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Sunday, September 23, 2012

You MUST Be the Change...

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."  Mahatma Gandhi

This past weekend, Ron and I were reminded of just that.

Ever since we knew we were moving to Thailand, we were determined to find ways to volunteer in this country we now call home.  We wanted to get involved, learn about the less fortunate and give back after receiving so much.  After a month of exploring and settling into our new home, we were getting restless.  

We researched various orphanages and animal shelters in Chiang Mai before deciding on our big debut this past weekend!  Little did we know how much we would be touched by the other volunteers and staff we worked with!

Our first stop was Animal Rescue Kingdom, or ARK, in Chiang Mai (http://theark-cm.com/).  One of the rental agents that worked with us to find a house sent my information to his friend, Grant.  Grant eagerly e-mailed me, anxious to meet with me in person and show me around his project!  We were able to finally meet up this weekend.  On Saturday morning, Ron and I woke up early to walk the dogs and get ready.  We then drove 30 minutes north to a gated area with a large field.  Grant met us out front.

After passing through 2 gates, we were greeted by over 100 barking, tail-wagging, 4-legged friends.  The dogs at ARK are all rescues- they were abandoned or abused in some way.  In a pack that rivals Cesar Millan's in the Dog Whisperer, the dogs were all able to be rehabilatated and cared for.   There was a German Shepherd, several labs, and countless mutts.  The stragglier the fur, the cuter they were!  The dogs have about 4-5 acres of fenced land to run around and roam.  In the middle of the plot of land is a large pond- perfect for swimming.  At the far end of the property are some kennels for the new dogs, in-tact females and animals on the mend.  There is also a large house where 2 of the staff members live.

ARK is solely funded by Grant, who owns a restaurant in Pennsylvania.  He lives in Chiang Mai for about 1/2 of the year, caring for the dogs.  The other half he's back in the US, working on his business and raising funds.  It was amazing to see what one man's dedication and life's passion could do.

ARK currently must pay for a local veterinarian for their services, which includes about $60.00 for a spay.  ARK has an animal technician that does most of the treatments and dog neuters (keep in mind that this is Thailand- you can buy almost any medication at a pharmacy without a prescription and licensing requirements are very relaxed).  After discussing Grant's plans, we decided that I would be volunteering at ARK 1-2 times/month.

They are going to clean one of the rooms out for me and purchase more supplies.  I will then be able to do their surgeries for them, as well as other treatments.  It's not much, but it will help ARK out immensely AND help keep my surgical skills current.  After saying good-bye to Grant, I was told that I was a God-send for being able to help.  It was amazing to see how one e-mail could provide connections that will hopefully help so much!  I'm truly looking forward to my time at ARK!

Feeling satisfied, Ron and I knew we weren't done.  After grabbing a quick lunch, we headed on to our next destination- Baan King Kaew Orphange in the heart of Chiang Mai (http://www.baan-kingkaew-orphanage.org/).  I had e-mailed several orphanages about volunteering and playing with the children.  Baan King Kaew was able to facilitate Ron and I on weekends, and were eagerly awaiting our visit.

Upon our arrival, we were escorted to the 1-year old play area- a covered, fenced in area about 20 x 20 feet in size, full of soft toys, play mats and rocking horses.  Inside were 8, 1-year old children: 5 boys and 3 girls, along with 3 caretakers.  The majority of the children were abandoned- hospitalized first, and then brought to the orphanage.  Some still have their birth parents around, but they are too poor to care for their babies (they visit the orphanage 1-2 times/year, when finances permit travel).  One of the little boys has been matched with a family in Belgium...soon, he'll be at his forever home!

At first, the little ones were hesitant around Ron and I, but after about 5 minutes, they couldn't wait to be thrown in the air, cuddled or simply entertained with toys.  It was amazing to be able to get them to laugh and smile.  It was precious when they walked/crawled up to us, just to be held or sit on our laps.  They didn't need much- just love and attention.  It didn't take long before they were clapping their hands, jumping up and down and learning to give kisses :).

About half-way through our time with the children, I almost broke down in tears.  I was holding 2 of the babies and just had this overwhelming since of sorrow/joy/guilt/obligation/I don't know what.  Although I've been to orphanages before, I was never at a position where I could financially and mentally take care of a child.  But since Ron and I are almost completed with our adoption process, it's a different feeling now.  The children were utterly precious and it just broke my heart knowing that although they will always receive excellent care, almost all of them will never know what it's like to have a family, parents who love them, and a forever home.  That really is a helpless, hopeless feeling.  I know Ron felt it, too, as he had "quiet" moments just looking at the babies.  We decided we're going to continue adopting after Aidan and Lanna if feasible.

Despite this heartbreak, we were filled with utter joy and amazement!  We met another wonderful volunteer that day named Julie.  She's from Scotland and has been volunteering at the orphanage for the past 4 years.  At first, Julie came to Chiang Mai 4-months at a time for vacation.  But after her husband realized how depressed she would be at home from missing "her babies," he had her move to Chiang Mai 10 months ago (her sons are in college and her husband works on an oil rig).  Julie comes to the orphanage 5-6 days/week and helps play/feed/clean/clothe the 60 children.  They all love her and call her "Mama."  Julie's husband was also there and they all love him as well!

After talking to Julie and her husband later that day, we were awestruck by what they do!  Together, they helped start another orphanage for Hill Tribe children to go to school.  They fund this by selling Hill Tribe artisan crafts back in schools in Scotland.  Additionally, they help build wheelchairs and assist the disabled in Chiang Mai.  They said it doesn't take very much to make a huge difference in Thailand.

We were able to play with the children for about 2 hours before it was dinner time.  Dinner was a bowl of rice/banana/vegetable/chicken puree and a cup of water.  Each baby was to eat the whole bowl.  Ron took Mr. Belgium (who was quite rambuncious) and got to work.  After 15 minutes of trying to wrangle the little guy (including using a leg-lock), I asked Ron how he was doing.  Despite all his efforts, he was only 20% done with feeding!  I couldn't help but laugh at the sight of a 6'4" man be defeated by a 24" tall boy!  One of the nannies took over and got Mr. Belgium to eat within 5 minutes!  Good thing we'll have feeding practice before Aidan comes along! 

Once the feeding was done, it was time for us to go.  We're going to try to make it to the orphanage as many weekend days as we can!

We also found another orphanage today that's about 15 minutes away with 600 children!  We hope to visit there soon as well!

So after a very busy Saturday, Ron and I were extremely touched by the volunteers we had met who dedicate their lives and life's savings towards helping others.  It's wonderful to feel the positive energy of giving back and truly becoming part of the Chiang Mai community.

So this week, no matter what it is you decide to do, try to find time to "be the change you want to see in the world!"

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

And now we wait....

This must be the most difficult time in the adoption process- waiting.  Up until this point, although there was a lot of waiting, there were still lots to be done- more paperwork, more forms, more e-mails, more research, etc.  If those were done, there was always a follow-up e-mail to be sent, a "pretty please" phone call to be made or clarification on what was being done.

But now that our paperwork is done, and we've been referred Aidan (in record timing, according to Ron: 3.5 months from application to referral), we now wait.  We've been told that every week, we'll get a new report on Aidan- growth, weight, length and progress, as well as a picture or two.  In this way, we'll be able to keep track our of little man's progress and development from afar!


The next step of this process is being assigned a court date.  The Ethiopian government and court system are on their annual holiday, and won't reopen for another 2-4 weeks.  When that is exactly, we don't know.  This means that we won't be given a court date until the courts reopen.  Once the courts are open again, we'll be assigned a court date, which is essentially our travel date.


We'll travel to Ethiopia about 7 days before our court date to spend with Aidan and see his beautiful country.  Then, we'll go to Ethiopian court to appeal to legally adopt our son.  Once we pass court, he'll be ours to love forever :)


So now we wait.  At first, I thought this would be the most difficult aspect of the journey- knowing we have a son but we just can see/hold him yet.  However, I've learned that staying super busy helps.  Yesterday, Ron and I reviewed his development report that explained his ability to "coo," grasp fingers, lie on his stomach holding his head up, etc.  Initially, I became really sad as I thought, "I'm missing all of this."  But then I stopped myself.

Ron and I knew all along that we would "miss" a lot- the first "coo," the first time our baby tracks an object, recognizes a voice, smiles, etc.  That's part of the deal.  I then reminded myself of why we're really doing this- it's not so Ron and I can watch our son smile for the first time or first recognize a voice.  That's not it at all.

We're doing this, the adoption, for Aidan.  We're doing this so Aidan can actually smile for the first time and have so many things to smile and laugh about!  We're doing this so Aidan can be in a stable environment to actually be able to recognize voices.  We're doing this so Aidan can get proper nutrition so he can grow and be able to walk/run/play like a normal child.  Never have we been in this for us- it's about Aidan.


All along, we've wanted to adopt a child in need to help that child.  We've wanted to give children a chance at life they may never have had.  We want to make them happy, have them feel love, be endlessly supported, go to school and grow to be caring adults.



So now when I read Aidan's reports and updates, I smile.  I'm proud that my son is able to do those things and continue to develop and grow to do even more.  I'm so thankful the police found him abandoned on the side of a road before others did- animals, disease, etc.  I'm grateful for adoption agencies that have funding to hospitalize orphans and nurse them back to heal.  I'm thankful for nannies at orphanages/foster homes to care for all those babies and give them the attention they need.  I'm truly thankful that our son is alive, well and healthy.


So for the next 2-3 months as we wait to travel to Ethiopia to meet Aidan, I'm going to be proud and thankful.  I'll be proud of my son for doing what he's able to and thankful that there are so many people along the way caring for him and helping him grow.  I'll try not to think about what we're "missing," but rather, what Aidan is able to do and what we're giving!  Our little boy will go from having everything about his family and past being "abandoned" and "unknown" to having a sense of belonging, a family, and endless love!!!!!

And in the meantime, we'll just keep researching Ethiopia, the state/district Aidan was found (which is mountainous with only 2-3 roads and very small villages), and flights :)