Earlier this year I was asked to cover the Pattaya
International Ladies Club’s (PILC) Valentine’s party at the Fountain of
Life Children’s Center, but managed to have a chat with Sister Joan
before the festivities start.
Activities begin at 9 a.m. with the singing of the National Anthem, a
prayer (both Buddhist and Christian) and breakfast, followed by various
kinds of studies.
“Our main aim is simple: we want these children, who
come from very poor families, to go to school,” says the Sister, who has
worked at the Center since 1996, but has been stationed an incredible 52
years in South East Asia.
“Our main target group is children between three and
seven. Many live in slums and have no official address and without that
you cannot register your domicile, which means you won’t be able to
attend government schools.”
The Center has two staff members who work exclusively
with issues like these. Some children do not even have birth
certificates and ID-cards. Sometimes because the parents never
registered their birth, but more often today because they have come here
with their parents from neighbouring countries, such as Cambodia and
Vietnam, or been born here by foreign parents who could not register
them. Not only are they unable to attend school, they are also excluded
from health care. Technically, these children do not exist.
“Our main aim is simple: we want these children to go to school,” says
“The foreign children are a new and growing
category,” says Sister Joan. “Because of this we now take on older
children, up to the age of fifteen. It might not be possible to get them
official Thai papers, or get them into government schools, but we can
still offer them their basic right of education here.”
Also, she tells me the Center has an agreement with
the None Formal Education Agency, where these paperless youngsters can
get exams in vocational skills which will help them get a job, here or
in their home country.
For the younger Thai children without documents the
prospect of getting all the necessary identity papers is considerably
“There are so many ways to love.”
“Eventually, we do manage to get all of them
ID-cards,” says Sister Joan. “The people at City Hall know that we are
affiliated with the government and the UN (as a Non Governmental
Organization) and tend to be very cooperative. And we do put a lot of
effort into it, visiting their home villages and sometimes even taking
DNA tests to establish identity.”
At the moment there are 140 children registered at
the Center, but there will usually only be 110 or 115 there at the same
“Sadly, some do drop off and not all show up every
Most children are picked up where they live every
morning by one of the Center’s two buses, and then driven home and
dropped off in the afternoons. Activities begin at 9 a.m. with the
singing of the National Anthem, a prayer (both Buddhist and Christian)
and breakfast, followed by various kinds of studies.
The youngest will be taught to understand and use
their body, and learn about personal hygiene and social skills. The
mid-aged group will practice creative skills such as painting and
drawing, and the children who will soon be going off to school are
taught to read and write.
“Already having these skills will give them a good
start and boost their self-confidence,” explains the Sister.
Health is another main issue.
“We start with the basics, by teaching them to wash
their hands before each meal and brush their teeth afterwards,” says
Sister Joan and explains that there is no use letting the children stand
by a sink with running water to brush their teeth. “This has nothing to
do with their own everyday life, we want them to continue these habits
when they get home, so we give them a mug of water and let them sit on
the ground outside - to this they can relate.”
Many children come to the Center with very bad teeth.
“Parents tend to lack knowledge,” sighs the Sister.
“The mother will often sooth the child with sweets and not be aware of
how this causes cavities.”
The new children will all be given a thorough medical
and dental examination, but all children get regular check-ups, as teams
of doctors and dentists come to the Center from Bangkok Hospital Pattaya
several times a year.
The social situation of the child is also a big
concern. When a new child registers there are two staff members who
visit the home regularly to check that the information given about the
child is true.
“We want to be sure that the child matches our target
group and that we have a good idea of the situation and background of
each individual child.”
Moreover, the home situation of the existing children
is followed up two to three times a year. There will also be counselling
sessions with the parents, or the parental figure with whom the child
lives (aunt, granny, etc.).
“The aim is that the child should be able to continue
to live with the parents. Only if there is a real need, such as abuse,
severe neglect and drugs, will we work towards removing the child from
Food, health, social interaction, security,
education. All basic things a child needs for a good start in life. As I
try to formulate a question about this, my train of thought is
interrupted by the deafening sound of amplified voices and drums from
outside the office. No doubt, the party has begun.
Yet, the energetic Sister is not discouraged by the
noise - she still has things to say - and raising her voice almost to a
shout, she continues to tell me about what the children do in the
afternoon: a nap for the youngest, free play, dance classes, aerobics,
cooking and the making of cards to sell to the public, organized by the
“Then, at this time everyday, we have an assembly,
where we talk about issues that affect the children’s lives and teach
them about values. Of course a lot of teaching is done through songs.”
She smiles and makes a gesture at the noise - someone is clearly singing
in a microphone now. “Lucky for you - we should go out to the party now
- I could keep on talking forever and tell you a hundred stories more.”
I am sure she could. Only during this short chat she
managed to tell me several - and very interesting they were - which
unfortunately, due to lack of space, could not be included in this
But then, what would one expect from a Sister who has
devoted 52 years to helping the unfortunate in this part of the world,
and who is still going strong. She is an impressive force of loving
determination and warmth.
Sister Joan takes my hand - the second time today she
does so without letting go - and leads me outside.
“This is a big day for them,” she smiles. “A day when
we all show our love. We have talked a lot about it with them. About
different kinds of love. There are so many ways to love.”
The Fountain of Life Children’s Center needs people
who can teach English to their staff. Please call Sister Joan at
038-362009 if you would like to volunteer.
Most would agree that water is essential for human
life; without clean drinking water there would be no life. The oceans,
seas, rivers and lakes make up more than two thirds of the earth’s
surface, but the amount of available clean fresh drinking water is just
Delivery day at the Father Ray Day Care Center is always a fun day with
the toddlers scrambling to help.
In certain parts of the world safe drinking water is
so scarce it is estimated that one and a half million children die each
year from water related diseases such as diarrhoea, and a further tens
of millions are sickened.
Each day the Father Ray Foundation needs to provide
water not just for drinking but also for bathing, cleaning and
sanitation to its more than eight hundred and fifty children and
students with disabilities.
Until recently water trucks arrived at the Father Ray
Children’s Home three times each day to deliver water as the deep well
at the Home dried up, but thanks to generous supporters, pipes were laid
and the Home is now receiving fresh clean water which is piped from the
main city water supply.
Drinking water is delivered to the Father Ray
Foundation projects from its Central Purchasing department where large
bottles are cleaned and filled with purified, safe drinking water.
The water purifying system was donated by the charity
‘a child’s right’, a US based non-profit organisation which has provided
facilities for purifying water to child care organisations in Ethiopia,
China, Cambodia, Nepal, Tibet and Thailand, ensuring that tens of
thousands of children are at less risk from catching water borne
Thanks to ‘a child’s right’, the Father Ray
Foundation is not only able to provide safe drinking water but it is
also saving money. Prior to the instalment of the water purifier the
Foundation purchased water for thirty five baht for each 18.9 litre
bottle, today the cost is just over four baht per bottle. The Father Ray
Foundation is now able to make its own ice, saving more money, almost 30
baht per bag, all of which can be used to help the children in its care.
The money saved will allow the Foundation to provide
care for more children, offer more scholarships to youngsters living in
the poor slums of Pattaya and offer help to more people with
More information on the Father Ray Foundation can be
found at www.fr-ray.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Information about ‘a child’s right’ can be found at