Baan San Fan: Making Dreams Come True

On my second to last day in Chiang Mai, I decided it was time for a change. I was ready to go to the south of Thailand, but I wasn’t ready to lay on a beach for a whole month. I decided that I should do another volunteer program. I landed upon Baan San Fan, an orphanage that is located about two hours north of Phuket. I quickly booked a flight and within 24 hours, I was back in the jungle at Baan San Fan!

Normally, volunteers go to the orphanage as a group (churches, college sports teams, families, etc.). However, I went by myself and ended up being the only volunteer that they had for the 10 days that I was there! This definitely added to the experience because I felt completely ingrained in the lives of this close Thai family. Right now the orphanage has 20 kids and it is run by a lovely couple, Gai and Sam. Here is their story:

On December 26, 2004, an earthquake off the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra created a massive tsunami which caused horrific devastation in several countries, including Thailand. The Phang Nga province was hit worst, killing over 5,000 people and leaving several hundred orphans. A lovely couple, Sam and Gai (who lived just a few hours away), dropped everything and came to the area to help.

For one year, they lived in a tent looking after a group of children who lost their families in the tsunami. A fellow volunteer saw their amazing work and was so inspired by the couple that he bought them a piece of land to start an orphanage. The following year, Gai and Sam opened up Baan San Fan and took in 8 children.

Gai and Sam do everything they can to care for these 21 kids. Although there’s no more government funding (that ended two years post tsunami), they’ve become entrepreneurs to keep the orphanage open. They sell handmade soaps and oils, operate a volunteer program, have an organic vegetable and fruit farm, and maintain a cage­-free chicken farm. They are also trying to open up a restaurant out of their kitchen as well as install solar panels so they can sell energy back to the government, as well as teach the kids about the importance of conserving our environment.

Over the past 11 years, the orphanage has helped over 70 children. Currently, it is the home to 20 children. Although the tsunami has passed, hundreds of children are still in need. Gai and Sam are forced to turn away dozens every year because they don’t have enough money.

This was my usual crew! Started from the left: N, Anu (N’s little siter), Keltya, Front: M

The original orphanage was formed for victims of the tsunami, but those children have grown and the newest residents live there because of family problems.

In Thailand, after a couple gets divorced, the mother usually cannot afford to care for all of her kids and is forced to give some away. In the rare situation that the kids go with the father, if he gets remarried, the new wife often insists that children from his prior marriage are forced to leave their home. If these kids aren’t victims of a broken family, most have parents with addiction problems. If these kids don’t make their way to Baan San Fan, many live on the streets and become destitute; involved in drugs or prostitution.

Before I began volunteering, I assumed that these kids would have many problems and be sad. However, these children are amazing and happy. They are deeply loved and it is clear that Baan San Fan operates as a family. The kids are playful, bright, independent, and funny. The oldest kids look after the youngest and throughout the day it was rare to see Gai and Sam “babysitting.” The children did their chores, helped each other out, and got to be independent and choose how they spent their summer days.

A typical day for me at the orphanage looked like this:

Breakfast was at 7am and I would crawl out of bed about ten minutes before that. At every meal I was served a feast! The kids on kitchen duty would make me a special meal that had at least three courses. If I tried to share my food, the kids wouldn’t accept it. Everything was so delicious and I probably gained a few pounds during my stay because I felt rude not trying everything that was given to me. After every meal I would do the dishes with the help of one of the kids- I would wash, they would put away.

Then from about 8:30-12:30pm the kids and I would play an assortment of games. We played chutes and ladders, matching games, English word games, math games, freeze dance, and spent a lot of time painting and coloring. We normally spent the days inside with the fans on because most days it was over 100 degrees by 10:30am. 

After morning play time we had lunch (another feast) and then I did the dishes again. In the afternoon, from 2-3:30pm, we played more games and often watched one or two Thai music videos on my phone… which would then result in the kids acting out the dramatic videos afterwards.

Around mid-afternoon when it wasn’t so unbearably hot, we would all do whatever Gai’s daily task was. Sometimes this was separate rice and their husks so that the chickens could have some more bedding. Most of the time it was odd landscaping work around the grounds, like raking leaves or moving rocks from point A to point B. Other days, I would join Sam or Gai and go with them to do errands around town or at the market.

Then, in late afternoon we would play outside since the sun would be beginning to set. We’d play soccer, badminton, monkey in the middle, or hula hoop. Then we’d have dinner and do the dishes. At this point it would be between 7-8pm and the kids would walk me back to my room and I’d have the rest of the night to myself.

The kids decided to decorate my legs with face paint! 

On Sunday, after the kids went to services, we went to the beach! I was SO excited! We originally were supposed to go to a waterfall close by. However, since it’s monsoon season and every night it pours, we couldn’t go swimming in the waterfall because the water pollution is so bad. So, we all piled into the truck, and went to the beautiful beach!

The beaches in Thailand are stunning- clear waters, soft, white sand. I jumped right in and my gaggle of kids followed. For 40 minutes, it was great! Then I got stung by a nasty jellyfish. The thing got a good grasp of my ankle and left six long stinger marks. This is not my first time getting stung by a jelly (s/o to Tel Aviv), but this was very painful. As soon as the kids got me to the older kids who were not swimming (Gai and Sam weren’t there), they understood what had happened and gathered some plants and rubbed it on my ankle.

Cute, right? After an hour or so the spots that I were stung at started to get really hard. I was trying to explain this to Por, the 24 year old that works there, and she told me we can go to the doctor. Now, all of these Thai folks were gathered around me trying to ask me in Thai what was happening. I was thinking the doctor was a good idea, I could get some cream to help with the swelling. However, an ambulance showed up!! I tried explaining to Por that I did not need to go to the hospital but she insisted. Also, Anu also got stung by a jelly and was going to join us.

In the ambulance I realized two important things: I didn’t have my ID or passport, and I only had the equivalent of about $20 USD on me. This was the first time EVER that I had left a hostel or wherever I was staying without a copy of my passport and at least one credit card… figures.

At the hospital, they washed my ankle with some vinegar, put some cream on it and wrapped it up. They were very accommodating about me not having any ID. Thai hospitals are amazing, by the way. Extremely efficient, quick, and the care is great. The doctor (a woman, might I add) spoke great English. At Thai hospitals you also pick up your medicine there instead of having to go to a pharmacy. Then came the bill. The ambulance ride, doctor visit, foreigners fee, and the medicine (which my mom told me would have cost $50 USD easily), totaled a whopping $14 USD. HOW AMAZING?!

The whole ordeal was more entertaining than anything else. Makes for a funny story!

My time at the orphanage was amazing and extremely eye opening. What Gai and Sam are doing is so commendable. But, they really need financial help. To run a profitable orphanage, Baan San Fan needs to own 2,000 chickens. They currently have 500. For $7.50 USD, they can buy one chicken! If you want to make a donation to Baan San Fan you can at www.baansanfan.org. Gai explained the big vision to me: if they have enough chickens, they can open up a restaurant and a shop where they can open up a little shop to sell their organic products and plants. They will then convert the whole orphanage to solar panel energy and sell some of the energy back to the government. They also will be able to finish the new bamboo house they have started to make.

Some of the kids… look how excited they are for their first day of school! Ha! 

I am so grateful that I got to spend time with the Baan San Fan family for 10 days. I hope to stay involved with them and follow their journey throughout the years. You can find out more about them at http://www.baansanfan.org.

Now I’m in Phuket for two days and then I’m off to island hop for the rest of May!