While traveling in southern Thailand, Kai Kirwin, son of KIRF co-founder Mark Kirwin, and his friend Kyle Crooke discovered a new but underfunded boarding and for children with special needs that were in need of some help. The Special Needs School–Samui is located at a beautiful new facility on the island of Koh Samui. Kai and Kyle did an assessment of the school’s needs and then a day later delivered items from their wish list provided by the staff. These requested items included a table, toiletries for the boarding students, art supplies, nutritional supplements, and food staples for their pantry (rice, eggs, milk, canned foods, noodles).
This project is a continuation of KIRF’s educational mission that began as a part of our tsunami relief effort in Southern Thailand replacing textbooks and other educational supplies destroyed in the Andaman Sea Tsunami on December 26, 2004. Through our network of contacts in Thailand we were able to learn about this new educational day and boarding school facility for specials needs children on the island of Koh Samui.
Kai had previously enjoyed working with children with disabilities as a summer surf instructor in Ventura over the past few years and was interested to observe how they were cared for in another culture, and if possible, volunteer at a school for them while he was in Thailand. After getting the school’s contact information and location, a family friend volunteered to take them to the school and translate and hence, the journey began. Upon arriving at the Special Needs School-Samui, both Kai and Kyle were impressed with the beautiful new facility and the dedicated and caring staff members there. The Special Needs School-Samui currently serves 16 boarding and day students and has three trained special needs counselors on site. The facility is located in a less populated area of the island, surrounded by tropical forest, and is about a 10 minute trip from town.
While there the boys found that some of the school’s funding had been recently cut short and that the school was in a bit of a crises. The new school needed some furniture, educational and art supplies, more toiletries for the boarding students, and food to continue delivering the quality of care required by the Thai government to continue operating. After doing an assessment of what the school needed, Kai and Kyle went shopping at a nearby super-store for items on the wish list the staff provided. They returned to the school on July 27, 2016 and delivered the much needed educational supplies, art supplies and food for the facility’s pantry. They said that the staff members were visibly surprised and quiet at first when they came back with the supplies as promised.
“The staff counselors seemed really surprised when we showed up with the supplies. They told us that no foreign tourist has ever done this before: to just show up and ask if they needed help and then go out and buy stuff they needed and deliver it,” Kai said.“These people [their special needs students] are just forgotten in their society.” The staffers and their students were extremely grateful for the new supplies!
The head staff member told them that art supplies were particularly important teaching resources for them because creative activity is associated with fostering healthy brain development. They almost always needed more art supplies. Having creative projects available kept their higher functioning students engaged and the projects also gave the staffers more time so they could provide more one-on-one care for the students who needed more assistance. They are hoping to get some low Thai-style tables soon since their students are tough on furniture and things seem to need to be constantly fixed or replaced.
The students seemed visibly delighted with the surprise toys that Kai and Kyle brought for each of them. After getting all the requested items on the school’s wish list Kai and Kyle bought each of the 16 students their own stuffed animal. Kai said, “We found out that some of the students sleep at the school at night since their families are not able to give them the attention and care they need at home. The reason we got each student their own toy was because we remembered that the scariest moments we had when we were kids was when we were alone at night. And, that we felt better if we could talk to a friend. And, if a friend wasn’t around, at least we had a big stuffed animal.”
KIRF was able to assist the Special Needs School–Samui due to the generosity of its donors who donated to the general fund. Family friend Noi’s assistance was invaluable to this project as a translator, navigator, and as a cultural liaison between us and the local people on Koh Samui. The KIRF volunteers paid for their travel and all of their stay expenses in Thailand. We were honored to help the Special Needs School–Samui to continue their amazing program that makes sure the special needs children in their care are not overlooked.
Angela R. Kirwin, MA
Co-Founder, Kirwin International Relief Foundation