05 May 2012

Orphanage for HIV kids

We loaded up in song teus to head to the Agape House orphanage for HIV kids. Avis, the Canadian woman who started Agape House 16 years ago, spoke to us briefly. She said that there are 40 new cases of HIV infection reported in Thailand per day. Part of the reason is that, in Thai culture, no one tells anyone if they are HIV positive...or lies if asked by a partner. A lot of times an HIV parent with an HIV child will leave the child with the orphanage when they get a new partner to avoid questions.

Of the 89 kids at Agape, 7 of them are not HIV positive...they either were at one time and after treatment are showing negative or they are the children of someone who died of AIDS. Several of the negative kids are due to be adopted soon. Many of these HIV negative children were born to HIV positive mothers but, if delivered by ceasarian, the babies are not infected.

The Thai government pays for the ARV (anti-retroviral) drugs used to treat HIV for Thai citizens but doesn't cover more run of the mill medications or treatments.

There are about 45 nannies at the school to care for the kids in shifts. Older children move to smaller 'homes' where there is a house parent looking after maybe 6 older kids. Originally, none of the kids survived to 18 but they now have kids in their upper teens to 20 or so. They never 'age out' so the challenge at this point is what to do with the survivors. Vocational training has been added where these kids are learning hairstyling, woodworking, sewing, etc to enable them to find work.

We were supposed to do a service project of some sort...painting, cleaning classrooms, etc. However, the kids are on break from school and what they really wanted us to do was play with them and interact with them. We'd brought paper, markers, frisbees, jump ropes, play balls, etc (purchased locally) so people kind of scattered to play with kids individually or in small groups as the spirit moved.

The nail polish was a big hit. The girls loved having their nails done and doing ours. One girl was especially taken with. At some point during our time there she approached any unpainted female in our group and asked to do her nails. She asked to do mine and when I said yes, she trotted out the back door. I was a little puzzled by this but she came back with a piece of grass that she'd gone out back to select. She put 3 coats of purple polish on my nails then used the grass to put decorative dots on the polish.

She was really quiet but could speak some English. I asked her name (Taun) and how old she was (14) and how long she'd been at the home (8 years). At one point when she was painting one hand, a younger boy came up and wanted to paint my other. She shook her head, shooed him away, and said, "It will not be beautiful." I had no doubt.

Some of the boys painted the toenails of one of the girls in our group and they were not content to confine painting to the nails. By the time they were done, she not only had painted toenails, she had painted stripes across all her toes.

I also played with play dough with some of the younger kids. One girl had her arm in a sling (greenstick fracture the weekend before) but she was gamely pounding away with the clay. She became entranced when she discovered that her bead bracelet made neat patterns in the clay. One little boy made an elephant head. Then a body for it. Then another small animal to put on its back. A little girl made a fan-shaped flower on a stem. Then she had a small hot dog shaped piece that she used the corner of a piece of plastic to poke it all over. I didn't figure out what she was doing until she put it into the flower as the stamen. Clever!

All went well for a while and then they started squishing each others pieces and laughing then wandered off to do other things.

We played badminton, soccer, frisbee, dodge ball, and hand games. We made paper airplanes and drew pictures and sang songs. We all tuckered out long before they did. But the staff was exstatic at the activity the kids had.

We left at 2 with many of the kids hugging us, waving and saying "Bye-bye!" over and over again.