We travel to Thailand. To Paksong to be precise. A rural community amid the rainforest in the hills of Phato, near the Thai coastal town of Ranong. From there, Rosalie Tieges, Ingrid van der Straten and countless local volunteers take care of hundreds of children outside the available care and education system, and help them with scholarships, school uniforms, lunch money, surgeries, physiotherapy, tube feeding, numerous educational programmes or whatever is needed. They often involve children with disabilities or socio-economic problems.

Love knows no boundaries

“About 20 years ago, I was sent to Thailand as a volunteer,” says Rosalie, founder of the Thai Child Development Foundation (TCDF), “and got to work on numerous wonderful projects. It was incredibly rewarding work, but I often found that things could be different. Moreover, not only had I fallen in love with the country and its people, but a certain person had also stolen my heart. Reason enough to stay, so together with support from Ingrid and some Thai volunteers, I started the foundation. Because although Thailand is developing at a rapid pace, rural opportunities are mostly limited.”

What exactly does the TCDF do?

TCDF supports children with physical limitations, developmental or learning disabilities, as well as children growing up in extreme poverty or facing social problems. “The local teachers in the village schools are our eyes and ears,” says Rosalie. “They signal it when a child, for example, does not come to school, does not have food with him or has bruises. When such a report comes in, one of our home care staff will go out and work in close consultation with local village leaders and parents or carers to see how we can provide tailored help. This could be support in the form of study help, but also medical care or temporary accommodation with someone else within the family or local community.”

From poverty to university

The foundation prefers not to remove the children from their homes and instead makes every effort to let them grow up in their own environment. In all these years, there has been only one exception to that rule at the very beginning. Rosalie: “Through a monk, I was made aware of Dau aged two and her younger sister. The mother had been out of the picture for some time and the father had been given a life sentence and was wanted. So a dire situation, especially as the children were considerably neglected.

Since we did not have our strong networks in the villages back then and could not find a foster family, I then took them in and took them into my heart. We have gradually rebuilt contact with the mother over the years into co-parenting with me. Meanwhile, Dau turned 19, had the highest mark in the class during her graduation and started studying Maritime Business at university. That makes me so immensely proud!”

How can you support TCDF?

Donations are of course always welcome and even a small amount can really make a substantial difference to a child in Thailand. The foundation is also always looking for volunteers to get involved on location or from home (online). Last but not least, the foundation rents out holiday homes by the river. Besides the beautiful nature and gardens, secluded beaches and national marine parks are a stone’s throw away. There are also numerous activities and day trips organised, a restaurant, a shop, and daily yoga and other workshops. All proceeds flow back to the school for children with learning disabilities and vocational training for young people with disabilities. And so the foundation can create fair jobs again for young people with disabilities in the future. Holidays for charity as it were, but without the terrible orphanage tourism.