The Origins of Stichting Weeshuis Thailand
– Leoni van Leeuwen
Over four years ago I came to live in Thailand. The land of smiles. I got in touch with an orphanage through a friend of mine. I started helping out here and there.
It started with just cooking once in a while. I always made sure it was food with some good nutrition and so they had the chance to eat something else than their daily rice and soup with some meat and vegetable flakes in it. But soon I realized that doing this was quiet expensive for me since I was just a teacher here.
Occasionally I had tourists who came to visit Chiang Mai and stayed at my house through couchsurfing.org. I sometimes took them back to the orphanage and people thought it was a great experience and together we shared the costs of the food. I started to organize events via couchsurfing to cook at the orphanage. It drew enough people to cook there on a weekly basis.
The children were always very enthusiastic about what they would eat. This was because we’d cook food from all over the world and would teach them something about the culture of that country as well. At a certain point children started asking us if we could teach them English after food too. Since I was a teacher here in daily life that was a piece of cake. If not teaching myself, I’d help my couchsurfers set up a lesson plan and would give them some practical tips. Both the volunteers and children were very happy with this new structure.
Sometimes I’d have couchsurfers that wanted to do something extra. Something that made me so happy, since I couldn’t afford it with my Thai salary. They helped me giving them the thing that I think is so important for these traumatized children; great memories. They’d take them to see a movie, ice skating, the zoo etc. Yet it began to gnaw at me. They got all these great memories, but they also had to get food on the table. If I did my weekly cooking session and I ventured a glimpse into the fridge it was always a sad echo from the refrigerator.
One of the children had dengue at one point. When I found out, he was already a day or two in the hospital. When I went to visit him I was really sad about the environment I found him in. There were so many seriously ill people lying all around him. There was a elderly woman opposite him who seemed to scream out her last cries. Even for an adult like me, this was a quiet unpleasant experience. He was about to be fired from the hospital but otherwise I would have personally brought him to another hospital. I realized that we needed money for these kind of things. We needed money for the necessities of life. I didn’t wanted those kids later to think in a sense of: “Leoni always did so much fun stuff with us, quiet expensive things, but why did we never have enough to eat, why did we go to bad schools, why was there no better health care for us?” I wanted to help, but how…
I started thinking about setting up a foundation. But for this I needed help. Not just to get sufficient board members, but also to have someone as a soundboard. Through couchsurfing I hosted Binh-An Nguyen. I took him to the orphanage and soon also he was in love with all these kids. In the evening we were brainstorming how we could help these children. I told him my idea for the foundation and Binh-an was in!
A few months later, during my visit in the Netherlands, we have put the deed to the word and signed all the papers at the Notary. Stichting Weeshuis Thailand was born. Meanwhile, the children have enough food. They get enough vitamins. They go to school, learn English and learn to play music instruments. They seem very happy. We have 19 children now at the orphanage and we are proud to be supporting them. We are still small but we have great vision. Help us to help these kids so we can grow and help more kids.