For 13 years Baan Gerda has been providing a nurturing home, education, life skills, and healthcare including life saving ARV (anti-retro-viral) medicine to over 75 children and 10 of their adult care takers, all of them are HIV infected.. Without Baan Gerda we fear the children simply would not have survived.
In this time span the picture of HIV/AIDS has radically changed in Thailand. It was once a life threatening and much feared disease, but with modern medicine and understanding, it has become a chronic condition where people can expect a near normal life span with near normal quality of life. Accordingly, the needs of those with HIV have changed making a different approach necessary.
The children who first came to us as very sick children and infants are now strong and healthy adolescents. Soon they will be eager to find their place in the adult world.
Special highlights in 2013 include;
- The stable health condition of Baan Gerda children and adults
- Children attending college and university
- Children being trained in vocational skills
- New management staff hired to help with the progress and evolution of the project.
They have been greatly accepted by both children and adults and have shown
promising initial results.
As mentioned already in a previous report we have two different groups of children
a) those who understand the importance of education and can learn and study
with their peers
b) those who have certain learning difficulties or impairments that means they
are not able or willing to learn in the formal school environment.
In 2013 we so far have nine children who finished school successfully and are now able to continue their studies in College or University. In this group there is only one boy. He took up the subject of electrical engineering. All other students are girls who preferred to take up more business related subjects like accounting, graphic design, product design technology, liberal art.
We are proud of the girl Tip who is showing excellent scores and is top of the class. Her subject is graphic design.
To address the specific needs of this group had been a challenge for us for some time. We have been trying to find vocational training for them, but were initially not successful in doing so due the children being HIV positive. The prevailing stigma and misconception that still exist in Thailand, especially in the provinces and rural areas, were reason for this.
We are very glad to report that just recently we found experts in many technical disciplines who are willing to come to Baan Gerda and train and coach the children.
The training provided is very practical and comprehensive and includes electrical maintenance, welding, air-conditioner maintenance and most importantly agricultural skills. This training has been extremely successful and will continue into 2014 with more courses added. Not only do the children learn vital professional skills that will equip them to work, but they also gain confidence and personal development through this program.
This year we successfully completed the water reservoir and hydro-system. There is now a water supply around the boarder of the farm. This canal is 4 m deep and 4.5 m wide. Together with a new pond which measures 6 m deep and 40 m in diameter the farm is now equipped to collect enough rain water to last us through the dry season. We also planted 200 coconut trees and fruit trees. These, of course, will take time to mature, but we start early to maximize the potential self-sufficient capacity of the farm land.
A major part of the farm is still rented out to a neighbour for two reasons;
- the soil is improved by full utilization
- We earn some income
The children are regularly monitored to check their general health and especially to check on their HIV status. We are glad to report that they are generally healthy with viral loads which are within acceptable limits. An exception is the boy Dokdek who is suffering from an HIV related eye disease. He was examined by several eye doctors who told us that all we can do is wait and hope that the condition will stop progressing.
Surprisingly we have a girl who at the age of 17 does not require any anti-retro-viral medicine. This girl has been HIV infected since birth. We, of course, like this and would like to know the reason for this phenomenon. It also surprises us that most children do not develop any more an increased resistance to the medicine.
For our children, the midnight run though Bangkok is a much anticipated and enjoyed tradition. They take their annual participation very seriously and start training two months before the event by running multiple laps around BG grounds on a regular basis. Commitment must be shown to the training program in order to qualify to the event. The children are eager to win a trophy and take the training very seriously by practicing hard.
This year we had an amazing 25 children join the 6 km race. Out of a total number of 7.000 participants our children finished in the medium and upper field. This is a fantastic achievement and Amari Hotel and BMW Group, the organizers of the annual event, were very impressed by the commitment of the children.
Overall 2013 has been a very productive year, and has seen many of the children developing into young adults. Our sincere thanks go to all of you for the continued support which made great achievements possible.
Karl & Tassanee
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
It is common for people to refer to Baan Gerda as an orphanage and sometimes, even our closest supporters use this term. However, we have always felt strongly that the children should be cared for in a normal family environment. This was an important consideration when we started 12 years ago, even though we were not expecting the kids to survive. Today, we know this has been a defining point for our foundation, and something that has impacted the kids in a positive way.
The comfort and security of a family home cannot be underestimated; the children develop strong bonds with their ‘brothers and sisters’ and their foster parents obviously have a key role in their upbringing.
Many visitors are surprised by the upbeat atmosphere in Baan Gerda. The children feel safe and relaxed in their families allowing them to have a normal childhood – which also includes being mischievous and cheeky!
We have learnt many lessons over the last 12 years and have come to realise just how important our family-style village is to the children’s well-being.
To be loved and accepted is a basic need that we all strive for and our families have been pivotal in helping to achieve this.
There are many connotations associated with the word ‘orphanage’ which is why we prefer to avoid it.
Due to the flooding, some of Baan Gerda’s plans could not be realized this year. We could not begin preparing the farm before the next rainy season. We were discouraged by the fate of so many surrounding farms, where the work of many years was destroyed by the high water. We now plan to grow vegetable and fruit for our own consumption only, and to leave the larger part of the farm for a coconut plantation.
The reasoning for this;
- The coconut tree survives a period of high water without any damage.
- Products from the coconut have benefited from high prices for many years.
- The coconut processing gives the people in Baan Gerda a paid job.
- Storing and sales require less logistical support than a broader production line of fast-perishing foods.
As soon as things return to normal we will investigate this project further.
We wanted to use the October holidays to know how many children will be able to return to their home provinces once they have finished their education. During the long holidays, about 20 children stayed with their extended families. When they came back, about half of them considered a permanent move back to their families in the future.
This encouraged us to invite other known extended families to visit us during the October holidays. We hope that the families will gain a better understanding and acceptance of the children’s past. Unfortunately, we had to postpone this visit in Baan Gerda due to the floods.
A new Phase in Life
Next March, two of our children will leave school and Baan Gerda. 18 year old Naan will study in Bangkok. She is lucky to have contacts with relatives of her deceased parents. She will live with them but we will support her financially. Gor, an 18 year old lad, will return to his relatives in the province and start a technical course.
New Arrival at Baan Gerda
In the next few days we will accept a five year old girl into our care. The mother died of AIDS; the father is still alive but he does not look after the child since he became an alcoholic. The child is HIV infected and in spite of therapy, her condition deteriorated since the death of her mother. People say that the reason for this is lack of love as nobody is looking after her. Meanwhile, her condition is reportedly quite serious.
The completion of the new houses to accommodate grown children was delayed due to the flooding. Three houses are nearly ready and the fourth one is still under construction. The surrounding landscape still has to be completed.
Dear Godparents and friends of Baan Gerda; in this year we have much reason to be grateful about. Baan Gerda remained dry during the flooding and the children continue to enjoy good health. Also, the new arrivals during last year are healthy and happy now and fully integrated into Baan Gerda.
We wish all of you a blessed Christmas.
To all of us, a happy and healthy New Year 2012. No matter how high the challenges will be next year – let’s do our best to keep our heads above the water as the Thais are doing in critical times of flooding – chin up and smile !!!
Tassanee and Karl Morsbach
The Great Flood
We needed to wait before writing this report until the floods here in Thailand had receded. However, we are still waiting for this to happen (beginning of December) and this could take weeks, depending on whether or not we trust the messages coming from the authorities.
Fortunately, Baan Gerda and all of the children managed to stay dry. This is astonishing as our village is located in the province of Lopburi, which is next to Ayuttaya where there was and still is considerable damage.
Our house in Bangkok is currently an island with the garden flooded by 40cm and stagnant water now in our living room. If the situation wasn’t so desperate we could laugh at the shrimps which are establishing themselves in our living room.
On the “road” we are witnessing distressed people up to their hips in water, many of whom have been waiting for days to obtain supplies. It’s astonishing how quickly the essential items have vanished from the shelves of the supermarket.
The mass of water in the plains of Thailand have been accumulating for months. The normally dry part of the summer didn’t occur this year. Instead, the rainy season started earlier than normal. For safety reasons the major dams had to release water which aggravated the flooding situation.
The situation became even more critical when the high tides in the Gulf of Thailand met the floodwaters coming down the Chayo Praya River, preventing it from reaching the sea. We, in Bangkok, will only have access to Baan Gerda again when the roads are free from the floods.
Much to our relief, Baan Gerda and the nearby town of Nong Maung were spared from the floods. Many people in the surrounding villages have lost everything. The older children in Baan Gerda compiled a list of essential items which they will buy when the water level drops. These items will be distributed by the children by truck or boat to those people affected the most in nearby villages.
This action will have an additional benefit; the villagers are being helped and our children will also gain by having a change of roles. Up until now, they have been the ones benefiting from the kindness of others. Now they are confronted with the misery of others, it is time for them to give back. Members of the German Catholic Society will financially back these efforts.
Living with the Tiger
In our last annual report, we explained about the film “Living with the Tiger”. The film has had more impact than we expected, especially amongst young people. In order to achieve widespread viewings of the film we decided to hold screenings in schools and universities. Each screening is followed by a Q & A session. The link http://bit.ly/tktg3F shows the interest of the students and that our campaign is very much worth the while.
Mike Thomas, who is responsible for the documentary, went to Singapore to show the film at the Singapore International Film Festival. Valuable contacts resulted from that including many introductions to schools and universities.
The outreach campaign is especially important in Singapore because the government does not attach any importance to the subject of AIDS. It is believed that HIV and AIDS sufferers are left to themselves and the government does not offer any support for HIV and AIDS therapy. In the not too distance future, Mike will take up the offer from a company in Hong Kong to show the film to local education institutions.
One of our priorities is planning for the future careers of our 85 children. We anticipate that many will have problems finding their way because of their HIV status.
For this reason we are about to start an agricultural project for organic farming on a piece of land close to the children’s present home in Baan Gerda. They will learn to grow organic products to be sold in a nearby market or for their own consumption. Most of our children came to us from rural areas, so the new farm can be home for those who prefer life on a farm over living in cities.
The learning process will be supervised by an institution connected to the University of Khon Kaen. They currently have another project near to the university so we took 4 of the older children who had expressed an interest to find out more.
Before walking through the farm there was a lengthy presentation by the people who run the project. The children seemed genuinely interested and were impressed by the simple method of producing own insecticides (by-product of charcoal), fertiliser and diesel oil. Also, they were impressed by the fact that the village is completely self sufficient in terms of food.
As the project develops we will up-date you on our progress.
When filming first started on Living with the Tiger 3 years ago, our intention was to record the music lessons that Bruce Gaston had started. Now, it has become a significant project and given us the opportunity to deal with the stigma that confronts the children.
Although attitudes are slowly changing, there is much that still needs to be done if they are going to be able to live in society as normal. The film shows the contrasting attitudes that exist and the need for more awareness and education if progress is going to be made. We hope the film will contribute to overcoming these problems and provide a better future for the children.
Now that the film has been completed it will be submitted to festivals with the aim of finding TV distribution. Most importantly, it needs to find an audience that does not know about Baan Gerda and have no connection with HIV.
If you would like to play a part in supporting this venture you can visit the website. By making a small donation, you can get a limited version of the festival DVD which will help fund the promotion and outreach programme. Alternatively, spread the word amongst your friends, groups and online networks who you think might be interested.
Since Baan Gerda opened its doors at the end of 2000 the HIV/AIDS situation in Thailand and beyond has changed a lot.
Although modern ARV medicine existed in those days it was out of the reach of most people who were infected due to the exorbitant prices. At that time an HIV diagnosis was synonymous with a death sentence. Public information about the disease lagged behind and was nebulous. The stigma that surrounded the infection made it difficult to live in society.
Today, medicine is available even for those on low incomes but the stigma is still a big problem. This will be a big obstacle for our children when the time comes to look for a profession and place in society. Children need a future without prejudice and society owes them a better understanding for the HIV/AIDS situation as it stands now.
We are sure the upcoming film ‘Living With the Tiger’ will help to raise awareness of these issues and reduce the prejudice aimed at those who are infected. The film follows 3 of the children in Baan Gerda and is told mainly through their perspective. As well as providing an insight into their daily lives it also shows them as they journey home to meet relatives that had once abandoned them. Currently, there are no films that deal with these issues in a positive style and avoid the clichés and sensation often associated with the disease.
The story is guided by their preparations for a series of performances in an opera that took place in Bangkok and the countryside.
The recent concert in the province of Khon Kaen was a huge success, with our children performing excerpts from Bruce Gaston’s opera ‘A Boy and a Tiger’
The event attracted thousands of people from local villages and communities near to the site at Bua Ngern.
We started planning the event several months ago and our main aim was very clear; many of our children originated from this rural and poor part of Thailand and we wanted people to see that they are fit, healthy and very capable. The show now includes a number of non-infected children from schools in Bangkok, and it sends an important message that they can perform alongside our children.
We were fortunate to receive extensive cooperation from the district council in the area, who assisted with many of the arrangements and promotion of the event. It was organised as an ‘HIV awareness day’ with the focus on education and promoting the idea of infected people living in their own communities. We hope that one day some of our children will be able to return to live with their families.
We have plenty of photos from the weekend which you can see here
The concert also features as the finale to the film ‘Chivit Mai’, which has been following the children’s lives over the past three years. It is scheduled for release later next year.
Talents and Education
With the help and assessment of teachers, foster parents, Baan Gerda management and the children themselves, we are establishing profiles of our older children which will facilitate their choice of profession. We are especially interested in the assessment of the school teachers who know that we attach great importance to their judgement. We will have to live with the fact that some of the children have no ambition to finish school successfully.
Choice of Profession
The provincial capital Lopburi is 80 km from Baan Gerda and can be reached by bus. The more gifted children will be able to attend the university in that city whilst they continue to live in BG.
Other children need to receive a vocational training. There are suitable training centers run by the government. BMW have also offered us ten apprenticeship places in their assembling works.
We are in contact with an institution run by the University of Khon Kaen which is teaching organic farming. One branch of this institution is in the vicinity of Baan Gerda and accessible by bus connection. There is a vast educational program offered by this institution. We will come back to this issue in a separate letter.
We now have now a rough guideline how the professional future of our children might look.
The annual Midnight Run, organized by the Amari Watergate Hotel, took place in the streets of Bangkok in October. The target was to run 6 or 12 km on the humid hot streets in the shortest possible time. 5000 runners from all over the country had registered for the run.
The kids of Baan Gerda were also courageous enough to participate. 30 of them not only started the race, but finished it in remarkably fast times. They were proud to be presented with medals for their achievement.
What growing children should know
Our oldest children are growing up and reaching a ‘critical age’. As a part of a sexual education program, there are teams of professional teachers consisting of psychologists and social workers to give the children guidelines in relevant matters. In this program, special importance is attached to the extra responsibility due to their HIV situation. One day they will be members of the society outside of Baan Gerda and they need to be prepared to follow special rules.
When the time is right we want our children to return their communities. It is the place where many years ago they were forced to leave, when HIV/AIDS was the source of horror At the time, villagers did not know anything about AIDS other than it was incurable and certainly fatal.
New medicine and educational campaigns turned the situation around. Still, we are afraid that there will be always be a stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. It is therefore important that the children receive an excellent education and are well prepared to become a valuable member of society.
Often we are asked at what age the children will leave the protection of Baan Gerda. Almost all of them do not know any other home than Baan Gerda so it will continue to be the place of retreat when there is the need for it. We will do everything in our power to ensure that they will be able to stand on their own two feet and brave the imponderables of future life.
In a recent article, The Spiegel said that “the economical downturn had made the world poorer but not more prudent”. There is hardly any silver lining at the end of the horizon when the banking industry is ready to fall back into old bad habits. Just the same could be said about the world recovering from the worst times of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Did the world become more prudent and did it learn? As soon as there was news of better medical therapies, risky behaviours became apparent once again and infection rates started to increase in many cities.
Baan Gerda has existed now for 10 years. If we are asked to classify this time in different phases then it would be something like this:
Phase 1 – the time of struggle to survive
Phase 2 – the time of growing and thriving
Phase 3 – re-integration into ‘normal’ society
Phase 1 is under control and partly history. It happens only rarely that our children have to be treated in hospital. They are now almost as strong as non-infected children. The analysis of their blood reflects normal immune values.
The Boy Nui
Still, there are children who are who are a source of grave concern. When Nui was brought to Baan Gerda he was already in the advanced stages of AIDS. There was little hope that he would survive. We became more optimistic when his body started to tolerate the aggressive ARV (anti retro viral) medicine and he was able to walk a little without the support of his new brothers and sisters. Nui died suddenly and unexpectedly when everybody in Baan Gerda was having dinner in the main Kinderstern hall.
In recent years, death has been a rare visitor in Baan Gerda and the loss of Nui was hard for us to accept. We told the other kids that the cause of Nui’s death was not HIV related and they should not worry that something similar could happen to them. He would most likely still be living if treatment had been administered earlier.
The baby Tavid
Tavid’s situation was similarly desperate when he joined the Baan Gerda community. His mother had fled from Myanmar to a small boarder village after her husband had died of AIDS. She crossed the border illegally with her three year old daughter and her new born son, Tavid. He was sick with AIDS already when he was born. Not being a Thai citizen he was not entitled to proper treatment.
He eventually arrived in Baan Gerda and was transferred to the ICU of a Bangkok hospital. After staying in the hospital for 2 months, Tavid was then strong enough to be integrated into life in Baan Gerda. For many months however, the weight of Tavid was scarcely more than that of a newly born baby. Now he has put on much weight and he is becoming a ‘normal’ baby. When we get official permission for his mother to travel, she will come to Baan Gerda and the family can be re-united again.
It was nearly three years ago that composer Bruce Gaston first started teaching music to the children of Baan Gerda. Who would have predicted that they would end up playing the largest theatre in the country?
‘A boy and a Tiger’ the opera composed by Gaston, will be premièred at the Thailand Cultural Center on 28th and 29th November. Tickets are available from thaiticketmajor.com
The show now includes several children from international schools in Bangkok and The Mercy Center in Khlong Toey. Local skateboarders perform tricks on specially designed ramps that have been incorporated into the elaborate set design.
An independently produced film will be released next year chronicling their journey since the first music lessons, as well as their lives in Baan Gerda.
The children will also be travelling to Khon Kaen for a special performance on December 11th. In contrast to the bright lights of Bangkok, this show will be held in the middle of the countryside in one of the poorest areas of Thailand.
Are you a photographer? We would love to have some well-taken pictures of the shows in both Khon Kaen and Bangkok. Let us know if you can help! (contact us)