Na Trang, Dalat, Saigon (Vietnam); Phenom Pehn, Siem Rip (Cambodia); Phuket, Bangkok, home. All travel was by bus or truck except one leg by train. Mark and Fred did parts of the journey with us, Kanae and I did the whole thing. Hotel costs ranged from a dollar and a half a night in parts of Laos to $13 night in Bangkok Average for the trip was about five dollars. Meals were generally under a dollar and good. Transportation seemed to average out at about fifty (U.S.) cents an hour. Roads in Laos and Cambodia were very bad, Vietnam good, and Thailand very good.
Thais are tolerant, Laos are in different but friendly, Vietnamese are hard working, Cambodians are bewildered.
The goal of the journey was to find good programs for HIHF to support programs where a couple thousand dollars a year can make a big difference. Initial information (about orphanages and shelters) was found on the internet. Contact with those people lead to better, more appropriate, people for us to meet.
In Chiang Mai we heard of a woman who has made an agreement with the farmers at the local market to take their surplus food twice a week to an orphanage run by monks outside of town. There are 144 children. We will consider supplying clothes and money for gasoline.
At Chiang Rai we met with the house father of an orphanage with 20 children. The kids were wonderful, mostly from the surrounding hill tribes, but the Korean directors require that the children listen to three hours of bible reading a day. I had the feeling that this one is part of a larger plan to “spread the word” than to help the kids, but I could be wrong. Fortunately they seem well funded so we won’t face a moral dilemma there.
In Laos we met with the head of a Japanese Buddhist organization called BAC. Over the past dozen years this group has built 81 schools in Laos. Next year they wish to start their first orphanage in Luangprabang. They have done most of the groundwork already, awaiting final governmental approval. Their philosophy seems to be very similar to ours, and although they are a much larger organization, we will likely offer our assistance, both financial and manpower.
In Na Trang, Vietnam we met a Vietnamese-Canadian woman who runs a bar. The profits from the bar support a program she’s set up for street kids. She provides about forty kids with a big lunch, teaches them how to cook and deal with basic life needs, and recruits foreign travelers to teach them English and other foreign languages. Her crusade is against pedophilia. HIHF should be able to support her with donations of clothes and funds.
In Phenom Pehn, capital of Cambodia we went to a fantastic place called “Friends”. One part of it is a (fairly high end) restaurant, with orphans and street kids as cooks, waiters, and cleaners. They get steady work and a sense of giving of themselves in order to get something in return. (This, I have learned, is the great danger of simply providing charity recipients quickly become both dependent and expectant.) Part of the profit from the restaurant goes to pay the worker kids and part goes to finance training programs ranging from language to electronics to computers to cooking and sewing. It’s a great program, but one which is supported by several large governmental and non-governmental agencies.
In up-country Cambodia at Siem Rip we visited a newly established orphanage. Ironically, the name of the orphanage means “Hope” in Cambodian. They started only last year, with the donation of about ten acres of farmland. Many (most?) of the people in the general area are very poor. In addition to caring for orphans the people at Hope teach the villagers organic farming and how to market their produce. They also distribute rice and clothing to the poorest of the poor. Their philosophy is interesting. They believe that it is more important to put emphasis on keeping the family together as a unit than establishing institutions to support individuals once the family has fragmented. HIHF will most likely help them with funds needed to dig a well and supplement the meager salaries of the highly dedicated Cambodian staff. We will also invite BAC (of Japan) to join in this project as I believe the potential here is enormous.
The final place we visited was a center for women with AIDS and their children in southern Thailand. The organizer of this project, Jose from Spain, is the same person we worked with last year in the Sea Gypsy project. When the women arrive at the shelter they are often desperate. They have lived with the fear that someone, a mother or father, husband would find out that they have aids and banish them from the home. Jose has created a wonderful atmosphere of love and joy. The women are in the same boat and are ready to make the most of life. They are taught sewing and have made very nice greeting cards. Jose explained that these have several purposes; to keep the women busy (and give them a sense of accomplishment rather than just sitting around waiting to die), to teach the women marketable skills, and to provide income for the women themselves. About half the children who live there are HIV infected. Jose does his best, in interesting and effective ways, to see that they get the medical attention they need. HIHF purchased some of the cards for resale in Hawaii (they are beautiful and have a meaningful message hand printed inside) and will likely buy many more to support this project.
All in all, I think the summer of 2002 was a great HIHF success. With the exception of funds used to purchase sporting goods for an orphanage in NaTrang and the purchase of cards from Jose’s, no HIHF money was spent. Our bank balance now stands at just over $8,000. I expect that we will allocate about a third of that to the projects mentioned above between now and next summer.