Field Report: KIRF helping children in Thailand orphaned by AIDS and the tsunami disaster

Thank you to everyone who helped with this most recent KIRF humanitarian relief trip.  Our trip was a great success!

During this trip KIRF help orphaned children infected with HIV/AIDS, in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand.  KIRF negotiated the final legal document with the PDA for educational scholarships for tsunami orphans in Southern Thailand.

Our volunteers on this KIRF relief trip were KIRF founders, Mark and Angela Kirwin and our two children- whose help and assessment were invaluable.

Helping AIDS orphans with Support The Children Foundation:

The HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to affect children, not only in our country, but especially in South-East Asia. Nearly 7.8 million people are estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS in 2006 in South-East Asia according to the UNAIDS December 2006 AIDS Epidemic Update.

In Thailand, an estimated 580,000 adults and children were HIV-positive at the end of 2005.  According to the UNAIDS December 2006 AIDS Epidemic Update, married women are increasingly becoming infected with AIDS by their spouses. An estimated 29% of new HIV cases are married women.  The Thai government is now encouraging married couples to get tested regularly and use condoms to stop this alarming trend.

Chiang Mai Partner:

Prior to flying to Chiang Mai we researched, and used our local contacts in Thailand, to find a reputable partner to assist in KIRF’s AIDS relief trip. We chose to work with Support The Children, a locally respected Thai HIV/AIDS survivor advocacy group founded by husband and wife volunteer physicians Doctors Vicharn and Prakong Vithayasai.

Drs. Vicharn and Vithayasi are certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and Immunology and are internationally recognized experts on HIV/AIDS prevention, education, and treatment in South East Asia. Their organization provides free medical care, education, and loving foster family environments for approximately 450 orphaned children infected or affected by HIV/AIDS in Chiang Mai.

Like KIRF, Support the Children helps people help themselves and looks towards long-term sustainable solutions to alleviate suffering.  The match was ideal and made for a successful trip to help the children.

Relief Work in Chiang Mai:

Once in Chiang Mai, Dr. Prakong picked us up at our guest house early Monday morning on December 18th in a van donated to Support the Children by the Japanese government. Then began a busy day of needs assessment.

Since it was Monday and the AIDS orphans were in school, we visited the home of some elderly foster parents and a primary school serving impoverished rice-farming villages about 45 minutes north of Chiang Mai.

An elderly foster couple that Dr. Prakong introduced us to whos daughter had died from AIDS. Once we arrived at the foster parent’s modest rural home, Dr. Prakong introduced us to the elderly couple whose daughter died of AIDS.  They were providing foster care for their HIV positive grandson. We were invited upstairs to the living area of the farming couple’s traditional unpainted teak two-story home. Kicking off our shoes, we climbed the narrow wooden stairs up to the main living area and sat down across from the elderly couple on woven mats.

The room was decorated with a few simple low wooden tables, an ancient television set, an old calendar and their grandson’s academic awards. The family honored their king and queen with a gilt framed portrait of each on the main room’s wall like many restaurant and business we’ve been to in Thailand.  Underneath the raised living area of the house was an open space used for storage and to keep farm animals. Unfortunately, there were no longer any animals there to support this family.

During the visit Dr. Prakong asked them questions not only of their grandchild but of the general progress of the HIV positive children in the community.  Later that day, the grandfather was going to a community meeting, organized by Support the Children, where other foster parents could get moral support and health advice regarding their foster HIV positive children. As we left this very kind couple, Dr. Prakong gave them a month’s worth of food staples like rice and cooking oil to help them care for their foster child.

One thing we noticed in this rural farm area was a lack of chickens, so prevalent on previous trips to Asia. Raising chickens was a main source of income and food for rural families. However, the chickens were exterminated because of the bird flu epidemic. As a result of the bird flu epidemic many families lost income and poverty has increased.

HIV positive Children from a local primary school.Next we drove to a local primary school. Several of the HIV-positive foster care children attended this school. To preserve privacy and prevent discrimination, the HIV-positive foster children are not identified to anyone in the school besides the principle. The school principal discretely pointed out one AIDS orphan to us in a music class during our visit.

We learned that the school has been helping the AIDS orphans and its disadvantaged rural students with its free nutritious lunch program. The program was paid for by the money the school made by selling ice cream to villagers made from milk donated or sold below market by the local dairy farmers. Dairy has replaced poultry as a main income source since the bird flu epidemic.

During our visit we found out the school’s lunch program had been drastically reduced because their ice cream maker broke and their small freezer was malfunctioning.

Angela Kirwin with the rural foster kids It became clear that the best way to help the AIDS children, and other poor rural children, was to purchase them a new ice cream machine and freezer to get the school lunch program up and running again.

So, after our rural assessment we went back to Chiang Mai to bargain for the best ice cream maker and freezer prices we could find. After visiting several hardware, kitchen appliance stores, and freezer manufactures we finally found a place owned by former patients of Dr. Vicharn who gave us discount on the ice cream maker. After more negotiations with different store proprietors, we were able to buy the school a good freezer.

Angela Kirwin giving aid relief to orphanage with money raised from Ventura College. These KIRF funds were used to purchase food like rice and cooking oil. This photo shows Angela holding rice with orphanage women, man and child We used the money raised at Ventura College to help the AIDS orphans and general KIRF funds to purchase food staples like rice and cooking oil for the AIDS orphans’ foster families. We also purchased some beautifully embroidered handbags made by the STC’s HIV-positive women’s cooperative to raise funds for KIRF back in the USA and to give these ladies a market for their handiwork that will help them help themselves and their children.

KIRF’s Tsunami Orphan Scholarship Fund with the PDA

It still seems so amazing that roughly two years ago we were on a vacation to Thailand when the tsunami hit and we were spared. We participated in a tsunami remembrance ceremony on December 26, 2006 at Pat pong beach, where so many people lost their lives. For a mile on the beach there were rows and rows of small holes dug in the sand, each containing a lit candle for the spirit of those killed by the waves.  Near many of the holes were pictures of children and families who lost their lives.

Photo of Mark, Kai, Angela, Stephen with Ronin, Makani Kirwin
Mark, Kai, Angela, Stephen with Ronin, Makani Kirwin

In remembrance of the departed, many people lit candles inside of rice bags. The people chanted prayers as the heat from the candles lifted the hundreds of bright rice paper lanterns into the night sky.

We held hands…and gave thanks…and sent our thoughts for those, and their families, that had not make it on that horrible day.

It was an especially memorable day, because just a few days earlier in Bangkok we had met with the Personal Assistant to the Chairman of the PDA, Mr. Blakeley (Population & Community Development Association of Thailand) regarding the tsunami orphan educational fund.

As many of you know, for the last 2 years as part of our tsunami relief work we have been moving forward with the establishment of an educational fund for the 54 tsunami orphans we identified in South Ranong and Phang-Nga Provinces Thailand.

Previously, Mark had met with Chairman, Senator Mechai of the PDA to seek agreement on the administration of the education fund. Mark had also interviewed and gained subsequent approval from the Prince of Songkla University, Director of Administration, to host the program.

During the meeting with Mr. Blakeley both Mark and Angela signed the Memorandum of Understanding for the KIRF Fund for Tsunami Orphans in Thailand.  This is the final document needed to move forward with sending the orphans to college!

We will continue to support this program for years to come. So thank you to the PDA, Prince of Songla University, to all who have donated and helped with this program!

All of us at KIRF wish to thank you all very much for your support.   Your compassion and kindness make a tremendous difference to help people help themselves.


Mark and Angela Kirwin
Co-Founders  KIRF