My good friend Dean and I made our way from Bangkok, Thailand to Chiang Mai, the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. We had just completed visits to Hong Kong, Beijing, Singapore, Seoul and a few other towns and cities in Southeast Asia. Visits to each of these places had a profound effect on my view of life.
Our trip was defined as one of “goodwill”. While we absorbed the many tourist attractions everywhere we visited, our main purpose was to bring greetings to those who we knew had sacrificed the luxury of Canadian living to dedicate themselves to helping others in need.
In Beijing we visited an orphanage of deserted children. Their parents had abandoned them because they had been born with a simple deformity, a cleft palate. The private orphanage sought sponsors who would give the needed funds to allow an American doctor to correct the birth defects of these helpless orphans so they might develop into productive citizens as defined by society’s norms.
In Bangkok, we visited a youth centre being built to attract wayward youth, much like the Yonge Street Mission in downtown Toronto. But its construction was halted due to a lack of funds. To move ahead, money was required for a simple sound system.
But in Chiang Mai the situation was different. The same financial need was there. But the impact on my life was immense. We made our way by car through several streets until we arrived at a house built by founders and our friends Roy and Avis.
Roy and Avis operated the Agape Home. This is a home for approximately 53 babies and children with, or at risk of having, HIV/AIDS. The children are given good food, much love and affection. Schooling is provided for the older children. More than 50 children from the Agape Home have been adopted internationally. About 40 Thai workers plus 12 international volunteers help give the children the quality of life they may otherwise be denied. Agape Home is a facility built on four acres of land that will enable volunteers to care for more than 100 children.
The Agape Home was very similar to a place in Uganda called Watoto, which I had connected with many years before. Watoto founders Gary and Marilyn have built a number of houses from funds provided by North American sponsors to house children who have been abandoned by their parents. These kids all have HIV/AIDS. Each dwelling has a house mother to care for six young children. These orphaned lives are fed, clothed, schooled and loved regardless of their condition or life expectancy. My wife and I had provided the funds to build a house with Watoto, called “Ruby’s House”, in memory of her mother who died from cancer.
As I entered the door to Agape Home, I was first struck by the “Tree of Life” poster on the wall. From Agape’s inception, a chart had been kept which recorded all the kids who had passed through the house. Some had died early, some lived for a few years and thankfully some were still alive because their condition had gone into remission.
While studying the Tree of Life, I felt a tug on my pant leg. A little guy no more than five years of age was trying to get my attention. As we toured the facility, he followed me everywhere not letting go of his grip on my life. With permission, I lifted him up. He was no different from any other five year old. He wanted to play, had big smiles for the visitor to his home, asked questions galore, and of course had great expectations. No doubt he was wondering if I was there to take him as my own. It was difficult to leave such need behind. I asked Roy and Avis what they required to support Agape Home. I was expecting a long list of items that I could never satisfy. But they responded with one word: bicycles! Their adopted kids didn’t have the joy of riding bicycles. Could we find the funds to buy a dozen bicycles?
When we returned to Canada, funds were sent to each place we visited. The kids in Chiang Mai got their bicycles. Many deformed and abandoned kids in Beijing were cared for. The empty youth centre in Bangkok had a sound system built in so they could attend to wayward teenagers.
I realized, though, that writing cheques is easy. For a number of years, posted on our refrigerator door was a picture of a young girl in South Africa. Our monthly donation of $25 provided food, clothing and schooling. She was very grateful and wrote to us regularly on her progress. We failed to write back with the same diligence, so we lost touch with her. I always wondered what was more important to her – the $25 or the time we invested to demonstrate we really cared about her.
Yvonne walked into my office one day. She worked in the accounting department as an Accounts Receivable Clerk. I had hired her when I was Controller, but now my role was President. Yvonne didn’t have a lot of money but she was well kept. Unlike other employees, she wasn’t raised in a middle-income home where the expected comforts of life were provided for her to enjoy. She was raised by her single mom. But her work ethic was without parallel.
Unfortunately, she was ignored and abandoned by the other employees because she was not like them. But this didn’t affect her approach to life. Standing in front of my desk, Yvonne asked, “Merv, would you be willing to sponsor me as a Big Sister?” How lucky was the child who became a little sister to Yvonne.
In a week or so, we will be sitting at our dining tables, either at home or in a nice restaurant. We will be with friends, family and a lot of food. The abundance of the harvest will be ours to indulge in.
Is there anyone in our hometown, province, country, or in some other part of the world, who during this time of celebration will be remembering you and me and giving thanks for the investment we have made in their lives?
We can make a difference. Let’s commit to doing so.