Over the last 20 years, I’ve sponsored several children through different sponsorship organizations like ChildFund and Children International. I also sponsored five children through PLAN International USA and one of them was in Thailand.
While I was sponsoring her, and before I moved to Thailand to live, my parents and I took a one month trip to the country, and one of the things I planned to do while I was in Thailand was to visit my sponsored child.
So, I contacted PLAN International USA and asked if I could visit my sponsored child, and they set up the visit with no problem at all. Many child sponsors want to visit a sponsored child, but I was surprised it was as easy to arrange as it was.
Visiting my sponsored child
On the second week I was in Thailand, we flew to Chiang Rai, which is in the northern part of Thailand. This was the closest place to my sponsored child’s village, so PLAN International USA arranged for a mini van to pick me up along with a Thai translator, as obviously my sponsored child did not speak English.
The mini van picked me up at our hotel right after breakfast as the trip to my sponsored child’s village was going to be a 3 hour drive.
We traveled on paved roads for the most part, once stopping at a gas station for a snack and a bathroom break and once for a police roadblock. Thailand has problems with drug traffickers and wildlife poachers in the north, so you find police roadblocks on most major roads.
After quick questioning though, and seeing that I was Western, we were waved through quickly. Soon after this, we left the paved roads behind and headed out into the hills. Driving on dirt roads, with field after field of rice paddies and subsistence farmers bamboo huts, it began to sink in how poor and out of touch with ‘my world’ this child was going to be.
When we finally pulled into my sponsored child’s village, the first thing I noticed was the trash. It was everywhere. The translator told me that, obviously, there was no trash pickup in these isolated areas and, because they hadn’t experienced anything any different, the response by the villagers was just to leave the trash where they stood.
Seeing my sponsored child for the first time
The mini van stopped outside a small bamboo hut on stilts, and out we climbed. Waiting in the yard of the hut were two men, a woman and three children. One of the children I knew to be my sponsored child, Boujan, and the other two her younger sisters.
One of the men was introduced first as the headman of the village, then the other man and woman, who were Boujan’s mother and father. They all seemed nervous and intimidated, although the children’s inquisitiveness shone through their nervousness.
Boujan’s mother took us up the ladder and into the bamboo hut, where she had us sit on the floor and she served us hot tea. The first thing that struck me was how little they had. The hut was one large room, with blankets and some straw mats piled up in a corner for sleeping on. Pots and pans were stacked in another corner, and clothing hung from makeshift hooks stuck into the bamboo walls.
The walls were covered in newspapers and magazine paged and I, in my cluelessness, asked them why they had chosen these pictures to put up. It dawned on me afterwards, the newspaper pages and magazine cutouts weren’t for decoration, they were to stop the wind howling through the gaps between the bamboo.
I pulled out the gifts I had bought – Barbie dolls for the older girls with several outfits, some coloring books and crayons, and a baby doll for Boujan’s youngest sister, and several t shirts for the girls. I gave her father a flashlight with batteries and a pocket knife and her mother some cooking utensils and a shirt. The girls were so excited about the gifts they couldn’t stop touching them.
As I looked around the hut, I realized they really had no toys. No dolls, no educational toys, no playthings, just a couple of scruffy exercise books from school.
I asked questions about the village and the families who live there and the headman responded. It was obvious, in this situation, the headman did all the talking and Boujan’s parents were just expected to look on and nod in agreement.
But, he was a nice man, and it was kind of touching to see his pride in his village and being headman when, outside his village in bustling Bangkok, he would be a dirt poor nobody – lost and confused and looked down upon.
After the family visit, Boujan and her sisters took me around the village and showed me their school, which had been built by PLAN. A basic few room cement block school house, it was still well constructed and clean. They had a few teaching supplies, some books and toys and maps on the walls.
Here, we also met Boujan’s teacher, who was so pleased to meet me and proud to show me the school and all the things PLAN had done for them. She talked and talked and was such a lovely woman, so I was thrilled when she whipped out a camera and began talking tons of photos of me with all the kids. And I say ‘all’ the kids as, by this time, I had a following of about 20 of them.
I gave Boujan big bags of candy I had brought and she went around handing out a couple of pieces to each child she saw. Every child was dealt with fairly, two pieces for each child and no more. As we walked through the village on our way to see the river, kids kept popping out of houses to see the ‘farang’ (Westerner), and Boujan would just as fairly give them two pieces of candy too.
At the river we sat on wooden benches and talked. Boujan and her sisters talked about school, their home, their lives, what they wanted to do. Simple things really. Learn about new countries, someday go to Bangkok, get married and have children – just like kids anywhere.
But the funniest part of the afternoon was when Boujan’s little sister crawled under the table to see my feet. Because only four of my toes were peeping out of my sandals, she came up thinking I only had four toes and much hilarity ensued. The other girls then tied four fluffy pigtails in her hair to represent my four toes.
After a couple of hours, we walked back to the mini van and here we said our goodbyes. All the kids came to wave us off, and even the teacher who took more and more photos, grinning wildly from ear to ear.
The most touching thing though, and what made me cry, was when Boujan suddenly came running to me and tried to give me back the big bag of candy. She had distributed some to every child in the village, but there was still half a bag left.
Here was a child who had almost nothing, but she thought the candy was mine and what was left should be given back to me. Her face lit up when I told her she must keep it, and she hugged me like she would never stop.
As we left the village, and I looked back over my shoulder, all I could see was the school teacher grinning from ear to ear and still taking photos and tons of kids running behind the van waving. Boujan was at the head of the group waving wildly, still clutching her candy and smiling.
Why child sponsorship is a good thing to do
If you ever have the chance to visit your sponsored child, do it. You will realize in a moment that the $30-35 a month is so much more than money to the child you are helping.
It’s a friendly face across the ocean, a message that somebody really does care. And when you visit, you will also see where that money really goes. It may not build a Western house with indoor plumbing and a television, and it may not solve all that community’s problems. But it will help build a school, sewage disposal, clean drinking water, and so much more.
Your money pooled with others’ can change the lives of many in one small village, and your visit will not only educate and surprise you, it will also change the lives of those you see. If they know that even one person cares, what a difference that makes and meeting them can show you that.