Before we arrived in Pattaya, many of our friends joked that they were certain we'd come home with a baby in our backpacks. It was certainly tempting! The babies in the Pattaya orphanage were, as you probably know, the cutest babies in the world. I may have gone on and on about that at some point in the not-so-distant past.
Anyway. It turns out that we did end up with a kid, in a way, though not a baby, and not in our backpacks.
Over the two months that we were at the Father Ray Foundation, we became well-acquainted with a 17-year-old boy named Chap. I can't go into the details of his past very much, though I will say that he has certainly had a hard life. A childhood of poverty and struggle has the potential to make a person bitter and jaded. However, through all of this hardship, Chap has still grown into a pleasant and friendly young man. He's taken on an informal role as a big brother at the Drop-In Centre, taking the younger kids under his wing and maintaining an orderly, safe environment for everyone. He can frequently be seen tending the gardens, sweeping the yard, and taking care of the new family of puppies. He is thoughtful and considerate of the needs of his peers, the volunteers, and the staff at the Centre, even preparing and setting aside food and drinks for them when he thinks they need them. His attention and drive in his private English lessons with BG are inspiring. He is learning in leaps and bounds, and in the two years that he's been at the Drop-In Centre, his English skills have surpassed those of many kids who have studied for many more, in formal schools. He understands that a solid education is the key to his future.
We had a talk about his "goals" one day -- what goals are, and what he wants from his life. Chap enjoys meeting new people, and wants a job where he can talk with people on a daily basis. He would like to work in a hotel, perhaps as a waiter or chef, or perhaps as a desk clerk. His goals are ambitious, but perfectly realistic and attainable: a home to call his own, a garden, and a dog. There aren't many 17-year-olds who would be happy with so few material possessions, but Chap understands more than most people how little happiness is attached to material things. He finds joy in the people around him, and truthfully, he brings joy to every person that has the pleasure of meeting him. He has touched so many people from administrators to volunteers to infrequent visitors. Nobody has ever forgotten the day they met the impressive young man named Chap.
Because we want Chap to attain his goals, we've decided to sponsor his education. We've had some very generous help from many of our friends and family in setting up his sponsorship fund, and I am not exaggerating a little bit when I say that it wouldn't have been possible without them. Still, we have enough money to pay for Chap's schooling and any related costs for the next few years, meaning that the promise of a real job, a house, and even a dog is a very real possibility for Chap.
Telling Chap that we were sponsoring him was a particularly moving experience. He was quiet, and we weren't sure that he understood everything we told him. We were certain he'd gotten it, though, when he came to us the next day with handmade bracelets and flowers and the vow to work very, very hard in school so he could get a job and maybe come to visit us one day in Canada. Tears were shed, promises were made. Saying goodbye on our last day there was wrenching.
Still, now we have even more reason to come back to Thailand.