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A Miracle of Hope in Buriram

A miracle of hope in Buriram.

We all know that tourism is a boon to the Kingdom of Thailand, earning much-needed revenue and providing employment for hundreds of thousands of Thais who would otherwise be faced with a very bleak economic future. Along with this influx of millions of foreigners happy to experience the beauty of Thailand, and the easy-going and carefree ways of the Thai people, comes the depressing reality that is sex tourism: tourists here to exploit those Thais who are forced to sell themselves in order that their families can survive. And worst of all, sometimes this involves children, society’s most vulnerable members.

Quite rightly, this child-exploitation industry garners headlines and media attention from around the world. However, what doesn’t seem to get so much press attention is the other side of the coin, those foreigners who have devoted their lives to helping provide Thai children with the love, care and support that they need to have a decent start in life, and the skills and education that they will need in order to fulfil their potential to become valued and contributing members of society.

Just such an example is provided by the Tree of Life Orphanage (TOLO) in Buriram, and its story is one of dreams, hope, sacrifice, faith, and above all the giving of unconditional love to those who are at the very bottom of society’s ladder, orphans.

The TOLO is run by an American ex-pat, Roger Walker, and his Thai wife, Phongsri. Walk into the building and the first impression you get is that it’s a family’s home, and the first sensation you get is that of the love and feeling of safety which surrounds the children, and which permeates the conversations and inter-actions going on around you. These are children of all ages, many whose stories would break the heart of a statue, and who have every right to never trust an adult again as long as they live, and yet they are open, trusting, and full of joy around Roger and Phongsri. Now if that isn’t a miracle, then what is?

So, how has this miracle of hope been achieved? To begin with, you need special kinds of individuals; those with the vision to start an orphanage in the first place, and the unshakeable belief that they could create an operational model for it which would enable it to sustain and grow despite all the obstacles it would invariably face. That’s Roger and Phongsri. Then you’d need individuals with a bottomless well of hope and compassion, those prepared to endlessly commit themselves to the service of others, and the willing suspension of their own needs and priorities in favour of someone else’s. That would also be Roger and Phongsri. Throw into the mix the support of a network of occasional helpers and volunteers, and you’re well on your way to making a dream a reality. But all of that is only the beginning, because once you’ve got it all started you then have to face the real challenges to your survival: the daily battle for help and support in a world largely indifferent to your needs; paying for the needs of an ever-growing family of children; and, generating enough money to keep the orphanage functioning. Despite all of these obstacles, Roger and Phong continue undaunted, an object lesson to others of a less robust faith system. Step inside the orphanage, and you would have no idea of the daily battle for existence that’s raging all around you. Here, the children are absorbed in work and play, just like in every home, and the sounds of laughter echo around the place.

However, it costs around 1 million Baht (approximately $35,000) each year to sustain this refuge from the storm, and to ensure that the most vulnerable of all our children here in Thailand can live their lives with dignity, hope and love.

And that you would imagine would be a big enough challenge for anyone; but then you don’t know the full extent of Roger and Phongsri’s commitment to, and love for, the children of Thailand, for they also sponsor a local school which some of their children have attended in the past, the Ban Yoei Sakae school. The school is also in dire need of assistance, with an aging infrastructure, desks and chairs that are 70 years old for example, and an urgent need for supplies, such as books, with which to provide an education for local children.

So, as you can see, every day at TOLO is a lesson in the art of survival; an exercise in the power of belief, and above all in providing enduring proof that despite everything, love really can conquer all! Now, isn’t that a story about farang in Thailand that’s worthy of some headlines and media attention?

If you want to help the TOLO in some way, or would just like more information about the work they do, then you can contact them at:
http://www.tolo-thailand.com/ or by e-mailing Roger Walker directly at walkerroger_2000_1999@yahoo.com.