The 14th Amari Watergate & BMW Midnight Run takes place on Saturday, October 8, 2011. All proceeds go to 3 causes; Baan Gerda, Chalerm Prakiat school and Baht for a Better Life Project.
It is the only race in Bangkok to be held at Midnight, and offers competitors a choice of 2 distances – 6k or 12k. The City streets will be closed and protected by a police and security contingent of about 400 officers, and supported along the route by local residents, and shop owners, together with the management and staff of the Amari Watergate Bangkok. The atmosphere is tremendous, with over 5,000 runners, both the local and foreign.
Entry forms can be obtained and purchased at 300 Bht. and 1,000 Bht. Participants who make an entry donation of THB 1,000 will be entered into the grand raffle and stand a chance to win airline tickets both domestic and international flight, many other fabulous prizes like luxurious watches, accommodation and dining gift vouchers from Amari Hotels & Resorts Group and etc. together with a complimentary of running shirt.
For more details, contact Clark Hatch Fitness Centre of the Amari Watergate Bangkok at
Tel. 0 2653 9000 ext. 5780 – 2 or the hotel’s Public Relations Department ext. 5021
Promo video – http://vimeo.com/29129078
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.
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)
Following a recent visit to Baan Gerda by the German Ambassador (Dr Hanns Schumacher), the children were invited to perform for a specially invited audience at the German Embassy in Bangkok. Although the opera has not been completed, composer Bruce Gaston organised a 40 minute show consisting of scenes from the full opera.
As the day of the concert approached it was obvious that things weren’t ready; the children were frantically trying to learn new parts; people were scampering around making the props and the costumes had still to be made. They would take to the stage without even having a dress rehearsal.
Set amongst the city’s towering skyscrapers, the beautiful gardens of the Ambassador’s residence provided the perfect backdrop for the opera. Despite our uncertainties, Bruce and the children managed to pull off a great show which was well received by the 100 VIP guests.
Commenting afterwards Dr Schumacher said “A wonderful experience! The children performed as if they are on stage every day. The scenes were colourful, alongside a fanciful set, props and costumes, leaving the whole audience stunned. It was so entertaining, and so professional, quite to the contrary of my expectations. You could tell the audience were captivated. I’m delighted that the embassy residence hosted the world première of this performance. I’m also sure that the opera with the children of Baan Gerda will be a special highlight for the Bangkok theatre programme. Those who don’t see it are really missing something!”
It is hard to believe how fast our children are growing up. It has become apparent that quite a large number of our inhabitants do not want to be treated as children anymore, and are well in to adolescence. We have long been aware that the issues of social responsibility and sex education would need to be handled with care and sensitivity. The Baan Gerda team discussed this at length and thought we had better get some expert advice.
Thailand is fortunate to have a strong network of NGOs which deal with many of the aspects affecting people with HIV. Our doctor was able to refer us to a group specialising in HIV youth, particularly dealing with stigma, education and social problems. They were willing to embark on a programme of what they euphemistically refer to as ‘life skills’. It was recommended that we took the children out of their normal environment and take part in 3 day workshop. About 25 of our young ladies and gentlemen took part in an experience which was quite an eye-opener for the staff.
Of course the basics were covered, birds, bees and so on, but what was surprising was how our young people responded to the activities relating to HIV. When asked the question “is it ok for people with HIV to have babies?” we were proud to hear the girl’s group respond with “it is fine as long as they have the means to care for the child”. We try and instil a sense of responsibility into our children and it is rewarding to observe them respond so maturely.
By then end of the weekend we were confident that most of them had a good understanding not only of their social responsibilities, but the various routes of HIV infection, the different types of contraception and the risks of mother to child transmission of HIV. We will augment this programme with others in the following months.
According to The World Meteorological Organisation, Bangkok is the hottest city in the world year round. It begs the question; “why would anyone want to take part in a fun run?”
Readers may be surprised to learn that there are many running clubs in Thailand, and if you take a look at any of the large parks in Bangkok you will see scores of people running at dusk and dawn.
The key is to avoid running under the brutal tropical sunshine, hence the timing of The Midnight Run. The event is now in it’s 11th year and continues to grow in popularity. More than 4,000 people took part in the latest run, including 15 children from BaanGerda.
The children were very motivated and trained regularly at BaanGerda for the pre-ceding 3 months. They were determined to show their worth and not just `make up the numbers’. All of them managed to complete the run and some posted very respectable times. In fact, three of them would have had considerably better times if they hadn’t accidentally run the longer course!
There is a big difference when you look upon Bangkok’s city streets at night from the perspective of a thirsty runner rather than sitting in an air conditioned car…
What started as an activity initiated by a group of enthusiastic runners has developed into a serious sports challenge. For many years now, the management of Amari Watergate Hotel in Bangkok have organised the annual ‘Midnight Run’ along the streets of the city centre. In the beginning, the number of people participating was a humble handful of enthusiasts. However, the tradition soon developed and last year as many as 3000 started the race and almost an equal number managed to complete it. Participants can choose between distances of six and twelve km.
This year the race is on October 11th and the organizers are expecting more than 4000 runners.
BMW Thailand is the main sponsor of the event and many other companies take the opportunity to show their commitment and help make the event possible. Numerous attractive prices are donated for a tombola after the race.
As in previous years, proceeds from the event will go to help HIV-infected children in a royal project and also to BaanGerda. Last year, a few of our children attended the preparation for the midnight event and it left a lasting impression. This year they want to actively participate and insist that the Midnight Run is not only for adults.
For many months they have been preparing under the watchful eye of BaanGerda staff. They can’t wait to go to Bangkok on October 11th. Take a look at the video to see their unusual training methods…
Several of the older children recently benefited from a photography course kindly organised by Barbara Walton. She has submitted this report along with a link to some of the photos that the children took:
“As professional news photographers based in Thailand for epa european pressphoto agency (www.epa.eu/), Narong Sangnak and I don’t have much time for passing on skills, but we enjoyed a great day teaching a group of BaanGerda photo enthusiasts the basics of taking a picture during a day-long workshop.
After Narong’s thorough theory lesson, and assisted by photographer Udo Weitz and Narong’s wife Prang, we worked with small teams in the field, encouraging and directing their portrait, landscape and self chosen assignments. The budding young photographers got to use Canon and Nikon professional equipment, and soon picked up that learning how to shoot pictures is often about re-learning how to look from behind a camera, and allowing yourself to be adventurous, curious, and bold enough to give a photo idea a try – and see if it works.
By the end of the session all the kids were moving their bodies and not just standing to shoot, getting closer to their subject and really searching their home BaanGerda environment to find where interesting light and nice locations were for picture taking.
We then saw a very enthusiastic group shown how to edit their shoots and work off their pictures – crop, tone and save for group discussion. While we only scratched the surface we saw some great talent emerge!”