Back in 2013 when I’d asked Mrs. PoorCirculation what she’d like to do for her upcoming birthday, her response had been surprising. The previous year we’d taken a relaxing weekend break on the island of Koh Chang, but for that year, she’d wanted to celebrate her birthday with a rather large party.
Neither of us are really “party people” and when I’d learned that she’d already invited a hundred friends to join us for food, drink, dancing, and party games at a private property in Thailand’s beautiful Kanchanaburi Province, I honestly thought she’d gone insane.
.......... the original birthday party helpers with the founder of Dhamanurak, Nun Jutiporn
On the day in question, we’d loaded our car with party paraphernalia and shortly after dawn, set out from our home in Bangkok. Along the way, other vehicles had joined us and by the time we’d reached our destination in Kanchanaburi, there’d been a total of ten cars and pick-up trucks in her birthday convoy.
......... one vehicle's worth of additional supplies
The people in that convoy were all people I’d known; friends and family from Bangkok and beyond, but those people weren’t party guests, but party helpers. The guests for Mrs. PoorCirculation’s birthday party turned out to be the one hundred and twenty children from the Dhamanurak Foundation, a residential non-formal education centre 20Km from the town of Kanchanaburi.
.......... after the main meal came treats and ice cream for the kids
Located just a few miles from one of Thailand’s most popular tourist attractions – The Erawan Falls - but absent from any map, the Dhamanurak Foundation is home, school, and medical centre for approximately 120 kids. Ranging from 1 to 16 years of age, some of the kids are actually orphans, but the majority of them come from homes where for various reasons, their parents and extended families are simply unable to care for them.
....... a recycled climbing frame is guaranteed to bring smiles
Founded in 2001 by a Buddhist Nun named Jutiporn, as a small and almost invisible organisation, the Dhamanurak Foundation survives on small financial contributions from the general public, and volunteer support from caring folks like Mrs. PoorCirculation and her equally huge-hearted friends. The Dhamanurak Foundation isn’t the kind of headline grabbing charity that attracts financial support from Thailand’s merit-seeking and publicity hungry corporations and wealthy individuals, so it survives day-to-day, and year-to-year, on little more than the milk of human kindness.
...... Mrs. PoorCirculation giving an English lesson and a Nun carrying 2 of the younger kids to the party
On that day in 2013 all of our efforts had been concentrated on the party, an opportunity to provide a few hours of fun and entertainment for the kids. But, even in the absence of alcohol, for the many helpers it turned-out to be the most memorable birthday party any of us had ever attended.
....... the kids waiting for prayers before eating the party dinner
As news of Mrs. PoorCirculation’s birthday celebration in Kanchanaburi had spread, an even larger army of volunteers had pledged their support for a repeat performance in 2014. With more support, things became easier, but also, slightly more complicated. Whilst the kid’s party had still been central to our efforts, our increased supply had been far greater than the demand for a single party.
So, we’d decided to employ the excess by providing additional support in terms of much needed school equipment, shoes and clothing, building materials, and toys, but as an informal group, we’d been reluctant to provide the Foundation with actual hard cash.
.......... some of the older kids who at the age of 16, will be asked to leave Dhamanurak, the only home many of them have ever known
From our perspective it would’ve been far easier if we’d all simply chipped-in to provide money for the Dhamanurak Foundation’s needs, but this is Thailand and we were all silently aware that cash donations to any organisation can be a catalyst for corruption. It’s difficult to believe that anybody would misappropriate money destined for these kids, but unfortunately, the world is what it is and not what we’d like it to be, so we’d decided to remove any possibility of temptation.
.......... brothers in life and brothers in Buddhism
Rather than asking people to donate money, Mrs. PoorCirculation had requested a shopping list from the Foundation and anybody who’d wanted to help, simply chose items within their price range and purchased them from their own local suppliers.
... the old bamboo boys accommodation is slowly being replaced by new structures, and the kids are developing their own mushroom farm
Our hope was that by providing the seemingly boring but costly everyday essentials; classroom equipment, cleaning materials, sewing machines, dry foods, sports equipment etc., we’d allow the Dhamanurak Foundation to manage and release their own funds for their other projects and needs.
........ students from Kanchanaburi University take over as organizers of the kid's party
The 2014 effort by volunteers had been amazing, but in March of 2015 when we’d arrived with a convoy of thirty-five fully laden vehicles, we’d realised that our original efforts had blossomed out of control. It wasn’t that the Dhamanurak Foundation hadn’t needed all of that support, because they had, it was just that all of it arriving on the same day had not only overwhelmed the senses of the kids, but also the physical infrastructure of the site.
........ when even the simplest of toys are in such short supply, 2 kids play marbles whilst the other kids watch
In 2016, the force of volunteers divided into informal groups, each choosing a different area they’d like to support and a date when they’d like to deliver it. Students from the Marketing Department of Kanchanaburi University stepped forward and began providing the party days for the kids, which given their proximity in age and higher levels of youthful energy, was an amazing development for the kids. Other groups then began supporting larger infrastructure projects whilst others pledged to help with education and health care needs.
........ a marble and a camera, things that most kids take for granted, are items of desire at Dhamanurak
As for Mrs.PoorCirculation and I, well, in 2017 we finally got to relax and enjoy another birthday at the beach. However, whilst sipping beer and relaxing to the sound of waves breaking on the beach, she'd gently mentioned that she'd found another Foundation in desperate need of help in Lampoon, an area close to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand.
........ with others stepping up to the plate, Mrs. PoorCirculation finally celebrates another birthday at the beach
We certainly haven’t severed our links with the Dhamanurak Foundation, but perhaps because of Mrs. PoorCirculation’s unselfish birthday wish, the lives of many of these kids will be slightly brighter than before.
...... wherever you are in the world, kids are kids, and it's our responsibility to do all that we can to protect them
Thanks for reading along.
Riding and smiling as always …... Geoff