Bringing “Relief” Around Us

The sponsor of our Guesthouse – a project ready to start – kindly agreed for us to use her money to face this emergency instead, to make sure that the poorest people around us are safe. According to our sponsor, it’s the poor that suffer the most during a pandemic like this.

Our sponsor was very concerned, and asked us to buy enough supplies to provide for the poor for 3 months, because if corona virus comes to Sangkhlaburi, we will not be able to conduct any outside activities, including relief work, for some time.

As you learned in the previous article, Zia Caterina is here at Baan Unrak, and when she heard about our relief work in the communities around us, she was eager to join and learn about the families we support. So she jumped in the back of the pickup truck of our expedition, with her characteristic joy, color, and humor!

For 4 days, our children and Zia left Baan Unrak with our pickup truck full of food provisions and reached the surrounding villages of bamboo huts in the jungle, among plantations of rubber trees.

Along the way, our children found a smart way to get cover from the scorching sun…!

We also brought food supplies to our Weaving Project workers, as the Baan Unrak Weaving Center is currently closed.

Among the people we help, some are disabled, others are too old, left alone, and not able to work anymore.

The children that travelled with Zia introduced her to the villagers. The contrast was quite striking, between Zia Caterina’s bold dresses, flower hat, balloons and bells and the people she met, most of whom may never before have met such a personality.

With no doubt, the encounter with Zia Caterina will remain in the memory of the villagers for a long time.

Zia charmed everyone as she went along, relating to their stories and asking questions about their children and lives.

The woman you see above was so happy and eager to give back to us, that to express her gratitude she offered us the only things she could: the fruits from a tree in her garden. Our children were very happy for it, and collected the fruits using a very clever tool!

Here you can see the stories from some of our former Relief expeditions:

Our Outreach and Relief Efforts

Relief Expedition in Flooded Burma

Relief Work for Rural Education

Thinking about our friends far away

These days, connection is more important than ever. With school closed, we are all here at home together. We are concerned about our friends and families near and far away and so, in our way we are sending our love to you through colorful messages, mantras and positive thoughts.

“Everything is for the best, THE BEST, THE BEST, THE BEST!”, is our motto.

Shortly before the virus closed borders around the world, Zia Caterina arrived to Baan Unrak.

Having her with us is like having our own Mary Poppins! “Zia” means “Auntie” in Italian, she is our Italian Zia, and from every corner of the Home of Joy you can hear the children shout “Zia, Zia!” as she marches along with her tinkling bells.

She arrived with her bold polka dot dresses, her big flowery hat, bells on her wrists and around her neck, her wand with balloons and a seemingly bottomless bag filled with cookies, superhero cards, and accessories for arts and craft projects. Just like the Banks family in Mary Poppins, we are all in awe of her.

According to Zia:

“There is a treasure in everybody you meet. Everybody is a miracle.” 

Zia Caterina has been witnessing miracles for over 20 years now.

In Italy, Zia Caterina is a very special taxi driver (for Love, but we’ll tell you the whole story next time!). Her Taxi is a magical playground, something out of a fairy tale. It looks a bit like this:

The SuperHeroes

She drives patients – her “SuperHeroes” – and their families from all over Italy, who come to Florence for cancer treatment. She also takes them on exciting tours of the city, she visit them at their homes, and invite them to hers too.

Zia’s “SuperHeroes” love her so much, as she provides color, love, laughter and fun not just to their lives but to the lives of their parents also.

The “SuperHeroes” have their very own caricatures that we are all coming to know and love, and we are connecting with them through our art classes every day.

When we finish painting, Zia posts our children’s works on social media, so that her “SuperHeroes” can see them and connect with us here at Baan Unrak. Friendships forged through art, from Italy to Thailand.

Even the smaller ones come to join us at the library, a space of wonder.

Due to the lockdown, Zia is unable to go home to Italy to be with her “SuperHeroes” now, so we are letting them know that we are supporting them, thinking about them and sending them our best wishes for their recovery. They miss Zia so much, we know, so we are very grateful to have her here.

The Super Spreader of… Love!

Zia’s mission is to become the “Super spreader of… Love!” and she does this so well. We all feel her love. She gives us her time generously, she showers us with kind, motivating words, colorful toys and tokens. Zia believes that Baan Unrak is the right place for her to be right now, where she is truly needed. If she was in Italy, she would not be allowed to go to the hospital to be with her SuperHeroes, so we are her SuperHeroes now, and we feel her love.

In the banner that the children drew and painted with Zia, “Covid The Virus” looks like a scary monster. But, as Zia taught us, Covid is not bad, he is just very very ugly, and has a very long stinger in its tail. Yet, if we put masks and gloves, Virus cannot sting us, and flowers will come out of it!

The Game: What If… (Our Corona Virus Preventive Quarantine)

The government asked us to stay in preventive quarantine, and we decided to do it with joy. “Let’s play the game: what if Corona virus comes to Baan Unrak?

It was a very good setting to learn how to change our bad habits and adopt new good ones, such as always washing our hands, coughing in our elbow, keeping safe distance between us, using only our personal stuff, etc.
The government knows how Baan Unrak is part of almost every aspect of the life in Sangkhlaburi. So, while protecting us and the community, we are living our quarantine as a game.
The children’s spirits are high, they feel energized by all the new teachings that Didi has been giving them, and all the things she is telling them to reinforce their body and mind.

The Game

Didi said: “What if… Corona virus comes here? We have to be prepared!” And so she conceived a game, a joyful game that would teach the children all the measures to take in case the virus reaches our village.

Didi taught the children about the many precautions to take: for example, we must avoid coughing in our hands, as we would be spreading germs. Instead, we cough in our elbow. As we now know, corona virus is spread when mucus and saliva droplets are ejected from our mouth or nose as we cough or sneeze. Therefore, using our elbows would prevent easy transmission.

As we are learning, we also recognize that we tend to touch our face quite often. In order to try and avoid this, we help each other by pointing and shouting “HEY!!!” to whoever touches his/her face.

This way, we are living this moment of general concern… as a game! All for the children. And this is a serious game, that prepares us to fight the virus.

We put all this into a song and choreographed a dance, to make it even more fun and memorable.

The children also wrote positive affirmations. They wrote them in Italian too…

…because  Zia Caterina is with us, and so she can send them to her children (her SuperHeroes) in Italy. Perhaps she will put some of these banners in her very special taxi back home!

We will talk more about Zia Caterina in a coming article, but for now, we can tell you that she came to Baan Unrak at the right moment, bringing extra joy to our children.

We even have our own slogan now! One person says: “Everything is for…” and everybody replies: “… the best, the best, the best!”

The Bath Mantra

Didi also saw this situation as an opportunity to do things she had never done with the children before. One of these is to teach them the yogic Bath Mantra.

How it works:
After the bath, with the body still dripping water, you chant the mantra facing a source of light. For this purpose, the sun coming up in the morning radiates a very beneficial light.

These mornings the children have been taking the boat to an island on the lake, just in front of Baan Unrak farm.

They first do their collective meditation there, then the asanas (body postures, yoga as exercise) and finally, as the sun rises, they take a bath in the lake. Coming out of the water still fresh from the night, the children chant the Bath Mantra all together.

They love this new morning routine, which they do separately, one day the boys, the next the girls.

Cleaning Home

We also took advantage of this situation to perform the general cleaning of our Home. We deep cleaned our kitchen, moving everything out.

We also introduced new soap dispensers.

Before we eat, we now sit while Didi speaks to all of us, sharing some thoughts and also checking that everyone has their own bottle of water, plate and spoon with their own name on it.

We sing Baba Nam Kevalam, the infinite love vibration is all there is, we thank for the food we have, and then we start eating, forming smaller groups around the dining hall.

Special Meditations

Elisabeth, a former volunteer at Baan Unrak, recently had a stroke. When Didi got the news, she decided to sing for her, changing the way we perform our meditations.

Now we all sit in circle, we close our eyes and concentrate that, right in the middle of our meditation hall, Elisabeth is there, and we send her good vibrations.

Didi didn’t hear from Raphael, her husband, for a few days, until a new message arrived: Elisabeth is still alive. She was supposed to die, but she is still living, he said. So we keep singing.

Now we do the same also before eating. We sing Baba Nam Kevalam and keep on meditating for Elisabeth.

This is an important lesson for us: during an epidemic as this one, even if we have many problems ourselves, we can’t stop helping others.

Teenager’s Self-Discovery Workshop

Hi, this is Sandy. I am here again to share about my time and work with the children at Baan Unrak this month.

Luckily, I have the privilege of meeting so many amazing people with whom to share the amazing work Didi, the staff and volunteers are doing for the children at Baan Unrak.

The Workshop

Last year we discussed the aspects of self-discovery with high school children. This year, Didi and I sat down and decided that we should give a similar workshop to the children in middle school and early high school years.

The workshop will take place over a number of months, each month we will conduct workshops on different topics and this time it was about puberty, reproduction and related infections and illnesses, dealing with pressure from peers, boyfriend/girlfriend and more. It is conducted separately for girls and boys. This is purposely arranged to encourage children to ask questions.

We started with some ground rules and ensured everyone that this was a safe space. I normalized talking about puberty, intimacy and prevention by explaining to everyone that every person to their left and right, inside and outside this home, all the volunteers who come here and everyone they will meet in their lives will go or have gone through these changes. It is a normal and a very natural human process and it is encouraged that everyone asks questions, no matter how small or how silly it sounds.

Some children shared that they had learned this topic at school and some had not. They were attentive and showed genuine interest throughout the day. They were not shy to share and ask questions. They have noticed their bodies changing. They have boyfriends or girlfriends now. They don’t like the body odor that comes with puberty. Why are their bodies ready to reproduce so early? The difference between protection for male-female couples and same-gender couples and a lot of questions about prevention of diseases and illnesses. They also had a very heated argument amongst themselves about the appropriate age to get married. It was such a pleasure to have such an amazing audience.

The positive effect of these workshops result in many different ways. Often times children, either alone or in a group would come up to me and ask me questions. Some have even asked me at what time they can sit and talk to me privately about their anxiety which give them sleepless nights, or feeling sad from misunderstandings with friends. I expect future workshops to result in the same positive curiosity.

There are many interesting workshops coming up this year so stay tuned!!

And… a Special Treat

I know how much the children of Baan Unrak love the vegetarian burgers from Baan Unrak Cafe and Restaurant.

More and more people are happy to contribute to this treat, so during my visits and workshops at Baan Unrak, I always try to make sure that they are rewarded.

The children were thrilled as they got to enjoy the delicious vegetarian hamburgers, ice cream and snacks in January and again in February. We would like to thank our kind hearted sponsors who made this happen: Atikrit Chanjavanakul and family, Joe Baker, Viren Tiwari, Jennie Williams and Lauren Buyskes for their generous sponsorship.

After the delicious meal, the children even challenged Jennie and Lauren to some friendly table tennis and card games!

What’s Going On at Baan Unrak Farm?

We’ve been very lucky to have a couple of tireless veterinarians volunteers at Baan Unrak. Giusy and Matteo came all the way from Italy, and helped us a lot with our goats!

First, they assessed the general condition of the 63 goats: 20 of them could give milk, however, some suffered from mastitis, an inflammatory reaction of the udder. Thus they first cured them, while also sterilizing young male goats.

With these initial tasks done, Giusy and Matteo ignited the sparkle to implement a new project at Baan Unrak:

Milking our Goats

With the help of Baan Unrak farmers and teenagers, our veterinarians volunteers created an ingenious device to facilitate the milking process.

First, a colored thread was put around the neck of the goats that can give milk, in order to quickly recognize them among all.

Then, from the goats’ house they would be accompanied out two at a time. Bamboo poles mark the path to the milking station where, while eating good food – cereals and rice – the goats are milked.

When the milking job is done, as a thank you, the goats are awarded with a tasty yellow flower.

It wasn’t easy in the beginning, but the goats are quickly getting used and, according to our veterinarians, soon they will be waiting in line to be milked, and the milk production will increase considerably by sticking long enough to the process: hopefully, providing goats milk and yoghurt for all of Baan Unrak children!

Once the whole process was tried and tested, the children were eager to come down at the farm to see it.

So one late afternoon we were all waiting for the goats to come back from their daily pasture across the lake. The children got immediately involved in the milking operations helping the farmers, and snuggling the goats!

Then, on Sunday morning, we went back for more…

Goat Therapy!

And then we took a walk around our beautiful farm, across the fields where Baan Unrak farmers grow crops by the lake.

The Joy of Painting

The afternoon painting workshop with Irene has become a daily unmissable appointment for a group of very passionate children.

The venue is the quiet space of the library, among wooden shelves full of books and a relaxing green floor, with views of trees and the lake from the big windows and the sun that comes shining in.

Sometimes, even the little ones come to unleash their creative vein..!

Little Artists At Work

Another day, another artwork

Some of the Works

And a Good Story…

A sponsor came to visit Baan Unrak all the way from Australia. After the collective meditation, Didi showed her the paintings made by the children, and the sponsor immediately fell in love with one in particular, so much that she decided to buy it!

Em, the artist child, was called right away to come back to the meditation room. Here he confessed that, proud of his drawing, his intention was to give it as a present to Didi.

He then accepted happily to sell it, promising that he would have done another one, even more beautiful, for Didi the next day.

Painted Bags

The paintings also decorate shopping bags that will be sold to support Baan Unrak Children’s Home.

Some of these painted shopping bags are already flying to Italy with our two veterinarians volunteers that just left.

Stay tuned to read about what our veterinarians friends have done here at Baan Unrak… in the next blog article!

The Goats of Baan Unrak on Noah’s Ark

On Sunday morning we went to visit our goats at the farm by the lake. Walking under the sun down the hill, the lake looked so beautiful…

We met the goats in their wood and bamboo house in the farmers’ village. And it felt as if the goats were waiting for us! The children sneaked in and started playing with them.

Then we all jumped on the goats’ floating house for a great adventure on the water.

Sailing!

Guided by our farmer named Radio – and powered by a newly donated engine – we sailed across the lake looking for meadows for our goats to graze.

The bamboo floating house was fully loaded with children and goats. It was a scene that resembled Noah’s Ark!

We finally found the perfect place, so we moored the floating house and, goats first, children then, one by one jumped down on mainland.

Our goats were so happy to graze freely in those vast meadows.

And the children were emulating them, jumping around just like… happy goats!

Heading Back…

All good things come to an end. And so, very soon it was already time to leave our funny goats to their grazing and head back. Our farmer brought the children back on the boat, while the goats remained on the other side of the lake till the late afternoon. The children were still very excited on the trip back to Baan Unrak.

It was an unforgettable Sunday morning… wasn’t it?!

Update:

We are lucky to have with us two new volunteers at Baan Unrak. They are veterinarians, and will help us to take even better care of our dear goats!

Here you can read the story of our special goat Lucky.