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December 24, 2008 > Sending Love to Thailand

Sending Love to Thailand

By Denny Stein

"I already know we are having rice for breakfast. Rice is the staple food here.
Minus the one dish at every meal, rice is the only food."

Howen Jou wrote these words while spending a week at Samuel Home in Southeast Asia. He is one of seven Fremont high school students who traveled to the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia, where they lived with, and taught, the children of Samuel Home.

In Southeast Asia, where the borders of Thailand, Burma, Laos, and Vietnam meet, the Golden Triangle was one of the major centers for opium production in the world. Though poppy growing and opium manufacture have been all but extinguished in the region, the aftermath of its destructive market still affects the people of the area, especially its children. Many adults are addicted to opium and heroin and children are orphaned, abandoned, or need care while their parents go through rehabilitation.

Samuel Home was started by Operation Dawn, a drug rehabilitation mission, which has missions in Thailand, Taiwan and on the west coast of the United States. Operation Dawn has a reputation for high rates of success, but while the adult addicts go through the program, the children of these families have nowhere to go and no one to care for them.

Here in Fremont, the Wisdom Culture and Education Organization (WCEO), was founded in 1994 to offer Chinese language and culture educational opportunities to the area's young Chinese-Americans. The WCEO has partnered with Samuel Home, in Chiang Rai, Thailand, to give the American students a chance to travel, live and work with the children, in a program called Sending Love to Thailand. For the children of Samuel Home, and its staff, the American teens provided extra hands with the daily work and household chores, tutors for the children, lessons in English, and new games and songs. For the California teens, the experience of Samuel Home and its residents was life changing.

Rebecca Gao, one of the WCEO teen ambassadors, described Ah Xiang, a fourteen year old girl at Samuel Home: "average features, a short haircut with two sky blue hairclips and a seemingly bland personality. She rarely spoke, she just smiled, neither happy or sad. I brushed her off as uninteresting." Yet Rebecca noticed Ah Xiang everywhere, helping the smaller children with their clothes or homework, cleaning up, carrying food to older adults, studying late into the night and doing extra work early in the morning. Ah Xiang was quietly everywhere. In an interview, Rebecca learned that Ah Xiang wants to be a United Nations translator some day. Yet, unlike our American teens, at this point in the lives of the Thai children, these ambitions seem unattainable.

In Thailand, one must have proof of citizenship to attend college, plus the necessary funds to pay tuition. The children of Samuel Home, though they have lived in Thailand most of their lives, do not have the necessary governmental papers. Neither do they have the $600 to pay for the citizenship papers. Even more immediate is the cost of elementary, $10 a month, and high school, $30 a month, tuition that must be paid by Samuel Home for each child to attend the public schools.

A child who cannot attend school, or go on to college, is doomed to the same life of heavy labor that her parents led, though probably less lucrative because the poppy/opium trade no longer exists here. The people of the area grow corn on the steep rocky hillsides, and work each day to cultivate and harvest the crops by hand. The corn that comes down the mountains to the village is shucked, ground and prepared without machines of any sort. It is hard and tedious work, yet it is all that stands between the people and starvation. Without the advantages of higher education, these children are trapped in a cycle of poverty, as Rebecca Gao wrote, "they will watch blankly as their chance scatters as a handful of salt cast onto the ground. Then they will stoop down to pick up the salt, pinch by pinch, knowing that they'll never be able to succeed."

The seven teens from Fremont have worked hard to be able to bring the story of Samuel Home and its residents back here. They have taken courses in journalism, photography and video. They want to not only bring awareness of the situation, but also raise enough money for the graduating 9th graders to register for citizenship, plus provide any other assistance possible to improve the quality of life for the inhabitants of Samuel Home. They are now beginning their fundraising efforts and have set a goal of $7000.

The seven teen-agers, from three area high schools, were chosen competitively for the 2008 trip: Wilson Tsai, Christopher Lin, Howen Jou, Wan Ying Liu, Rebecca Wei-Wei Gao, Grace Ann Lee, and Tammy Su. Angeline Chen and Tingyu Chen served as their support team, and Mei Chih Tasi, Vivien Jen, and Tommy Tsai were the team leaders. After seeing and hearing their presentation at the WCEO office, it was clear that this cultural and educational trip had indeed given these teen-ages new-found wisdom. In Rebecca's words: "In the cycle of poverty, only education can break the chain, or each generation will again be denied their opportunity to go further. . . . While we may not have been in the exact same situation, we can always find parallels between them and ourselves. These children are worth knowing and, in a better world, might receive that opportunity."

Inquiries and donations can be sent to: Wisdom Culture and Education Organization, 44577 South Grimmer Blvd., Fremont, CA 94538. The 2008 Sending Love to Thailand team will be very glad to bring their presentation to your group and arrangements can be made by calling (510) 252-9226, or emailing the Director, Mei-Chih Lai wceod@sbcglobal.net. The WCEO's website is www.wceo.org.

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