For the record, I'm weighing my words carefully on this entry. My intention is merely to reflect on what we saw and experienced, and to hear your thoughts and/or suggestions as well.
To begin with, we could not have been led to a better ministry opportunity than spending a week at the Tree of Life Orphanage in Buriram, Thailand and we hope to return soon. The kids we met and the love that was shared between the high school students from our church and those children was unforgettable and surely worth the long trip from Japan. These seventeen orphans each have a story, and most, if not all, would not have adequate food, clothes, or shelter without the help of TOLO (acronym for the orphanage). The kids are better off because they are at TOLO and we were fortunate to meet them and have an opportunity to impact their lives in some very direct ways.
However, we also felt a certain degree of anger at what we saw and experienced during our week at TOLO. I do feel that there is a time and a place for anger, especially when it regards the health and care of children. At best, we were unimpressed with the management of the orphanage by the director. At worst, we were furious about the conditions these kids lived in and the lack of effort on his part to do just about anything about it.
For instance, check out these photos of the bathroom floor before and after we cleaned it. I highly doubt that this floor had ever been cleaned.
Now, the director has had wonderful intentions in creating and maintaining this safe haven for children, but that doesn't mean his work is done.
- Just because the kids have food to eat doesn't mean that their dental health should be neglected.
- Just because there are walls, a roof, and windows to protect them doesn't mean that torn up window screens can't be patched up with a little duct-tape to keep the mosquitoes and cockroaches out.
- Just because the kids have a room to play in doesn't mean that they should be playing over a foul-smelling opening to the septic tank (right underneath the rug in their playroom).
- Just because he doesn't take a salary doesn't mean that he has no responsibility to make sure that the children change their clothes more than once a week, to clean up bathrooms or his own dishes after meals, to maintain the grounds outside the building itself, or to treat all the kids with love, patience and respect.
Maybe it's easier to judge his behavior because the director is not Thai. I understand completely that different societies and cultures have different standards of what "clean" or "healthy" means. But this man is from Texas! He knows that leaving a bathroom in the condition that it was in cannot possibly be conducive to the health and well-being of these children.
If we had seen effort- something, anything!- on his part, I think we would be more understanding. However, what we saw was a very incomplete foundation for the total care that those kids need. And it's not even a matter of finances or time. It took us three days to scrub, dust, and organize every surface in that home, and basic maintenance is not too much to ask.
If he wasn't there to do this though, who else would? Now, he's not quite Miss Agatha Hannigan, the mean-tempered woman in charge of the orphanage in "The Little Orphan Annie, " but he's no saint. Do we just have to accept what we see and pray for things to improve in the future?
I chose not to address this with him directly since my role was to help lead the youth on the trip as best I could, be there to lend a hand, and love those kids as much as possible. But now that we're so attached to the children at TOLO and are planning to return next year if possible, I'll be thinking about how we might be able to address this and make life just a little better for these wonderful children.