Our day began at the point where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos converge, called “The Golden Triangle”. The region has special significance because many of the children we work with at Buddies Along the Roadside come from the hill tribes of Myanmar.
From there we went on to visit Thailand’s Opium Museum where we learned about the history of the cultivation and trade of opium in the Golden Triangle and Asia in general. The sale and use of opium within Burmese hill tribes is a major factor in the abuse and eventual sale of children in these areas. When parents use the drug and develop a dependence for it, they are often forced to make rash decisions to get their fix; sending their children to the streets as beggars or in some cases, selling them to become involved in Thailand’s sex trade. Gaining perspective on the opium trade helps to better understand the situation that this area of Thailand faces.
After lunch, we visited a Buddhist pagoda perched atop a lookout over the beautiful Thai landscape. There, we were met by a monk who was extremely informative and helpful in understanding Buddhist customs and the functions of a pagoda. He also sported a great sense of humour, better-than-average English, and a degree in Airplane Engineering. We all had the honour of receiving a blessing from the Monk.
Down the hill from the pagoda, we met with Kru Nam, the founder of Buddies Along the Roadside. She shared with us her story of how she got involved with helping the homeless and impoverished, to eventually starting her organization. Kru Nam explained how she witnessed her career transition from being an art student, to jewelry designer, to volunteering as an art therapist working with the homeless. She soon realized that her volunteer work brought her much more satisfaction than her well-paying jewelry design job, and decided to quit her job and pursue her passion in helping the less fortunate. 15 years later, Buddies Along the Roadside has helped to rehabilitate 35 drug-addicted mothers and hundreds of children who were former victims of Thailand’s dangerous sex trade. Hearing Kru Nam’s story first-hand was motivating and inspirational, and it set the stage for the day’s next experience.
We arrived at the children’s home to be greeted by 80+ enthusiastic children ranging from toddlers to late teens, and several staff members and volunteers. After a brief meet-and-greet, we took to the playground and tried to keep up with the kids’ excitement as we played for about an hour before heading back to town for dinner and a good night’s rest.
All in all, today’s activities were eye-opening to say the least. It really set the mood and pace for the rest of our time here in Chiang Saen, and I’m thrilled to experience whatever the next couple weeks may have in store for us.