Disclaimer: Parts of this post may be hard to read. It also may be long. So I’ve warned you.
Last Sunday Michael and I traveled to Cha-am Beach, Petchaburi, with 53 children (ages 3 to 13), many of them HIV+, ten Thai staff, two other Western volunteers (CJ from Malaysia and Allison from England), and the entire cabin crew from a Quantas Airlines flight. Are you intrigued yet? I was.
Three hours after leaving Bangkok traffic behind, we arrived at Usanee’s husband’s family’s guesthouse and restaurant in Cha-am, Thailand. The Quantas cabin crew, with only three hours sleep from a flight delay, were only in Thailand for one day. As supporters of Mercy, they sponsored this special trip to the beach for the children. On Sunday, after everyone arrived, the “Aussies” took all 53 children swimming in the Gulf of Thailand (a five-minute walk from the guesthouse), bought them ice cream cones, gave them individual gift packs, and cooked them a huge, seafood barbecue dinner.
CJ, Allison, Michael, and I were invited on the trip because…well, just because that’s how it works at Mercy. Usanee, the executive director, came to us earlier in the month and asked us to join the group for several days. We don’t ask questions when opportunities arise, we find out when and where to be, pack our bags, and go. We were all so glad we did!
The Quantas crew were lovely people, and as the day wore on, we got to know them individually. One crew member told me they work with AIDS kids in Africa too. One of the crew, on his own, had shopped for, purchased, and made up 53 gifts bags. He had packed them ALL in his luggage and schlepped them to Cha-am for these kids.
We swam, played soccer, laughed, played games, and the children crawled all over us. The barbecue was fired up and everyone pitched in to help. Early evening arrived and our joy was tempered when the kids suddenly began to line up. Usanee explained the children were lining up for their medicine: a sobering reality to our perfect day.
Medicine dispensed, we set the picnic tables for eighty people and feasted on crabs, rice, kabobs, and pineapple. The Aussies drank beers while the children laughed and played. What a picture it made!
I glanced over after dinner and noticed the children lining up again. We looked at one another quizzically. They were in rows this time, as if for choir practice. Although the children were staying all week, Usanee explained that the Quantas crew had to leave soon and the children were going to sing them a parting song: a humble gift for all that the Quantas crew had done for them.
Usanee said to us: “This song is a sad one. It is about how the children feel without a mother or father. How it makes them feel different. And how it makes them wonder what it would be like to have parents. ”
The children sang and the rest of us were thankful for the darkness as we feverishly wiped away our tears. Of course, we had little miss bossy Tukattan, age three, in the front row, pushing the little boy next to her, so some things are the same all over the world.
When they finished, Usanee spoke again. She told us that the last line of the song could be interpreted as:
“Mother, wherever you are, I know you are watching me.”
The children ran to say goodbye to their sponsors before they boarded the bus back to the airport, and everyone began crying. It had been such a marvelous day and the children were overwhelmed and then sad to see it end. To give everyone privacy, I walked over and began to help the house-moms wash dishes when a woman on the Quantas crew walked over to me, a crying kid on each arm. She had a pleading look in her eye. I knew that look. She said to me, “They are ALL crying. Is it okay?” Her eyes pleaded with me. I knew what she was thinking, “Are we doing more harm than good? Is this enough?” I’ve fought those same demons. I gently nodded and told her it was okay. It would be okay, I told her. What else could I say?
Getting ready to leave Mercy Centre for the sea. The children are excited as the big bus arrives!
The entire Quantas cabin crew in the water with the children!
The children line up to sing their farewell song.