Posted by Mike Thomas on 6th February 2013
Time flies – also at Baan Gerda. 15 years ago we had the plan to create Baan Gerda. Three years later the first house was ready for our first family of seven children and two care takers
HIV/AIDS has lost its significance in Thailand and beyond. As a result, it is taken for granted that HIV medicine is freely available through the Thai government. Living a disciplined life adjusted to the needs of those with HIV, people affected can expect to live a normal and relatively healthy life. In the past, an HIV diagnosis was a death sentence. Nowadays the HIV scene is more relaxed – too careless as we learn from the increasing infection rate, especially amongst the teenage generation..
The lightheartedness regarding HIV-matters has also arrived at Baan Gerda. In the recent past many of Baan Gerda’s house keepers have left us to return back to their home provinces. Before we had two care takers per house. Now we have to do with only one care taker.
The soil moving job on the farm is almost finished. A three meter deep ditch now encircles the total farmland to protect against floods, serve as water reservoir and as a borderline between neighbouring sugar cane farms and our farm. Only later we will know how many and which of the children we could expect to work and live on the farm. Until this happens we have rented out 80 % of the farm land to a neighbour. We have already planted 250 coconut trees in order to use the time well.
Meanwhile, four new house have been completed at our village, the new living area was connected to public electricity and new basic furnishing was completed. In two weeks a small road will connect the new houses to the existing road system of Baan Gerda.
Baan Gerda and School Education
School education has become a most important issue at Baan Gerda. Therefore it will occupy a major part of this update. According to their cognitive abilities we list the children into three categories –
a) Lower than average
c) Higher than average
The learning ability of the child is limited. Some children can read and write a little, others cannot read and write at all and will leave school without a certificate. For a period of time they will stay and work at Baan Gerda. Later they will attend craftsmanship courses at existing institutes to prepare for a life ‘outside’ our village.
Such institutes exist in the vicinity of Baan Gerda. Living and working on the farm will be an alternative. As a rule our challenging children are found in this group.
A few rare cases of children still in education chose not to stay at Baan Gerda any longer. As a possible reason, like other teenagers, we assume hunger for freedom and the desire for a life without Baan Gerda rules. So far there were only a few kids who insisted to live independently despite our patient discussions. If the child is still below the age of 18 and not yet considered an adult, by law we try to send him/her back to his or her extended family. If there is no extended family, or the family refuses to take the child back we have no choice but to let him/her go, and report the case to the police.
Thankfully these are exceptional cases, but we still have to live with the bitter aftertaste of failure. Our deepest concern for children who chose early independence is that they will be reluctant, without supervision and support, to follow the strict adherence necessary for anti-retro-viral medicine.
Only recently a former inhabitant of Baan Gerda came back to us. She is now 17 years old and she left us more than a year ago. She asked to return to Baan Gerda. However, away from Baan Gerda she did not take her medicine and now AIDS-symptoms started showing. Before she left Baan Gerda we made sure she was fully informed about how and where to get her medicine.
For obvious reasons we did not dare to take the girl back, but instead managed to find a supervised place in a government owned institution. The positive aspect in this incident was that the other Baan Gerda inhabitants have seen what the virus does to you if you do not adhere to the medicine. We hope that this experience will be a lesson not forgotten to all in Baan Gerda.
These children have average cognitive abilities. They know how to read and write and will continue school until the limit of their ability.
The learning abilities are more than average, at least for Baan Gerda standard. We are encouraged and rewarded by the way they behave and perform. They will complete high school and apply to study in one of the state owned universities. If they are not accepted in one of those favored universities there is still the choice to study in a private owned institution.
This year three of our older kids passed examinations and started their studies in the university town of Nakhon Sawan. This town is 100 km north of Baan Gerda, close enough to allow regular weekend visits to Baan Gerda. We rent a small town house for 138 Euro per month. One of our care taking mothers lives with the children and takes care of the food. For the next semester we hope that four more children will qualify to study in Nakhon Sawan.
A Boarding School in Lamphun
In Lamphun, a town close to Chiang Mai, is a boarding school for girls who are affected by HIV. The school is under the protectorate of the King’s daughter, Princess Sitrindhorn. We had been invited a long time ago to visit and exchange experiences, and finally we were able to do this.
The impression was overwhelming. Organisation and tidiness were exemplary and we were stunned to learn that on average of 85 % of the pupils managed to enter university. The school authority offered to accept children of Ban Gerda to the school, and accompany them on their learning journey until they enter university. We shall gladly make use of this offer.
A warm thank you to you, our dear friend of Baan Gerda for your generous and patient support. Baan Gerda would not exist without you !
Karl & Tassanee
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