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.
Yes! The summer vacation has finally started. No more school and homework for a while which means more time to relax and do fun things. The girls really enjoyed having visitors from abroad around. Together they did all kinds of creative activities and games. They even had a day out together. Some of the girls decided it would be fun to help with the work being done to renovate the kitchen and the drainage system. They were able to help clear the debris and bring it to the dumping location. Others decided it would be more fun to play games, play sports, or watch tv. All in all it was a great time for the girls to rest and let off a little steam.
Half-way through May the schools opened again. A new school year, a higher grade or even a new school with new classmates, teachers, and learning paths. This all made for an exciting time. All the uniforms and shoes had to be cleaned and prepared or new ones had to be bought. All the girls had to be registered at the schools and school fees had to be paid. It made for a busy time for the “mothers” and girls.
Right now it’s summer vacation here in Thailand. One of our goals here at Baan Phak Phing is to stimulate contact between the girls and their families. The summer vacations get used to organize family visits or to receive family. It is one giant organizational puzzle for the mothers!
For some of the girls it means a very long drive to Bangkok or even further. For others this means a long and rough drive up mountains on narrow unpaved and steep roads. And for others still it means receiving family at Baan Phak Phing instead of going to visit them. For some of the girls it is possible to stay with their families for a while by themselves because the situation has changed and it is now safe for them but for others it is not safe and the visit can only take place under the supervision of one of our staff.
Sometimes multiple girls and staff travel together at the same time because they are able to plan a route that allows them to visit multiple families in one trip. You can hopefully begin to understand how much planning it takes to organize all these visits for 30 girls. One of the girls was finally able to visit her family after quite a long time of not being able to. The situation had to date been
unsafe but recent changes made the situation safe enough to where the girl was able to go on a visit. It is very important for her and her family that this happened because her father is sick and we don’t know what the future holds. We are glad that this visit was possible.
In 2017 Baan Phak Phing received donations from several sponsors that allowed us to fund most of the projects we had. These projects included replacing the water filters that supply clean water to the houses, new motorcycles for the girls to use to get to school, and laptops for the girls who are going into higher levels of education. We were also able to resume other projects like repainting all the houses and refurbishing or replacing the kitchens. If you wish to know more about these projects click here to read more.
If you want to know about new projects that you can support, please click here.
We want to thank everyone who were a part of making these projects happen and we hope that you will continue supporting Baan Phak Phing.
This past January the girls and staff had the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and do something for others. First, they spent a morning cleaning up the trash in our village. Everyone grabbed a trash bag and gloves and started cleaning. The streets quickly looked a lot cleaner and in the process the girls learned about serving others.
During Christmas the girls and “mothers” went to a mountain village where some of the “mothers” live to help the people there prepare for a big Christmas party, to sing carols, and to hand out blankets to the poor people there. The blankets are a welcome gift in December as it is now cold season and the temperature drops by 25+ degrees Celsius from what it normally is. This means that if you don’t have a heater you are very happy with anything else that can keep you warm. The girls have seen that there are people who need help and they got a chance to offer a helping hand by handing out blankets.
The girls live at Baan Phak Phing because they themselves need help as well. That isn’t always easy for them. They would much rather be living with their parents if it was safe for them to be there. But even if you need help yourself you can still help others who are in need. This is the lesson that the “mothers” tried to teach the girls through these days of service. We hope that it will stick in the hearts of the girls and that throughout the rest of their lives they will be aware of how they may serve others.
While some of the mothers of Baan Phak Phing are busy with the preparations for the Christmas party, the others are playing games with all the girls. It is only December 10th when this takes place and so it is quite early to celebrate Christmas. The Christmas season is a busy time in Thailand and Christmas is celebrated in many places and people often get invited to multiple celebrations. That is why we decided to move the Christmas party up to the 10th of December this year to make sure that everyone could be there.
The weather is beautiful, the grass has been nicely cut short and everyone is looking forward to the games and later the celebration. The teams are divided and then they start with first an eating relay-race: eat a banana as quickly as possible and drink lemonade. Then stick your head in a box with flour to find a piece of candy, and lastly try to blow up a balloon until it explodes. In another game the girls had to walk, as a group, across the field on one set of skis. In addition to the games we also had a face painting station.
It was a wonderful morning, and everyone had a lot of fun.
After eating lunch together, the girls helped with the decorations and the preparations for dinner. Girls who used to live at Baan Phak Phing, as well their partners and children, the “mothers’” families, and some of our neighbors were invited and came to join us for our Christmas celebration. Having everyone we know together like that is always very special.
First we ate dinner and had a chance to catch up with each other. Then we sang together, listened to the story of Christmas and performed all sorts of dances, songs and skits. At the end of the evening we handed out gifts to the girls and the mothers. Although giving presents is not the most important thing in the world, it is a great blessing to be able to do this. We are grateful to everyone who loves Baan Phak Phing and made an extra donation for Christmas to make this celebration possible.
The wind starts blowing, the sky is getting darker, a storm is coming. Then the rain starts, softly at first, but then becomes harder and harder. Every time you think it can’t rain any harder it does just that. Then suddenly you feel a drop on your head. Where did that come from? Then another one hits, and you look up. There, right above you is a small hole in the ceiling, “oh, that’s not good.” But it is the middle of the night, so you decide to just grab a bucket to at least prevent the room from flooding. Later more holes are discovered, and you end up with a bunch of buckets all around the room. Something really needs to be done!
Partway through September we have a whole week of beautiful weather and we can work on the roof. The roof tiles are replaced, and everything gets “glued” together and painted. After that week the rain starts again but now everything stays dry inside.
After the roof repair we start working on the bedroom, hallway, and living room because this hasn’t been done in years. Initially it looks like a disaster but slowly the girls start to see how beautiful it will become. They are very happy with the result: it’s as if they have a brand-new house. Some of the girls even get the chance to help put in the new ceiling tiles.
Every Friday night we end the week with all the girls together. We play games, share about our week, watch a movie, or go to the night market together.
Recently a visiting team put together a program on one of those Friday nights for the girls. They sang songs together, played games, shared testimonies, and danced together. For one of the games the girls were split into groups of 3. They had to work together to get one of them dressed as nicely as possible with a roll of toilet paper and a roll of tape. Toilet paper is quite fragile so there were some problems getting things the way they wanted. Nonetheless they managed to create some beautiful outfits. Some made a long, tight skirt which was a disaster when going up the steps of the stage. This didn’t stop them from having fun and they all got prizes for their outfits.
The girls had so much fun while dancing that the following morning they looked up the song and started dancing again.
We are thankful that the team spent the evening having fun with the girls. Thank You!