With constricted space, I shall cut right to the chase! "Sarnelli House" is a legal term in Thailand that takes in all four of our houses. Sarnelli House itself has 60 children now. Of these 60, 8 are quarantined at the "House of Hope", a 7-room cottage at Pai Si Tong, whose grounds were enlarged and a pavilion added for the kids to play. We have 15 boys at St. Patrick's Home, and 39 girls attached to, and shoehorned in, the Viengkhuk Girls' Home. Of those tykes quarantined, we have Miss Soi, 2 years old, who just finished 40 consecutive days of streptomycin injections for TB. Miss Muk, who was ill unto death and made a come back. Nuke, a lovely little thing who came heartbroken that her aunts or grandparents would not raise her. She is now a happy and bubbly little thing, and hunts up hugs whenever possible. The most heartrending of our wee ones is Mr. Sawn, still fighting for breath and life in the Nongkhai Provincial hospital. He was the little guy whose relatives were going to buy him a train ticket and let him go on his own to wherever, until they threw him off the train. Even the Thai health authorities, not known for compassion, were grossed out at their cruelty. Sawn is safe from these miserable relatives, but has been hospitalized for months, and is not gaining ground. Others, like Mr. "U", Misses Bee and Joi-Joi, have gone to the main house of Sarnelli. Anyway, please pray for Sawn. Of our 114 charges, 49 have AIDS.
Every Friday until noon, adults with AIDS come to our little clinic for medicine, handicraft training, and just to talk and have lunch. One who came frequently was a lovely woman named Ying from the next village upriver, Tha Mak Fueng. She caught AIDS from a rapist. She seemed to have slipped mentally, and was raped several times, and men from villages around would sleep with her. Even two 15 year old boys from Rosario school entertained her ail night. Well, she wasn't as mentally deficient as some had hoped, because she kept a detailed diary of who, when, how and where. Suddenly, truckloads of women were appeared at our door, seeking advice and getting their skin problems and blood checked out. 39 men had slept with her and 6 had raped her. Her infection rate for them is, I hear, 100%.
During all this excitement, we were given three girls ages 6,7, and 8. Their mother was a degenerate gambler who took off with another gambler. The father is a 35 year old jerk who brings home real low level ladies of the night, and when he didn't have money to hire these creatures, would molest the older girts. We picked them up from Social Services, and the littlest one took on look at the foreign devil and scratched gravel. It took them 20 minutes to find her. They were dirty, wormy, and crawling with lice. When given rice, they wolfed it down within seconds. Now, they are clean, sweet, debonair, and have new clothes and new friends. They are now used to the ominous presence of the foreign devil. They damn well better be, if they don't want to wind up with coal in their stockings at Christmas.
This year, I goose-stepped the runts out to plow and plant 13 rai (6 % acres) of rice paddy. Time to try to feed ourselves the year round. We wound up with the worst drought in my 38 year old memory of Thailand. We had a poor yield, and all I heard from the Great Unwashed was, "you can go down the road and BUY rice! Why plant??”
We had a few defections this year. Oud, who was genera! manager, moved on to work in Bangkok. Oi, and Paw, our nurses aids, both quit to got other jobs and get married. Ja, our wheelchair-bound accountant's father died 6 months ago, and her boyfriend got kind of carried away in consoling her, and she admitted to being with child. We are using a new method of book keeping, so she stayed on for three months to train two others. Mike the weightier was always there when she had to be lifted in the van to go somewhere. Ja was never really svelte, and one day, I learned she had exceeded my limit of 165 pounds and we staggered back and forth until I was able to heave her into the van, head firmly walked around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame for a week. She has departed for Bangkok and her husband. Gung, head honcho of Sarnelli also took three months maternity leave. It is becoming apparent that qualified, efficient, dedicated Thai staff are wanting, and foreign volunteers don't know the language and can't always understand the local mores, so we need to go to the drawing board. Many are called, but few are chosen.
We are well into construction of a meditation/prayer chapel for kids, staff and guests. I think it will look really nice when it is done. But thank God everyone is giving their version of what should be done, because I am at a loss when it comes to the finer points of decorating. When finished, Father. Dick Strass' ashes will reside there with the kids. When Dick went home in May for treatment for lung cancer, all he wanted to do was be cured so he could return to them. We never dreamed it would be like this. Right now, his ashes are in the house right over my right shoulder as I type this, and kids come in to "wai" him, and sometimes pray for what they want, such as asking loudly, "please tell Fr. Shea to buy pizza for us, etc."
The kids went on two excursions this year. In April a posse went to stay at the Redemptorist Center in Pattaya, and in October, to Korat and Buriram. The staff love these trips too, since they are local folk who don't get out too often. The wee ones from the nursery and little AIDS kids get one day excursions, and the vans depart with excited little people, complete with diapers, water, and barf bags, plus air fresheners.
After New Year, we will begin construction of the "Charlene Richard" house for volunteers. Money is being raised by Catholics of the Lafayette diocese of Louisiana. Charlene was a girl who died at 16 of cancer, and our kids can relate to her. The Ceboride, organized by Sam and Molly Mueller and friends, was a tremendous success, and ! hope to be home for it this coming summer, God willing. People have been very generous, and we truly, humbly, appreciate this. Even the government got in on the act; giving us 4OO.OOO baht ($20,000), and grading the dirt roads in and out of Don Wai, and putting in regular high voltage electricity. Now, we are petitioning for phone lines for three villages who don't have phone service. Pai Si Tong, home to St. Patrick's and the House of Hope, plus St. Cornelius church; and Don Wai with Sarnelli House and the Charlene House, plus Good Shepherd church would truly benefit.
Despite the heartrending loss of Fr. Dick and the drought, God has been truly good to us. We attribute this to Dick's intercession. It warms the cockles of my old Irish heart to see kids who came to us sick, dirty, diseased and utterly bereft of love and compassion, now healthy, proud, and happy, mounting the school bus in their uniforms and knapsacks, going to school and doing things that their friends do. The staff truly loves them. I love them, even though they delight in driving me nuts with questions and advice. Absolutely none of this would have been remotely possible without your help, interest, prayers and concern. We simply pray for all God's love and graces for you in the New Year. It is the only way we know how to thank you.