Last year at this time, I had the Glenview (IL) girls, Kirin and
Kate here to write the Christmas letter, which they finished in 2 hours, and
it was a fabulous job. But the lasses have moved on with their lives, and it
is only Uncle Alzheimer here, desperately searching his fading memory cells
for news of the past year. The news certainly is not about me but of the
kids and their health and hopes and dreams.
Bittersweet news for this year was the death of little Josie.
She came to us 6 years ago, convulsing and near death. Many of the staff
were unhappy about taking Josie (who was the victim of a botched abortion)
but I believed that God would bless us in a special way, for taking care of
her. Those very women were the ones to pray and cry for Josie, as her
breathing slowed. We believe that Josie is free and happy and basking in the
love of our Lord. Some evenings, I see some of the staff who have personal
problems, praying at her graveside. She is buried with the four other little
people who died in the era before we could get ARV medicines.
Last year, our Christmas gift was Dottie, the Baby Buffalo, who
still is experiencing sickness, but who talks up a storm and pretty much
runs Sarnelli House! This year, our Christmas gift might be Uncle Father
Chuck Beierwaltes, who is coming in January for a few months with the kids
and staff. This year, we took in three boys, all very sick with AIDS and TB.
Once they adjust to the ARV medicines, they have an astounding turn around,
and put on weight and suddenly are running and playing with the others. The
doctors finally found out that Lynn did not have epilepsy, but nearly died
from the lack of potassium. Those who knew Lynn before cannot believe the
change. Her weight has doubled, and she is now a lively beautiful 16
year-old girl. Little Miss Tokyo (her father was Japanese) had to have her
ARV changed, and got very sick as a result. Now, though, Tokyo is on the
road to health and does really great in school.
We finished the House of Hope in May, and the bishop blessed it.
Two toddlers (Mimi and Oop-Ip) just joined us, so there are 17 spoiled
little urchins yelling, playing, fighting and squealing their days away. I
thought I built it too big, but it is like the "Field of Dreams" movie,
"Build it and they will come". One of the things the housemoms wanted was a
"wading pool" so the babies and rug rats could stay cool when it got hot.
The pool was built in memory of my cousin Helen Shea Hamm Landreman. The
kids play nude in the pool, and one fat little oaf named "Citizen Kane" took
a huge bowel movement while the kids were playing. Kids poured out of the
pool, horrified and screaming. Now they won't let the poor porker near the
In July, we began our program for 13 teen age girls who have
AIDS, at Nazareth school for girls. The idea is to make them mature and
responsible. So far, we are having mixed results. A few of them still have
emotional problems, sometimes caused by the medicine. Now, thanks to the Jan
and Oscar Foundation from Switzerland, we are building a Nazareth House for
Boys, in Pai Si Tong, where the House of Hope and St. Patrick's is located.
We will also build a big, spacious kitchen/dining room for kids from all
three houses, thanks to collection from St. Michael's church, in Wheaton IL. Fr. Chuck preached there in early September and received a really generous response.
Charlene Richard House continues to operate, taking in guests
and volunteers who wish to stay. We were blessed to have 5 of Fr. Dick
Strass' relatives come to see what Dick accomplished, and they were here for
the Nov. 1 Mass in the cemetery. We had Dick's photo and some of his ashes
in a small urn next to the altar.
The Mekong River flooded and my AIDS clinic, the school, church
and priest's house were under about 4 feet of water for two weeks. I went to
take photos of the reeking flood, and a herd of my little girls from Our
Lady of Refuge came along, and got right into the water to get in photos. I
pointed out the golden nuggets floating around, and told them were they came
from, namely the school latrines. They literally ran on water, gagging and
cursing. Made my day.
I took my tin cup to London and Dublin on November 5, and
returned on Nov. 15. I was there at the request of the Pattaya Orphanage
Trust. I don't know how much good my presence was, but I did get to see my
sister Brigid for a few days in Dublin, and that made the trip worthwhile!
The kids were relieved to get me back.
Before I went home in May for another wildly successful
CEBORIDE, I bought 6 rai of paddy rice fields. Then, an old couple gave us
their fields to do, and asked us for a couple sacks of rice, since no one
was helping them. We had a good harvest, although if we had better rain in
August and September, we would have nearly enough for the whole year. Our
orchard continues to thrive, and I bought over $2,000 of Mekong River dirt
to plant big vegetable fields. I can hear the girls moaning already.
The days grow shorter now, and with the northern winds, the
roads and trails each evening fill up with eager, happy little bike riders.
These kids could only dream of this type of activity when they first came to
us, sick, heart broken, abandoned and scared. Now, I see bikes of every size
and color and age. This old man bought himself a bike with birthday presents
that has multiple shifting gears. I try to get out there every day. But as I
labor up hills and over uneven terrain, runts zip past, legs a blur as they
celebrate their lives with relish and joy. As my ability to bike and lift
weights diminish, I truly thank the Lord for letting me live to see these
kids break out of their cocoons and become stronger and swifter and full of
happiness and hope. Like my brother Jack wrote on his 60th birthday, these
kids are teaching an old man how to live.
May the Good Lord bless you and yours at Christmas and
throughout the New Year! We pray for you every evening at Holy Innocents
Happy New Year!!