A night at the Orphanage with Cyclone Nargis

This post is an account of a night spent at Safe Haven Orphanage on the Thailand Burma border as Cyclone Nargis passed by North West of us. If you would like to make a donation to the victims of the Cyclone inside Burma – please do so at Givetoburma.org.

Last week I headed to Mae Sot for a few days to conduct a training course and catch up with some friends. On Saturday, five of us decided to hire a pick-up truck and head 150KM North up the Thailand/Burma border to Safe Haven Orphanage.

It had poured down in Mae Sot at about 2am on Saturday morning, and the rain showed no sign of abating. We arrived at Safe Haven at about 3pm on Saturday, and dashed between muddy puddles for the nearest house to avoid another soaking.

Tasanee and the children from Safe Haven Orphanage moved onto their new land shortly before Christmas. The land is located next to the river marking the border between Thailand and Burma, and when I made the trip there with my sister during our motorbike epic last December, Tasanee was frantically directing the assembly of the first wooden house so that the children could move in by Christmas.

This time, there were 4 or 5 mainly wooden Karen-style structures in various stages of completion – the beginning of a new settlement. All the buildings were raised on wooden stilts, with leaf & bamboo roofs.

Cyclone Nargis path map - Thailand & Burma

At about 4pm on Saturday afternoon the rain really started hammering down, and seemed to be flying past the valley sides with an almost horizontal trajectory. We didn’t think too much of it at this point – it was more of an inconvenience because it meant we couldn’t play with the children outside. Looking for something to do, we decided to head into the neighbouring village to buy some sweets for the children, and 15 minutes later discovered the road we had entered the village by had been blocked by a falling tree and power lines it had brought down.

Read moreA night at the Orphanage with Cyclone Nargis

Podcast: Safe Haven Orphanage, Thailand

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I met Tasanee – founder of Safe Haven Orphanage – on my first weekend in Mae Sot, two and a half years ago, and since then we have become close friends. This Podcast is a short interview I did with Tasanee whilst motorbiking around Northern Thailand with my sister last December. The interview is also contained in the much longer Podcast 1483km by motorbike in North Thailand.

Safe Haven Orphanage, Thailand Burma border

In 1987 Tasanee started caring for orphaned children on the Thai/Burma border after she received a frantic message from a local villager in Tha Song Yang, Thailand that a little girl had lost her mother during birth. In Karen culture this is interpreted as a bad omen, and the child is often killed. Tasanee took in the young girl – now known as ‘Boonmee’ – and with her brother converted their childhood home into an open space to accommodate the children. Starting with whatever funds were available, she built the foundation of what has become the first Safe Haven Orphanage. Relying on her personal funds and the donations of the people of Mae Sot, she was able to expand and take on more children. She now has forty-three children under her care.

Last year, thanks to a generous donation from Ireland, Safe Haven Orphanage purchased five acres of land just outside the current village. The children and Tasanee are now working hard to make this land habitable, and to raise the funds to build a new orphanage.

The orphanage is located in Tha Song Yang, an incredibly picturesque Karen village in northern Thailand. It sits next to the Moei river which separates Thailand from Burma. It is surrounded by jungle and beautiful limestone mountains, which cut it off from the bustle of the outside world. Electricity was introduced only a year or two ago, and there is only one phone in the middle of the village. It’s what a small village should be; a small tight-knit community where all the kids play together and all the parents know each other. It was at one time a target of Burmese mortars; the pot-marked roads still show evidence. Now however, it is the most peaceful place you could imagine. In the mornings, the sun rises over the mountains to the sound of the local monks chanting.