Dear friends, family and supporters,
A changed man is writing this letter. Firstly a very big thanks for your contribution to the foundation this year to make the trip possible. If you could have gone with me, could see what these eyes have seen. If you would have seen the happiness in the faces with your own eyes, it would have changed you too!
Let's start at the beginning. The donations went beyond expectations and we have the entire “project Baan Mae Gon” paid for and we even have left overs. We already partially have 5 packs ready at my place and these will go to 5 flood affected orphanages. That's what we will do in late January and February. Of course I will add pictures to this email and when you are reading the story you will understand what picture fits with what part of the story.
In the month of December Nion (co founder) and her volunteers went shopping at the Cambodian border, where they bought shoes, clothes, mattresses and blankets for a fraction of the price that they are offered in Bangkok. In this form she is a real Dutchy.
At the end of December and the first week of January Scott, the loyal volunteer and I went and purchased loads of stuff in the Chinese district in Bangkok, where everything is for sale what a child could wish for; from badminton rackets to school books. Little dolls and cars to note books, pens and lego. Footballs, clay, markers, crayons, hand sewing kits and balloons. A pick up truck full! Later we went to the Thai Macro store and we bought everything for the stomach like dried mushrooms and noodles, but also toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and shampoo. Everything we bought in large quantities and complete boxes. An additional 500 kilos of rice and things like sanitary napkins… yes, send the two men on the road in Thailand to buy a large pack of sanitary napkins, of course that was a lot of giggling and red cheeks.
Everything was collected at my friend David’s home, which has a large garden and all in all it was a big lorry full. The truck came in the morning of Wednesday the 11th of January to go 800 kilometers up North towards Mae Sariang to deliver it all to the local police station. The night before I slept at David’s house and was spoiled by his wife with a 5 star diner and a drink afterwards. Woke up early in the morning to join up David, David's house guest Jasper, the driver and some more helping hands in order to get the whole thing loaded.
The next day we; David, Scott and I, left to the north in the luxury 4x4 car of David and Jasper at the last moment decided to come along, something he certainly did not regret on the way back down. I had misunderstood it was about a 7 hour drive... that turned out to be wrong. 7 hours to Tak (city in the North) and then we still had to cross the mountains. This was a further 5 hours on roads that were not the best and unfortunately it was already dark so we did not know how beautiful the surroundings were where we drove through. Fortunately we had more than enough time on the way back during the day and I can say I have never seen such beautiful scenery. Mountain after mountain after mountain after mountain. Amazing!
We arrived very late in the village of Mae Sariang and after the bags had been put in the guest house, we stretched our legs (after 13 hours in the car) and enjoy some good food found at 1 in the morning. Great country it is! Then to bed and an early rise to meet up with the rest of the volunteers, so we can load the stuff to five pick up trucks to take us up the mountain to Baan Mae Gon.
But it was a real Friday the 13th because when we arrived at our car it had a flat tire. And with the mountain to go over and to cross three rivers with a small spare tire did not really seem sensible. Thailand is Thailand, and within five minutes a young man stopped in student uniform to ask if David needed any help. He took the tire off and went on the back of motorbike and drove to the only car business. To all of our amazement they arrived an hour later, bringing back a fixed tire. A rubber plug was shot in the hole and fixed it. Amazingly, the fix kept and we went safely over the mountain and went back three days later.
I had the brilliant idea that if it was ‘only’ 42 km to the school, that we could just as easily drive up and down every day and could sleep comfortably in the guesthouse... After two hours on muddy paths and across rivers, along cliffs and through deep puddles, narrow paths the driving up and down to the guesthouse idea was quickly gone. It was over two hours before the 42 km had been conquered and it was the most beautiful ride ever. The mountains, the scenery, the streams and rivers, the rice fields, the buffalos, the bamboo; it was incredibly beautiful.
When we reached the village we saw that we had landed in the middle of nowhere. A few huts on stilts, it was no more than that. A nice cold rippling river separated the village from the school which was built on a hill side.
The school existed of a few older buildings, and a pair of new ones. Made of teak wood, the very expensive wood that is local to the region, but the buildings had not much in them.
Some of the children stood at a little distance to watch the whole caravan, but as soon as you made eye contact, they looked away or ran away or they gazed in fear. Later we understood that for many children we were the first white people they had ever seen! And then they saw a fine example like me! That's a shock! Completely understandable...
We arrived around lunchtime and Nikki the cook for the next days had jumped in the kitchen and had created a delicious lunch. She is a young Thai lady and girlfriend of our Engineer Ryan, student of Nion, she teaches Thai to foreigners. We had the lunch and had time to meet each other; most people did not know each other.
We had a diverse group. And may it be said that everyone who was there as volunteer had paid all their own food and drinks and journey.
We had three Dutchmen, Jasper, David and me. An Englishman Scott. A Norwegian named Justien, also a student of Nion. Similarly, Michelle, an Irish lady. Then we had Ryan the Canadian, our engineer. A Malaysian guy named Nantha. There was Trent, an American doctor and our medical support. An Austrian named Hubert and seven students of Chulalongkorn University accompanying us to translate but also to help with cooking. They taught the children Thai and English and the villagers about safe sex and how to deal with their garbage. And of course ‘mother’ Nion, co founder.
I thought it was very nice that this year we even did some teaching and educating, something I would like to do more of in coming years. Not only giving books but also actually spend time teaching the kids.
There was a sign on the school grounds with "Education is the foundation of life". And so it is. Education is the key to a better future. The Kharma Foundation is growing every year and we have more wishes and more goals. Teaching kids is one of them. The foundation was something that was thought of five years ago in a hospital bed, to see that grow so much in such a short time is awesome.
18 strangers joining together, rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. Everyone did their job. No moaning, no complaining. Of course there were problems and setbacks, but together we solved it all. It was in one word: perfect.
After lunch, we started our work. Everyone got a task of Nion before they set off to this school, so we knew what to do. Everybody started and everything went well. David and Jasper were the mushroom house builders and in two days created two well-filled houses, the huts were there already, but they did the engineering of the shelves and the rest.
Ryan the engineer and a team of people like Nantha, Jostein and Hubert sawed and hammered beds for the girls that before had slept on the floor. We also purchased and fixed mosquito screens on all windows and doors to stop dengae and malaria mosquitos from going inside, which are not uncommon in the area. Scott and I helped everywhere, but the first day we made two stairs as the morning dew made the red clay quite slippery and many times the children would slip and fall on their backsides. For the first time in years I actually performed manual labour and it felt good.
The Aiesec students gave lessons to the eager kids and so the A, B, C's and 1, 2, 3’s were heard echoing through the small valley, what gave a great background tune.
Nikki, Nion and Michelle were the kitchen princesses and every day they cooked food for both the children, the teachers, the villagers that came to help and our breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each time around 140 mouths to feed. All the food was paid for by the volunteers. The children were delighted every time that there was not only rice with chillies on the menu, but then there was soup, then delicious chicken, or Thai beef salad etc etc. Compliments to the chef and her helpers!
The first night everyone was satisfied. Diner was good, work was on schedule and with the trip and the labour we felt tired. Tired, but satisfied. Everyone? No! David had his car parked next to the river just outside the school grounds, where also most tents were set up for the volunteers to sleep. He opened all the doors, put on some nice tunes, started a campfire, and actually there was the birth of the first Kharma Foundation party!
All volunteers came to the fire and the atmosphere was good, of course partly due some alcoholic beverages. It was a perfect day! No other word, just perfect.
I forget to tell you that after the hard work we wanted to shower. A smile appeared on the teacher's face and he pointed us to the river and a friendly wink as in 'success' .. No shower, just the old fashioned way of a bar of soap and a river. I found a little bucket and so went on in to the river that was not much deeper as to your knees. For the first time in my life I ever washed like this and I felt great, among many prying eyes of the children of course.
Delicious, cold, clean sweet water.. And the surroundings!! The mountains in the background. It was like a movie with us as the leading roles.
The second day, awoken with a little hang over and it was back to work after a nice breakfast. We fixed the roof in the boys room so that the mosquitoes could not get inside, then finished the mushroom huts and Scott taught English to the kids. The villagers came to help create the fish pond with cement and the frog pond. These are also sponsored by all of us via the foundation. The fish have already been purchased. The cement needs to harden. Next month it should all be ready. We have also purchased three pigs to be fattened. The school will take what they need of the pig, sell the rest of the meat and buy a new pig as they do not have a fridge to store the meat.
I went with a group of older boys to the jungle to cut bamboo and one of them, I guess he was about twelve years old was teaching me how to split bamboo.
Scott’s wife is 7.5 months pregnant and he wanted to contact her to see how she was. I wanted to join as I smelt adventure. One of the teachers arranged three motorcycles and so a hellish ride began. The ride there by car was already crazy, but to do the same on a motorcycle was a bizarre rollercoaster. We needed over one hour ride to the top of a mountain just to get a phone signal, we were that remote. It was fantastic, scary but fantastic. Slipping and sliding through rivers and through streams where we sometimes were up to our thighs in the water. The noise of the exhaust underwater was awesome and still our faithful mechanical animals kept going forward. What an experience! Luckily everything went well with Scott’s wife, the teacher himself was happy that he could call and check upon his 6 month old baby in a village further down. I have no children or a pregnant woman so I called my parents.
On return we were greeted as heroes that had been unafraid to take the trip and there was already some betting on how many times we had slammed on our buttocks. Unfortunately for them, not one time!
Dinner was fine again and we got a dancing show provided by the kids. There was dancing on a primitive stage to Thai music via a rented speaker system. All power came from diesel powered generators. The children did their very best and it was very entertaining to see. We all clapped and cheered. A few times this trip I was really touched and moved to a little tear, this was one of those moments. The joy in the girls eyes, the energy the boys possessed to dance with the wildest and funniest moves. I only have 50% of my testosterone left due to the surgery five years ago, that gave birth to the Kharma Foundation... So I am somewhat easily moved nowadays. What touched me too was that the hard knocks like David and Scott later admitted to me that there were moments when they also had a tear to hide. It is touching to be apart of something this great.
But it was the kids that made it touching and are so cute. A few sweet little girls I would estimate three or four years old who not dare to say a word to you and just giggle. There was a set of twin boys of around three years with such naughty and cheeky faces. My greatest friend was deaf and mute boy of about 4 that followed me around in the last two days and found everything interesting I did. Crooked ear, an older boy I learned the art of bamboo splitting of with a scared ear. The hip hop boys were totally hooked on David with his crazy dancing. He made all the children laugh but the group of little boys wanted to copy every move and even challenged him when he took a break; David in his late 40’s has a lot of energy but yes 4 of those 10 year old boys had just wee little larger batteries. The dancing dolls, the babies. All the kids were funny, lovely and worth every penny we invested.
The best day was the last day when the school had planned a sports-day for the children to show how much they appreciated that we were there. Let me repeat again, thanks to you all.
There were two teams: Team Orange and Team Blue. Not hard to estimate what team the Dutch guys belonged to of course. Unfortunately I had no Holland shirt with me, only a Feyenoord shirt, so that had to do.
The Sports Day consisted of a football match and a Thai footvolley sport called Takraw. There was a tug of war between the boys, girls and mixed with the volunteers.
There was a football match between volunteers, of course won by the Orange team! There were some funny games like pushing a banana in the other person’s mouth while blindfolded and the funniest was a race where there were three stages. The first was to run for a few meters, stop and kneel to take a sweet of a plate filled with water without use of hands, a little run, a 1 baht coin found in a plate full of talcum powder again without use of hands, a bit of a run and then eating a large handful of biscuits which could only be washed down with a thick jelly-like stuff.
I had a lot of fun when I saw the kids do it, not knowing that it was planned all along that I had to do it the next round, against David, Trent and Nantha. The pictures are speaking for themselves! It was so funny to see all the children encouraging, jumping up and down; we had great fun.
Then came the big distribution of the stuff we brought with us with 5 pick ups. We had mattresses and blankets for all children, we had shoes and jackets. We had mosquito nets and little things like candy, cookies, etc. It was great to see three year old kids stumbling away trying to carry everything. The mattresses were twice as big as them, but all of them succeeded. We also had sweets for them to enjoy.
Children from such poverty eat less sugar and of course it certainly had its effect. The famous sugar rush! I was DJing somewhat via the Ipod through the speaker system, the sun had already set and the Aiesec students had taken off all the balloons of the stage and given them to the children. When I looked up at the sports field, I saw something I had never seen. Approximately 50 children had more energy radiated of them than 20,000 ecstatic football fans or a sport stadium full of gabbers. They bounced up and down, running, jumping, dancing, rolling, screaming, a chaos, but really super nice and heart warming. And of course our own Dave the clown who danced in between all the kids followed by his group of young fans. It was FANTASTIC!
A more beautiful goodbye we could not have wished for. Everyone, children, teachers, and all of us had a huge smile on our faces. I really had a few tears of joy when I saw all the kids looked so happy. 5 years after its launch, the foundation is an adult, we are doing well, we want to grow, we want more!
Baan Mae Gon has stolen my heart. Our hearts. I'm thinking about making an annual return and see where and how we can help each year. But this we have to think about in the next few months.
It was great. Really. Life changing! I hope this year to launch a few brands that will become sponsors to the foundation. The Kharma Foundation will be my life's work!
Thank you all for wanting to be a part of this.
Now we have still some to go before 2011’s Christmas action is finished. We are in the process of picking the orphanages that we are going to help with the emergency kits. These will include school supplies, sporting equipment, rice (100 to 200 kilo per package), canned food and maybe even blankets. Once this is done you get an email and of course the accompanying photos.
On behalf of Nion, the children, the teachers, the villagers, I thank you all very very very much for your support. Please send this letter to your friends. Not to show them how good you are by donating, but much more to get this small foundation more famous and to increase awareness. With all of us together, we can accomplish so much.
I would like to end with a good saying that I heard when I was in the mountains...
"Do for others just a bit more than you would do for yourself and the world will be a better place ..." And isn’t that what we all want in the end?
A small (incomplete) list of items purchased and tasks are completed:
• Mattresses and pillows
• Sanitary towels
• Hand-Sewing Kits
• Badminton racquets
• Board games
• Duplo lego for kids
• Wood for beds, roofing
• Mosquito nets
• Window and door mosquito resistance
• Storage cabinets for clothes
• Dried mushrooms
• Canned food such as tuna, mackerel, beans
• Oil for cooking
• Building beds so the children do not sleep on the floor, due to vermin and snakes
• Digging of stairs so that the kids can decent and go up safely
• Making a roof cover so mosquitoes stay away
• All windows and doors in the girls room and boys room with mosquito cover
• Created two mushroom houses (we had 2000 pieces)
• The fish pond and frog pond
• Teaching in Thai, English lessons to the children
• Provide information about safe sex, sponsored by the famous Mr. Meechai, who provided free condoms to us
• A good full meal three times a day for children