El Shadai Orphanage

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Our guide Jermsak told us he had been praying the haze would lift before we arrived and it seemed his prayers had been answered. Chiang Rai was clear and beautiful when we arrived. The air was cool (realitively anyway), the sky was blue and everything was green. It was the nicest I have ever seen Chiang Rai look. Unfortunately this was a short trip with a lot to cover over two days.

We arrived on the Green VIP Bus from Chiang Mai mid morning to be met by Surasak and Mon (the El Shadai orphanage parents). Jermsak was at a wedding and asked Surasak if he would pick us up from the bus. It was an extra treat to see Suvimon, the new baby girl, now aged 7 months.

We decided to test out Baan Soontree – a lovely small boutique style hotel about 5 mins from the city centre. We all decided this was a good choice. The place has a really nice feel about it. It is a series of one and two story bungalows set around the pool – all with very large balconies and tables and chairs outside. It felt like being in someone’s home and lazing around their pool. Not that we got to do much lazing.

We had about three hours until Jermsak was due to collect us, so we had lunch at the restaurant – and gathered our gear together for our afternoon visit to El Shadai.

It was great to see Jermsak again when he arrived to collect us – it had been two years since our last visit so we had a lot to catch up on. The orphanage is only about ten minutes out of town – so much of the catching up had to wait until later when we were invited to have dinner with Jersmak and his family in their home.

The Sergeants and the orphanage parents, Mon and Surasak. Photo by QCT.The Sergeants and the orphanage parents, Mon and Surasak. Photo by QCT.

When we arrived at El Shadai we were gob-smacked at the transformation since our last visit. An amazing transformation has taken place. For a start a new little house has been built thanks to fund raising efforts by Judy in the US and it is PINK! Mon and Surasak were so proud showing us the house. This was much needed and a necessity for them to have some space apart from the kids. The little house cost $6000US to build and it goes to show you how a sum like that can just transform the living conditions for these people.

The kitchen area was painted a deep rust colour and there were hanging baskets of flowers dotted around. Everything looks bright, fresh and colourful. Such a contrast since our last visit I couldn’t believe it. So many people must have contributed to achieve this – well done, the conditions before were not at all adequate. I still wouldn’t stay they are comfortable – there are 18 girls sharing one small dorm area with barely space to move around. The boys dorm has not been done up and is in dire need of a full renovation/clean/ paint/ new beds etc.

Jonathan Sergeant teaching about the Easter story. Photo by QCT.Jonathan Sergeant teaching about the Easter story. Photo by QCT.

It was Good Friday and we had offered to run a time of activity/teaching and worship with the children. None of them speak any English – so Jermsak kindly stepped in as a translator. We spent some good time with the children – we taught them some songs (God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it should be). Jonathan led a time of teaching where he had cut out pictures featuring the Easter story, he then told a very simple version of the story and the kids had to put the pictures in order. Jenny from the Gap Uniting Church had made a huge banner with coloured flowers all over it. The idea is that we would assemble the banner with the children. (they stuck the flowers on to create the picture). They really enjoyed doing this and the end result was amazing. We also presented them with an El Shadai banner made by Sue from Logan Uniting Church, this banner depicted the children around Jesus and said ‘let the children come to me’. It is just stunning and they all gasped when we unrolled it. Both of these banners will be loved for a long time.

Little girl with handmade cross and giftbag. Photo by QCT.Little girl with handmade cross and giftbag. Photo by QCT.

The Caritas group from St Mark’s at the Gap had made crosses and donated some money and the Cathedral gift shop donated book marks, pencils and rubbers. We added Easter eggs and make up gift bags for each child. They were also appreciated. We were also able to leave a bundle of other colourful banners donated by churches around South East Queensland. Some of these banners were left at the orphanage and some we gave to the local Christian church in the village to brighten their walls. A special thanks too to the parishes who donated unwanted banners for us to take.

The children with the flower banners. Photo by QCT.The children with the flower banners. Photo by QCT.

There are now 25 children in total – 22 orphans and 3 children belonging to Mon and Surasak. This is almost double the number from our last visit. The support they are receiving is enabling Mon and Surasak to take in more children. They have no government funding. Two years ago they had a primitive water pump, no refrigeration and very limited facilities – the extra support directly means another 10 – 12 children are now in care. That is mind blowing.

The Orphans. Photo by QCT.The Orphans. Photo by QCT.

After a sad farewell to the children we went to have dinner with Jermsak and his family. It was so good to have some time to catch up with them all and to meet Jermsak’s elderly mother (who he is caring for). We feel very honoured to call this man a friend. He is far more than a guide, he really is a teacher. Just being around him you soak up so much information - things I would never think to ask – but wanted to know. Jermsak grew up an orphan himself and he has such a heart for helping others. It was he who introduced us to El Shadai.

Jermsak played us some songs on his guitar and shared a bit about how the last few years have been for him and the family. It is so far removed from our life and I always feel we have so much to learn – and even less to complain about. I need of bit more of his positive attitude to life.

After being dropped back to Baan Soontree we had a re-freshing late night swim with a full moon overhead.

Thanks for all of your support – even the very small donations of one or two things are now directly in the hands of the children and Mon and Surasak.