Karl and Tassanee Morsbach
Karl arrived in Thailand in 1973 as managing director of the Thai division of German chemical giant, Henkel. Alongside his heavy work commitments, Karl managed to find the time to assist at the refugee camps on the Cambodian border during the devastating Pol Pot era. With the help of friends and Henkel head office in Germany, he arranged for up to 18 doctors at a time to travel to the camps and provide life-saving treatment for hundreds of children.
After meeting his wife Tassanee, a teacher and specialist in German Studies, they concentrated their efforts on providing school education for children on the Thai and Burmese borders. 5 schools were built and are now being operated by the border police, under the patronage of the King's daughter, Princess Sirindhorn.
During the late 90s, they turned their attention to the worsening AIDS problem by taking care of HIV infected orphans. The first home at BaanGerda was built with their own money and opened in 2001. When they realized the scale of the problem, they managed to persuade friends and sponsors to help with funding the expansion. Today, there are 7 family homes housing over 70 children.
In 2006, Germany honored Karl and Tassanee Morsbach for their humanitarian work by awarding them the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit.
Why did you set up BaanGerda?
Karl: "The explosion of AIDS during the 1990's meant that more and more children were being born with the HIV virus and losing their parents to the disease. There were hardly any places that these unfortunate children could turn to, so we decided to build BaanGerda as somewhere they could live their short lives with dignity before they died. This soon changed with the arrival of modern medicine and BaanGerda became a place to live."
Tell us about your early experiences with the children you first received
Tassanee: "In the beginning we had an understanding with the temple hospice, WatPhraBaatNamPhu to take over HIV-infected children that were currently in their care. The first few months were emotionally very difficult as there was nobody experienced in HIV child care to turn to for help, and we felt we could not provide the assistance that was so badly needed. Things improved dramatically when Dr. Jintanat, a pediatrician from HIV/NAT, became involved and we were able to provide the life-saving medication."
What is the public perception in Thailand of those who have HIV?
Karl: "A lot has been done by the Thai government and other agencies to inform people about the danger of Aids. Now, people have a broader-minded attitude to those who have the disease, and it is unimaginable that infected children are left alone to die because people are afraid to care for them, as happened before. It's also amazing how much active help there is, especially from young Thai people."
How have things changed since you started in 2001?
Tassanee: "Certain ARV-medicines are freely available from the government health care scheme, and they are making a big difference. It is understood that a HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. The other side of the coin, especially amongst young people, is that they feel safe enough to engage in unprotected sex. As a result, whilst the infection rate amongst older people continues to fall there is a sharp increase in the younger age groups."
What are your future plans for BaanGerda?
Karl: "We will soon reach 80 to 90 children in BaanGerda and that will be the limit of our growth. Having accumulated several years of experience, we would like to be able to pass this on to other organizations. It is our vision that centers like BaanGerda should not exist any longer when communities are able to take over by themselves."