Long time ago when I was still at school in South Africa I had my first encounter with orphans. A concept that was very new to me as all I thought about orphans were the starving children in the Christian aid advert. Very touching, but so far removed from the world in which I lived. I did not relate to them and did not feel I had anything to do with it.
As a schoolboy I was very shy and quiet (not something people who know me now would say). I looked around and saw many things but never felt I had the right to have an opinion or say anything. Due to this, you could say I was not a very high achiever and worried about everything and how it might work out or not in some cases. I was very good at seeing the worst case scenario so when things went bad they never really got as bad as I had imagined. So in a warped way they were good
Life at home was not ideal but at least I had a home and could be grateful for that. I was the 3rd of 4 children and most the time did not feel part of the family. I often thought that I did not fit in as they seemed to see things in such a different way, but guess what, I lived through it and here I am.
Whilst at school I joined the Students Christian association which did great holiday camps. On these camps I could be me, once I got over the initial fear of meeting all these strange people. But they did not have set opinions about me and took me as they found me. I made some really good friends on these camps and we would keep in contact throughout the year. Every now and again we would have a reunion picnic to catch up.
I remember wanting to go to one of these reunions so badly but knew I could not ask my father for the money to go away for the week end as he would tell me we did not have it as we had other things which were much more important. I managed to save up enough money by doing various things. One advantage was that I enjoyed handicrafts so could make things and sell them to make money. This I did until I had enough money to attend the reunion. I had arranged with some friends I had made at camp, that I would go up to Johannesburg on the Saturday and stay overnight with them and their parents would run us out to the reunion on the Sunday afternoon. All I had to do was ask my dad if I could go. Something I eventually did and he agreed as I was funding it myself.
I remember it as if it were yesterday, one of the most touching days of my life and one that would change my life majorly in later years.
It was a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon and we had all brought cakes and snacks and met up in a park. There must have been about 60 of us sitting around eating and chatting about what we had all been up to and what we were doing. Whilst sitting there a ball rolled into our group from a group of children that were playing nearby. One of the adults came over to apologise about the children and we started chatting. He was from a local orphanage and had brought a group of kids to play in the park for the afternoon. We enquired if he had anything for the children to eat or drink on their outing to the park and he said," it was a treat to come to the park and they did not expect anything else"
After watching the children playing for a while and seeing how happy they were we decided that we had more than enough cake and snacks to feed all of us and have some left over. We went to the adult and asked if the children would like to come and join us for cake and drinks as we had lots. The children came over and I fell in love with them. It was so hard to think that nobody wanted these lovely little people and they would spend the rest of their lives in a home.
Well the afternoon came to an end and we had to say goodbye to our new little friends and everybody else at the picnic and start making our way home. I thought about these children all the way home on the train and still could not see them as orphans as they were not like the starving children in the Oxfam advert. They were all dressed well, and looked quite normal and healthy. Just goes to prove how little we know and how we judge things by our own little world in which we live.
I went home and life went on, often I thought about these children and what would become of them. We did not have the modern convenience of internet and search sites in those days, which brings all the information to us so life went on and they stayed in my thoughts.
Many years later, due to family circumstances my younger sister and I were taken in by family friends who gave us a home and cared for us as if we were their own children. This made me think and realize that there were some kind people in this world who cared as much for others as they did about their own family. They did not do it for money or gratification, they did it because they could. They opened their home and their hearts to two children in need of a stable home environment to enable them to finish their education.
Although I still had parents, and due to circumstances out with their control, I had become part of another family who sometimes seemed to care more than my own. I am sure I was not the easiest of teenagers to take into their home but they did not question it, they just did it. I stayed with them for about six months I think, until I finished my schooling and final exams and moved on with my life.
That I can say, is one of my first experiences where I met somebody else who could give unconditional love to somebody. Although I am sure I did not tell them, I will always be eternally grateful to the family who took us in and made us as welcome as their own children. That there were such people in the world was another one of my major lessons.
I finished school and moved on with my life and made the most of what I had never expecting too much thus never getting too disappointed when things did not work out. I learnt a lot of what to do and even more about what not to do and that there were nice people in the world and lots of not so nice people. I feel that is something we all have to learn for ourselves.
Life went on and I worked in the hospitality industry, allowing me to spend most of my time at work and thus not have to worry about my life. Living in a hotel and working 18 hours a day did not leave you with much to worry about, as you ate, slept and breathed work…. I existed.
After many years of existing I met somebody at work who saw I had potential and that there was a real person hiding behind the name badge. Something I would not have agreed to in those days as it meant I had to think and feel so would probably get hurt again.
This person through many years of perseverance empowered me to see that I was a really caring person and had lots to give if only I would believe in myself. Something easier said than done, but no matter how many rejections and times I pushed her away she seemed to think I was a cause worth fighting for. All I can say to her is, “thanks for not giving up and walking away". She saw a challenge and she embraced it with both hands and hung in there through thick and thin, refusing to give up.
This person who believed in me more than I would ever have believed in myself is now my lovely wife of 22 years. My other half who I don’t think I could do without. Sometimes I still think she knows me better than I know myself. Wow what another wonderful lesson in life, somebody could love me for what I was. Something I did not think possible as that stage as I did not even like myself.
Through our many years together, she always promoted me and told me I could do anything I wanted to if I put my mind to it. There was nothing I could not do, something she reminds me of often.
Life went on and things got better the longer we were together and I developed confidence and self-esteem and started to believe I could do things just as well as the next person and others were no better than I was. I started setting challenges and after each achievement I felt stronger and more empowered to be able to actually make a difference. My life was changing and I was on a great adventure.
The Tsunami in Asia in 1994 had a much greater effect on me than I would ever have imagined. I was sitting in Florida when it happened and did not know anybody directly involved in it. It was only when we returned home on 28th of December that the full impact of the disaster hit me and as time went by I felt that I needed to do something more than just give money. After many refusals from the big organizations, I kept been told there was nothing I could do, but with Julies backing I set off on another adventure to set up a school on an island devastated by the Tsunami.
After much fundraising and encouragement I succeeded in my first solo adventure to Thailand. With lots of heart ache and support from loved ones at home it was a great success, till my last day when I visited the Baan Muang aid camp and saw all those orphaned children. It just seemed to trigger something in me that I could not deny. They needed my help. I came home and told Julie that we would be helping set up an orphanage for children of the Tsunami, which we helped fund.
Over the next few years we visited and supported various projects in Thailand and became more and more involved in helping so many people. These trips seemed to become more often and even more rewarding. Having a major impact on our lives and the way we approached things.
At Christmas 2011 we were told about a new project that somebody would like to open. After some discussion we decided we would help support the building of the project and it opened in April 2012 for 16 children to come down to town to gain an education. Now that is up and running we are on the lookout for a new challenge.
Today (Saturday 19th January 2013) whilst walking in Chiang Mai we saw a derelict house. It seemed to talk to us both and we spent the afternoon dreaming how it wold make an ideal children’s home. One where unwanted children would be cared for and be taken into a loving family made up of children from all over the area and two loving people who want to share their lives with orphans.
Well it is always good to have a focus in life and dream along the way. Who knows maybe one day we will have that house and all those children to care for.........