Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In Search for Jaruwan Khattiya

When I get an idea in my mind, my mother says that I am obstinate. This was certainly the case when my ex-husband and I arrived in Thailand a few years back. I wanted to visit a child that I sponsored through Christian Children's Fund, (CCF) an international aid organization. This is the story of my attempt to do so.
Ihab and I arrived in Chen-Mai, a lovely mountainous area in the north of Thailand. I was determined to find a young child named Jaruwan Khattiya, whom I sponsored through CCF. She lived in Payao Province, about four more hours to the north of where we were staying. I didn't understand at the time that the trip should have been arranged before arriving in- country. I had been so busy grading exams, I never had time to notify the organization in advance.

But surely I could visit this four-year-old girl I sponsored. Surely they would help me since I was already in the country, wouldn't they? I was my dream to meet her. I also had to convince my husband that the eight-hour drive up and back to Payao was worth it. Our schedule was very tight. But I was certain that it could be done. How could we come so close and not make the extra effort to touch base?

First, I had to find the phone number to CCF in Payao. Calling was more difficult than I ever imagined! None of the operators seemed to speak English. After several minutes of trying to somehow locate the number, I turned to our hotel manager. "Please help me, " I begged, "I can't understand a word!"

Here God intervened!

Our hotel clerk had been sponsored through CCF for the first eighteen years of his life! Nine years later--though he came from Chen Mai and not Payao--Prasan still seemed to have connections with CCF.

The hotel clerk eagerly dialed the number of the school where he had attended during his sponsorship. After a few minutes, he handed me the phone. I tried to explain what I wanted, but a hoarse female voice kept shouting, "What? Speak up, child! What are you saying?" I later learned that this was a ninety-two-year-old nun from Holland speaking to me! Once more, overwhelmed, I hastily handed the phone back to Prasan. "Ask her for information!" I urged.

After speaking for a few minutes in Thai, he turned to me, "It's a nun. This school isn't part of CCF anymore. I guess the agency stopped sponsoring them some years ago." I sighed.

He continued to speak to the party on the other end in Thai. "Talk to this woman," he advised, "Maybe she can help you."

A second woman's voice came on the line. English, though accented, was a start. "So sorry. This is no longer a number to CCF. But I am in charge of fifty poor girls from various hill tribes in the north. Do you wish to visit us?"

I hesitated. I really had wanted to visit Jaruwan Khattiya and see Payao. I had envisioned an ambitious trek up the curvy mountain passes in an old contraption of a bus -- what a loss! Yet, this kind nun was willing to share her charges with us. How could we turn that experience down?! I eagerly accepted it on behalf of Ihab and me.

I couldn't wait to begin!

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