Now, I'll spare you the details of my recent woes - if you know me you'll have heard about them ad nauseum, and if you don't know me, hearing about them won't enrich your life - but I was sat in my serviced condotel free from the curses of excess last night and wondered how I could improve my own situation. I was in need of some gratification that didn't come out of a green bottle. I wanted to feel better about myself. After a bit of finger drumming, I came up with the ingenious idea of visiting one of Bangkok's many orphanages.
The plan was to saunter up about midday with the sun brightening my day, walk in with a pack of biscuits, be greeted by thirty or forty underprivileged but happy kids, dish out the biscuits, teach them how to sing "The Famous Man United Went to Rome to see the Pope", video it, stick it on YouTube, walk off with the Swedish volunteer nurse's phone number, an instant halo, and hugely improved karma to boot.
It didn't happen exactly like that.
The orphanage I picked was the Kevorkian Foundation on Sukhumvit 26 (Soi Than Ying Phuangrathana Prapai). It's a foundation that looks after 19 orphans with HIV/AIDS. With anti retroviral medication infected people can lead a pretty normal life these days and expect a reasonably full life span. I know this because I've got a mate who's living with it in the UK. They think his normal life expectancy may be reduced by between 5% and 10%, which if you hold it against my legacy of booze, smoke, dangerous sports, fried foods, stressful jobs and the occasional all nighter in the nineties (nice one our kid!), he's probably going to see me out. But that's in the UK where he gets the drugs he needs gratis from the NHS. Unfortunately, it's not the same situation for someone with HIV/AIDS in Thailand.
It took a while to eventually find the orphanage, probably because it's inadequately signposted. It looks nothing like you'd expect it to. I was a bit disappointed not to be met by a sea of waving arms and toothless childish grins.
What I actually got was a normal sized 70's Bangkok townhouse, a bit world weary, but homely. A woman met me and I told her I'd come to visit. One of the first things she said was "we need rice".
She took me inside and there were two young boys sat at a table eating food. One was disabled (he had trouble controlling his legs) while the other seemed able bodied. The woman told me that the other 17 kids were at school. I tried to make conversation with them, but there was a bit of an age and language gap. They seemed like normal kids, and I asked the lady "Is there anything I can do to help?" She said, "Yes we need rice". I was expecting them to want to share my football skills or teach the alphabet or something, but what they wanted was food.
I looked around the place and along one wall was a load of tidy boxes with the names of kids and some artwork they'd personalised it with. The lady told me she could get a bloke to give me a lift to the supermarket, so I nodded my head and waited for him to show up.
While I was waiting I started to do a few sums. I can eat easily 300 baht worth of food a day, times that by 19, its nearly 6,000 baht, times that by 30 that's 180,000 baht in food alone for a month to keep the kids who were at school fed. Then there's the building and clothes and books, and apparently school fees are 50 baht a day per kid. Then there's the Anti Viral medication which I'm sure isn't cheap, and what about if the kids get ill, or the building needs repairing, or electricity or water. Then there are wages for three or four staff who are permanently on site to be de facto mums and dads to the kids.
An oldish bloke turned up and took me in his car to the local hypermarket. I asked him his name and he said he didn't have one (I think that's what he said, my Thai isn't as good as it used to be). I spent 1,300 baht on rice and milk, which is about all I had on me at the time. When we got back I took the stuff into the house and asked the lady what they did for money. She said that Linda Der Kervonian puts 100,000 baht a month into the foundation and the rest is topped up by donations. She gave me a leaflet that says they want the kids to lead normal lives, which with ARV's they can so long as they stay on them, but they need to keep the supply and that doesn't come free.
The kids I saw were well looked after, but it's only as a result of people's goodwill that that happens. Before I left I signed the visitors book, the person prior to me had shown up a week previously and "played pass the parcel with the kids".
As I said before I'm not a do gooder. I don't like them. If you want to go to the orphanage and get gratified by grateful smiling kids, I didn't get that so I doubt you will either. But next time you go out on the piss on Friday night, why not go out two or three hours later. Donate the 1,000 baht you save to the kids at Kevorkian Foundation. I'm not trying to spoil your fun. I know a lot of people are experiencing austerity at the moment, and we can all feel like we're being tickled by the feather of misfortune at times, but a few thousand baht keeps one of those kids in medication and education for a month. Think about it... It seems buying rice just once really can make a difference. If that's the case, you can make a difference, too.
If you want to find out more about how you can help the kids at Kevorkian Foundation, email here.