Buggies for Good in the hilltops of Thailand

“The basic attribute of mankind is to look after each other.” This is the mantra our mate Graeme Jenkinson preaches at the bottom of every email he sends through. A modern day hero, Graeme dedicates his life to aiding children in the hilltops of Thailand, an area centred around the drug trade. Sadly, addicted and desperate parents leave little hope for children, who are often born with physical and/or learning disabilities. Graeme does what he can to break the cycle and to help children and caregivers ‘adapt & survive’, regardless of circumstances. We’ve been honoured to help Graeme’s cause through our Buggies for Good programme, sprucing up used and donated buggies from the public and finding homes where they’re most needed. Read the latest on Graeme’s crazy adventures in the hilltops of Thailand!

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Last Sunday I drove with Ron Gerrets up to Chiang Rai to deliver the New Zealand Mountain Buggy to a family living in the hills with a badly disabled six year old boy. The boy we found on my last trip here when we visited Son Pon, the boy with the guitar. We decided to give the buggy to the grandmother of the disabled boy as he is getting too big for her to carry and the danger could be that once that happens he could well be abandoned. Such is life here. I must admit I was a bit apprehensive about the whole thing. How would the buggy be accepted? Were we doing the right thing? What would the rest of the village think about the boy getting ‘special’ treatment? (Jealousy is a very real problem within the village structures.) I needn’t have worried. The village turned out in force with smiles all around.

For me, the biggest surprise was the boys grandfather. He has always seemed a bit surly but now he was all smiles and really interested in the mechanics of the buggy. It occurred to me that whilst we had always worried about the boy and the grandmother we have never thought about the worries that the grandfather had. There seemed to be a distinct look of relief on his face. The other thing that struck me was that I do not think the grandmother had ever wheeled a pram! There was certainly no instinct about her actions. Perhaps, up in the hills, they just don’t have prams. As well as returning to the village where we gave the pram, we also revisited the little girl with no arms and Son Pon, the guitarist. The little girl soon open up with smiles, especially when I showed her photos of herself that I took when we last visited.

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As you’re probably aware I am up in the Golden Triangle – the worst of the drug trafficking area in SE Asia, maybe the world. At one stage, 95% of all of New Yorks and Australia’s heroine was supplied from here. The Foreign Affairs Ministry of the New Zealand Govt. sent me an email warning me to keep out of the area. Armed drug traffickers, the Thai Army, the Wa Army (the main manufactures of yaabaa – they produce in excess of 95% of the worlds methamphetamines) from the Shan State in Burma, and unexploded devices – all looking for me! As well as wild tigers, elephants, black bears, huge wild pigs and lots of snakes. Same, same. I wonder, almost all of the time, what I’m doing here. Is this just another of my ‘flights of fancy’? It could well be, because I do not have the feeling that I am ‘committed to the cause’, in the sense of a Che Guevara, but something does drive me back there. I suppose, given that I’ve got very little money,  but despite that I keep giving, what little I have, away, perhaps there is some sort of ‘calling’ there .It had always been my goal to try and get a ‘Mountain Buggy’ for Pontip. You remember Pontip? The seventeen year old Akha girl, with the beautiful smile, who was born disabled and who has to drag herself along on her hands because her legs don’t work.

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I was cheeky enough to contact phil&teds in Wellington, New Zealand, to see if they’d donate a second buggy – and they said ‘Yes’. They sent the buggy to Melbourne, to my good friend from my ‘HAIR’ days, Robert Laslett, who happened to be coming up to Chiang Mai anyway, and he, and Thai Airways, conspired to transport it for no cost to Thailand. Ron Gerritts, the founder of ‘Creating Balance Foundation’ took it up to Chiang Rai and, on June 1st. 2014, I took the bus to Chiang Rai and met Menta and Ron up there, and we took the ‘Mountain Buggy’ to Pontip.

Chris Wiener and one of the foundation’s volunteers took Pontip for a ‘walk’ in her Mountain Buggy. A three kilometre trip to a temple, close to where she lives. As far as we can ascertain, at the age of seventeen, this is the furthest she has ever traveled from her house. Three kilometres. What a huge difference the buggy has made to this young woman’s life.

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Since my last visit to the hills – way back in February – Ron and Christopher Weiner had made some changes up in the Akha village of Menta’s parents.  I’ve spoken before of ‘The Bamboo Nest’ a Thai village who’s almost sole source of income is the transportation of yabba and opium across the border from the Shan state of Burma to the province of Chiang Rai in Thailand. Inevitably the ‘mules’ become addicted with disastrous results. Virtually 100% of the adult population of The Bamboo Nest are addicted. Hard-core addicts. 

Question: Who looks after their children?

Answer: The children look after themselves, with help from ‘Creating Balance Foundation‘.

The schools in the mountains of Thailand are a distance apart and very few schools teach past primary level. The Hill Tribe school, close to Menta’s village, teaches from primary school up to and including secondary school. Almost unique up here. The hill tribe kids, despite their parents being addicts, thirst for education.

Problem: The travel distances for these kids to get to this unique school, on a daily basis, is insurmountable. It’s just too far. Two hours there. Two hours back – and back to what? Zapped out parents?

Solution: Build them accommodation close to the Hill Tribe school. So that’s what The Foundation did. Ron and Christopher, with the help of a few others, extended Menta’s parents house, high up in the hills, but in easy walking distance to the school, by building an eleven bed dormitory, made entirely from bamboo, for the kids from ‘The Bamboo Nest’. Although they didn’t know it at the time, it should have been bigger.

So down they come from their village, each Sunday afternoon, brothers and sisters, twins, boys and girls, to stay for the week, and back on Fridays. Well, that’s the theory. It turns out some of them have absolutely no desire to go home to addicted parents, and if they do go home some of the parents have no desire to see them anyway. Ron told me that when they went and got the children to bring them to the school, for the first time, most of the parents were totally disinterested that their kids were leaving and showed no feeling at all that their kids were going. the parents have no desire to see them anyway. Ron told me that when they went and got the children to bring them to the school, for the first time, most of the parents were totally disinterested that their kids were leaving and showed no feeling at all that their kids were going.

Question: Who gives these little kids a cuddle and a kiss, and tells them they’re loved before they go to sleep each night?

That’s why I want to cry.

*The view from the dormitory looking down the valley towards the Hill Tribe School.

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Menta hands out some donated second hand clothing. To see the eyes and the smiles of these kids, who have literally no clothes except the ones they stand up in, get ‘new’ clothes is an experience in itself. The absolute joy on their faces is beautiful. Ron hands out some ‘goodies’. Like all Thais (of which they’re not. They’re from the Hill Tribes) they can eat, and constantly if they were able to.

For more Buggies for Good articles click the links below:

Destruction comes, an opportunity to help

The spirit of giving – Buggies for Good

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