5: 30 AM: The day starts early for the kids at Baan Dek Dee, the organizing of children is hectic at the best of times let alone 30 kids, excitedly preparing for school. Finding union among the chatter of enthusiastic children takes the kind of calm that Manop, the orphanage owner, has in abundance.
By nothing short of a minor miracle, it will take only around 1 hour to get all 30 of Baan Dek Dee’s children, washed, dressed, breakfasted and lunch boxed, bag packed and van seated.
Kids of course are bouncing with energy, are worked into a fine symphony by the conducting force of Manop. For the older children, for whom the “magic” of school has worn off there is no respite; if Manop’s infectious energy won’t wake you up then the roosters that rule the yard certainly will!
6.30 AM: It’s time for school! Manop, an orphan himself, knows the ins and outs of providing structure to these kids lives and with the help of wife Dta and their young daughter run an amazingly tight ship. I am sure many of you can appreciate that trying to balance a squadron of some 30 energetic children in to some sort of order is no mean feat.
However, this challenging task is carried off with the kind of ease that would be the envy of any kindergarten teacher; In fact, this is the type of precise system would be the pride of Henry Ford.
Working on a threadbare budget – everything is meticulously planned and organized. All the kids hop, skip and jump into the van, for their solitary trip, there is no excess for wasted journeys. Manop starts up the somewhat croaky 1980s van, which would be classed as “vintage” in another context and rolls off up the street.
7.15 AM: All children arrive at school which starts at around 8.00 AM – before they hit the books the children stand to salute the flag raising, accompanied by a rendition of the national anthem. The national anthem, is saluted twice a day at 8 AM and 6 PM and is universally observed by all Thai citizens.
A Thai school day, in structure at least, is almost identical to western schooling– with the children learning everything from science to art and all in between– split between two breaks, the school day finishes at around 3.30. Often the orphans from Baan Dek Dee stay late for extra classes.
Many of the children have not been proactively engaged in school for their primary years and are behind their peers - the extra learning is important for their advancement in the future.
The Kids with their puzzles, favorites included Serpent Cube & Star Puzzle
5.00 PM: Manop starts up the van again and grinds it into gear to head off to pick the kids up from school. With a cough, hic and a splutter the engine spins into motion and the Baan Dek Dee process is back in motion.
The children’s school is a local public school on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, and a short 40 minute return journey is feasible– including the shepherding of the orphans - abundant with the kind of energy you only see in children.
On their return to the orphanage the children pop out of the van one-by-one, akin to a clown car – the act of fitting these children into such a space would be tinged with humor if their circumstance was not so tragic.
5.15PM: On their return from their day at school, the kids of Baan Dek Dee begin their daily ritual of chores and homework. The whirring children are quick to change out of their school clothes, which they are responsible for and begin to hand wash every piece they have worn in large basins of soapy water. Every child must organize their own clothes, as well as their own thoughts and diligently wash every article of clothing. Once the washing is complete the children wring them dry and pass them to Dta to iron or hang.
5.45PM: After all the clothing has been washed, it’s time for homework, not exactly a favorite of past time for most children, but the Orphans of Baan Dek Dee are keen to learn – school for them is a privilege not a right. Many of them come from hill tribe families where quality schooling is not available or from grandparents where school is an expense that cannot be afforded.
There is a sense of normality about this – children crowded around a dining table, studiously working through their homework like little Trojans. P’Dta looks over them and assists them in their learning– she also gets to brush up on her science and mathematics in the process with a procession of quick fire questions – some more taxing than others.
After completing their homework it’s time for dinner, sometimes the children get ‘special treat’ donations consisting of KFC or Pizza Hut and infrequent but do happen, usually it’s a staple Thai meal: a ton of rice, some vegetables and slices of chicken – this is typically washed own with water or milk – pick your poison as it were.
7: 30PM: Today is Thursday, so the kids are eager to finish and scrub up. Mr. Franck – a local musician, comes to Baan Dek Dee and volunteers to teach some of them to play the drums.
Luckily for the kids, there are a handful of good hearted local volunteers who come round and practice a variety of activities – this kind of thing is a real treat for the kids, who are not allowed to leave the confounds of the small grounds.
The kids who are not involved in the ‘Jam Session’ can playing the sort of low-maintenance games that are found the world over: hopscotch, tag and pat-a-cakes are some of the only options, available most of the bikes have punctures or broken chains and the balls have been burst through use. One of the problems of running a smaller enterprise, without the funding and backing of foreign donors is that there is very little in coffers for extra-curricular purchases.In fact, the children often don’t get a snack at break time as they rely solely on the donations and if there are no biscuits in the fridge – then none can go to school.
8.30 AM – It’s time for bed, these guys are early risers so then need to wash up and get ready for bed. Unfortunately there is not a lot of space, and the kids all sleep in room stacked floor to ceiling with beds. The girls sleep in one dorm, and the boys sleep in another, usually with 3-4 kids to a bed.
It is Manop’s hope that he can one day with your help raise enough money so that he can purchase a plot of land large enough to accommodate the children.
Then it’s time to start the whole regime over again.