Teaching Our Family to Survive in a Thai Orphanage

6 years ago

I can see it in the way my husband eyes the Girl as she grabs her third helping of chicken. When I throw him a questioning glance he says, "A chicken half this size would be all the meat for dinner for all 28 kids at the orphanage."

He makes them eat all of the salad on their plate, with a seasoning he brought home. "If you are going to travel to Thailand with Daddy, you need to be able to eat whatever you are given. Even if you don't like it. I ate monkey meat and dog meat this trip, you will too."

It's there in the way he tosses and turns on his bed at night. "My bed is too comfortable. my brothers in the hills are sleeping on bamboo floors and I've gotten used to how it feels."

I can see him glancing at the loads of laundry as I'm washing them when the people he just spent the last 2 weeks with have no more than 2 or 3 changes of clothes. Many even less. One grandmother has worn the exact same outfit, every time he's visited, for the past 3 years.

It's not just reverse culture shock. I'm used to that now. Something has shifted in him. The excesses of our lifestyle, which is still frugal by north American standards grate on him.

For $200 dollars the friend in Hotsprings village could pay off the medical debts left to him when his mother passed away.

Just $500/month would be the start up cost for a home and hostel in 48 kilometer village. U' Thawng and his wife will take 18 kids into their home right now and feed them and tutor them after school with that. They already feed them a meal a day and let them drop by whenever they want.

And I can feel it too. The shifting, the tightening, the discomfort with our wealth. Those 6 shirts I bought on sale for $4 each while he was gone prod at me. Did the kids really need new shirts? Yes, the shirts they have are getting small and ratty... but that's more an aesthetic judgment than a need. I could have fed many children with that for at least another day.

So I go through the banking, rearrange. Another hundred out the door instead of lining this temporary existence we call home.

I need to make a concrete plan, a step by step how to guide to get us on a plane and living in Thailand. I need to get us there so that my husband doesn't have to turn to me 2 days off of a plane and say, "I'm ready to go back to work now, to my real work. I'm ready to go back to Thailand in the morning and go to the villages again and help those people. I don't want to build houses for people who have first world problems, like they aren't happy with the finish on their granite floor tiles."

How am I gonna get us there, where our real life is?

I have no idea, but you can bet I'll be trying to figure it out.

The Back Story

In 2008 we started an organization called the charis project to help refugee tribal villages in northern Thailand. We currently support 1 children's home with 28 children, with plans to support a hostel for children of migrant workers and a Charis community, which is a settled multi-family, multi-home community serving as a refuge for at-risk children, as well this year. My husband travels to Thailand several times a year to teach in villages and network with more communities as we lay the groundwork for establishing an orphanage model where the home is sustained by entrepreneurial businesses. The plan is to move our whole family there permanently, at some point, in order to be closer to the work. Right now we live in San Diego and my husband works as a finish carpenter for people who can afford to own houses right on the beach.


Carrien homeschools 4 kids and runs a non-profit from the kitchen counter. She writes about it all at she laughs at the days. She's the CFO and secretary of The Charis Project a title that means she works her butt off for free.


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