At the beginning of the year we started creating a vegetable garden. Step by step we are planting more and more and we’ve already had a first harvest of radishes. Before we started planting we asked the staff of each house what they needed for their house. String beans, cabbage, tomatoes, chili peppers, herbs, cucumbers, etc. It’s already well on the way to looking like a real vegetable garden and we are already starting to see results. It would be nice if this helps us to be more self-sustaining.
She’s back for a bit! In 2017 we had a volunteer with us for that entire year and she spent her Saturdays teaching English and now she is back for 2 months. Each Saturday starting halfway through January till halfway through March the girls are being taught English. The girls are divided into 2 groups, those who are just starting to learn and those who are more advanced. They enjoy hanging out with the volunteer and learning English in a fun way. Sometimes the speaking of a new language can be a bit scary because you have to speak in front of others and you are hearing yourself speaking a language that you are not used to. We hope they can put aside their feelings of shame so they can really practice this new, and quite difficult, language that they are learning.
“Near the end of December we, the girls and “mothers”, had the opportunity to go on a special mission. We loaded up the trucks with presents, clothes, toiletries, and blankets and drove for more than an hour to reach the village in the mountains of Chiang Rai. The people that live in that village don’t have a lot, don’t know luxury, and live right on the poverty line. We got to share with the villagers part of the abundance we know at Baan Phak Phing. We, the girls, are normally on the receiving end but now we got to be the giving hand, making people happy and being a blessing to them.”
We hope the girls learned something from this opportunity. There are times for receiving and times for giving. We all have to learn to care about and take care of our “neighbors”.
We’d already planned a 3-day staff training when we heard that there would not be any classes for the girls due to a national sports competition being hosted in our city. The girls would have to be left unsupervised for 3 days from 9 AM until around 3 PM. They wouldn’t be completely alone because we would have them all be in the building right next to the meeting room but it wasn’t an ideal situation. A solution was found that the girls really liked. Three volunteers held 3 days of crafts and creative activities in the morning and a movie in the afternoon. They made Christmas decorations, learned how you can make a cool decoration for on the table out of a carrot, did coloring activities, made 3D cards and pompons, etc. They also had time to just relax and play games.
Meanwhile the “mothers” were busy with a seminar. They too had an amazing time as a team. Each and every one of them was personally built up and they grew closer as a team.
Decorating your own t-shirts can be a very fun thing to do. It’s awesome to see that some of the girls are able to think completely out-of-the-box and come up with some really unique designs. Other girls like to stick to other people’s designs which is completely fine too.
How do you make that very spicy paste that is so unbelievably good with basically every dish? Well, the “mothers” taught the girls just that. You fry chilies, garlic, onion, and some other secret ingredients and then you mash it all together. Everyone had a specific task to complete and thus contributed to the whole process. Once the chili paste was done it was lunch time. During lunch they ate their food with their hand-made chili paste. The girls were very proud of the result and so were we.
Our psychologist spent her Saturday morning with small groups of girls doing therapeutic activities. Normally they do coloring pages with pencils, markers, or crayons but this time they do it with glue and colored rice. This gives a very unique and beautiful effect. The psychologist tries to use opportunities like this to build a relationship with the girls so that she can start to know them better and so they will begin to trust her and feel at ease around her. Step by step she hopes to be able to help each girl deal with their past.
We have 5 athletes living at Baan Phak Phing right now who are among the best in the region and will soon have an opportunity to break through into the national level. These girls participate in something called Jiu-Jitsu which is a self-defense sport. A couple of years ago we had a volunteer with us for several weeks who taught all the girls self-defense. Due to her participation at a local sports school we were able to send our girls to practice the sport further at this sports school. After a while of practicing on Saturdays it turned out that 5 of our girls really love Jiu-Jitsu and are quite good at it too. The teacher at the school wanted to give them a chance to see if they could get to higher levels in the sport. He, along with other trainers, got them to the point where they started to rise in the regional group. The sport isn’t cheap and we are extremely grateful for the continual financial support of the sport-teacher and his wife as well as the volunteer. They often have to play in competitions and not just in Chiang Rai but also Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
The 5 girls now play at a very high level which takes a lot of dedication because they have to keep their weight in check, so they don’t jump to another weight class, and they have to train every day to keep in shape. They have to do this on top of a full school-week and all their homework but these 5 are fully capable of doing this and they are really enjoying it. They are learning a ton and we have seen them grow a lot in their self-esteem over the past couple of years.
We try to find something that they can learn outside of school for each of the girls, for example: an instrument, something creative, or a new language. When they know what they want we start looking for a good place for them to do this. It is incredibly important to do something you really want and in that way develop new skills.
Christina Overeem, one of the co-founders, is, after 28 years, saying good bye to Baan Phak Phing. She looks back briefly on what was built over the years and how Baan Phak Phing has grown.
Looking back and looking ahead
“It all started in 1990, somewhere in Bangkok in a small street. Together with Heidi and Phouang, we took the first girls into our home. They had been rescued from brothels and couldn’t return home. This was the start of Baan Phak Phing. We moved to Chiang Rai after 6 years in Bangkok because most of the girls came from the North of Thailand. In Chiang Rai our work started to grow and we began taking in girls who had been abused by people in their immediate environment.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Thai people started taking care of their own people, outside of their immediate family. My vision has always been that Thai people would end up running this House of Refuge. The daily care of the girls has always been taken care of by Thai “mothers” but until recently I was always the leader of the house. That has now changed. Over time my vision for Baan Phak Phing has become the vision of the “mothers” as well and 4 of them have grown into the leaders of this work. Together they decided that they wanted to be responsible for the ministry. One of their first questions was: “Do you trust us?” Without even having to think about it, my answer was: “Yes.” I started to move into a supporting role and they became a team of leaders. Meanwhile the Bak family had been working with us for several years and Peter and Tatjana took over responsibility for the administration and finances. About a year and a half ago a young psychologist joined our team and I was able to help her settle into the work of counseling the girls with their individual traumatic experiences. Now, after 28 years, I feel like my vision has been fulfilled.
Living and working in another language and culture hasn’t always been easy. At times the concern I felt for their well-being weighed heavily on me but one thing was very clear to me: Never give up, look for solutions together. People have often said that our work is like a drop in the ocean. But I tend to think more of a pebble that gets thrown into a pond and creates ripples that keep getting bigger. It only takes one person to bring change in their environment.
My calling hasn’t ended but has expanded to include other places where I get to share my experiences about working with our girls. I also help the staff of those places to see how they can continue to do their amazing work without losing hope. I will stay in contact with Baan Phak Phing here in Thailand and will continue in my position on the board in the Netherlands. In one of the last sessions with one of the girls she told me: “Baan Phak Phing is my home.” Thailand is my home and I hope to live here for quite a while longer.
During the school breaks and during the weekends the girls often help cook food. It is a part of their chores and is a way of preparing them for becoming more independent in the future. They help with cooking the rice or noodles, washing the vegetables and then cutting them, cooking or frying the meat, adding spices, cleaning fruit, etc. If there is extra time the girls not only learn to cook a meal but also how to make traditional snacks. This is often more fun than cooking a meal because after making the snacks they get to eat them. The last time this happened they made and ate a jelly snack with coconut milk.
It is Thursday morning and the all the girls are ready, with their bags packed, to go. We have three days on the road with all the girls and all the “mothers”. The girls are excited and are looking forward to this trip. We are taking 4 trucks with us to Chiang Mai. When we have reached the half-way point we stop to eat lunch and then continue our journey. In Chiang Mai everyone gets out and walks to the train station because aside from the drivers everyone is taking the train down to Lampang. For many of the girls this is the first time traveling by train and they are really enjoying themselves despite the heat. The youngest girl soon falls asleep because after an hour and a half it is no longer new and exciting. Days later everyone is still talking about the train ride and how beautiful the scenery was, the sounds, the ravines we passed and the length of the train that became obvious when we rounded another corner.
When we get to our destination it is evening and everyone is ready for a shower but a storm has just passed through and has knocked out the power so there is no water. But with the help of the handyman the problem is partially resolved and there is enough water to freshen up a bit. Then it is time to sleep and everyone lays down in the big meeting room at a local church where we will be spending the night.
The following day we go to an elephant reserve where we get to see how in earlier times the elephants worked for the humans by moving logs. The elephants have been trained to greet, let their caretakers mount and dismount, and even paint. What beautiful animals they are but also somewhat scary. The girls get to feed the elephants afterwards and they are even allowed to pet them and of course pictures have to be taken with them as well.
Other things we did include shopping at a big mall and at the local market, eat good food, go to a powerplant to learn how power is generated, and to a ceramics factory. We all had loads of fun and we learned a lot. Everyone arrived back home feeling satisfied after 3 incredible days on the road.