02/19/06 — Help for Thailand's children

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Help for Thailand's children

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on February 19, 2006 2:04 AM

Jacqueline Kannan had only been in Thailand for two days.

She originally intended to be like any other American in the country, a tourist.

She bought a one-way ticket to Thailand hoping to become a teacher and enjoy a different culture.

Then she boarded a train to the northern part of Thailand called the Chiang Mai province and met a man who would send her intentions and heart in an entirely different direction.

The man, Ken Brookens, is a retired professor working for Outreach International helping Thailand continue to recuperate from the 2004 tsunami that devastated the region. He told Miss Kannan of on orphanage in Chiang Mai -- Baan Kingkaew -- that could use volunteers and, more importantly, supplies.

Miss Kannan decided to visit with the children for an hour the next day, as a tourist, and continue exploring the country. However, she ended up spending most of the next day with the orphans.

The orphanage didn't have diapers, baby formula or toilet paper. So Miss Kannan gathered a list of needed items and set out to buy them with her own money.

Four packages of diapers, three boxes of powder formula and 60 rolls of toilet paper later, Miss Kannan said she returned to Chiang Mai to see that the children needed much more than she could provide by herself.

Yet, she said she still would make lists and bought more than 80 rolls of toilet paper, 15 boxes of formula and almost 50 packages of diapers all for the children.

"When you walk into the room, they know you are not with the staff. It's novelty to them, and they want to fight for your time and affection. It's really rewarding," Miss Kannan said.

However, there is not enough money in the endowment to accommodate the needs of all of the children. So Miss Kannan said she called her childhood friend, Charlie Cooke, a financial adviser for Sterne, Agee and Leech Inc. in Goldsboro, to see if he could help.

On Jan. 20, Cooke said he began raising money the only way he knew how.

"I've talked to church groups, women's groups, Rotary clubs and anybody else that will take five minutes to listen to me and let them know about these children's needs," he said.

After only a couple of weeks of work, Cooke was able to raise $5,000 for the orphanage and told his friend about his accomplishment. When Miss Kannan told the president of Baan Kingkaew of the upcoming donation, she said the woman cried and told her it was one of the largest donations to come from the United States.

"Everyone in Goldsboro has been so willing to give, and they are ecstatic about the money. They have never seen this amount of money before," Miss Kannan said.

In Chiang Mai, sponsoring one child for a year costs 4,000 baht, which is about $100. However, in an everyday situation, the U.S. dollar stretches far in Thailand.

"One dollar could buy three pairs of shoes," Miss Kannan said. "I can eat three meals in a day for less than a dollar. It might not seem like much to us, but it goes a long way here."

This is especially true for the orphanage.

The Chiang Mai Orphanage Foundation was the first charitable foundation in the province to dedicate its mission to the care of needy children. It was founded by a group of women volunteers convinced that a foundation was needed after working at the Chiang Mai University Hospital.

Before the orphanage opened in July 1966, local orphaned children were raised in the hospital. Then, Kingkaew Wiboolsanti donated her home, land and financial endowment to turn the idea into reality. So, the Baan Kingkaew orphanage was named in honor of Miss Wiboolsanti.

When the orphanage began, the foundation cared for 25 children and the endowment generated enough money to care for these children. However, the orphanage cares for 47 boys and girls from their birth to age 5. The endowment does not generate enough money to provide for their needs, so the orphanage relies on private donations.

Cooke said his fundraising efforts won't stop. Next week, he will travel to Thailand to personally hand the check to the orphanage.

When he returns, he said he plans to raise even more money because there are many more children in the Chiang Mai province who need the supplies, love and attention provided by the volunteers and staff of the orphanage.

"This is just us doing what we can. We are not doing this through any kind of organization. We just want to keep raising money for these kids because they don't have the resources and opportunities we have in America," Cooke said.

Those interested in helping the orphans can send checks to St. Stephen's Episcopal Church by mailing them to P.O. Box 984, Goldsboro, N.C., 27533. Cooke said any donations by check should be marked "Thailand Orphanage" in the subject line to help the church differentiate between church donations and those for the orphanage.

Any other questions about the orphanage or donations can be directed to Cooke by calling 919-922-0737. People can also visit www.thaiorphanagenc.org to see pictures of the children, learn more about the orphanage and to make donations.