Even charities in and around Bangkok struggle to make ends meet, but for Sarnelli House its mission – caring for orphaned, abandoned, abused and HIV infected children – is made all the more precarious by its location in the poor northeastern province of Nong Khai.
Formed in 1999 by Father Michael Shea, an American Redemptorist priest, Sarnelli House is made up of six different houses in three separate villages near the Mekong River. Together they house a total of 160 children, of which 60 are HIV infected. Some are orphans infected by their mothers; others were raped by infected adults.
Over the years Father Shea has seen children being brought in by their dying parents, family members that are unable or unwilling to look after them, and Thai Social Services. Some were born in prison, others have been found wandering – or even working – the streets.
Sarnelli House provides an education, health care, food and shelter and lots of love to all of them. Over the years, relationships with schools and hospitals in Isan have been nurtured to ensure they live as full and normal a life as possible. The Nongkhai District Hospital and Khon Kaen’s Sirinagarind Hospital, for example, provide anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs to the HIV infected kids that need them. And all children well enough attend the nearby Rosario Witthaya Catholic School.
However, the majority of Sarnelli House’s funding (paying its Thai staff, the maintenance of buildings, vehicles, provision of food, school fees, uniforms and any other costs) is Father Shea’s responsibility, and relies on the goodwill of donors. Log on to their website’s ‘Support’ page for details on how you can become one or, better still, sponsor a child. Sarnelli House also welcomes volunteers, but only during school holidays, when the kids have free time on their hands. If you are interested in volunteering during these times please send your current CV and two letters of recommendation. You will also be required to have a police check.
Playing with and keeping the children company will be one of your main roles, but you will also be asked to help dish out the children’s food, fold their clothes, help them with their homework, run English classes, play sports and games, and supervise them on school outings, among other duties. A US $20 a day charge, to cover costs, is asked of all volunteers.
If donating money or your time and energy isn’t possible, you can also just pop by for a visit when up in Nong Khai, to spend some time with these smiling and inspiring kids, though you should email or phone ahead to make sure they’ll be around. A map can be found on the website.