It felt like spiders sliding down my legs, one after another after another. If I didn’t know the feeling by now, I would have panicked; but after a few days in this Thailand heat, I recognized the sensation as beads of sweat making their way down my legs.
I don’t sweat easily; there aren’t too many places in the world in which my body reacts like this by just standing upright. But here I was, my water bottle slung over my shoulder, my hair pulled back and secured by a bandana, and before me lay a new world, one that I’ve seen only in covers of National Geographic.
A filthy pig grunted as she trotted across the dirt road; her four little piglets followed in a perfect line at her heels. Chickens pecked at the dust, like they were searching for something they lost.
Children laughed, watching us, finding joy in these visitors to their quiet hillside tribe.
They wore oversized shirts and tattered shorts; their bodies were coated with a thin layer of red dust.
It was just another day in their hillside village, nestled in the dense mountains of northern Thailand.
I didn’t know what to think of their thatched houses, held up by bamboo stilts, a protection against the monsoon rains that would be coming in the next few weeks.
I pictured the people and children navigating their streets, shoeless and trudging about in the knee high mud that would result from the deluge.
I watched again as three boys skipped and jumping, chasing their chickens and laughing at us foreigners in their midst. Obviously unschooled and left to their own devices, I found myself wondering, “What would become of these children?”
It was about 8 years ago when I learned the fate of many of these children in the hillside tribes in Thailand. The poverty is so severe that many children are sold by family members out of sheer desperation, hoping that their decision will allow their child to eat and somehow fall upon a more promising future.
It was the reason I came to Thailand, to see for myself the faces of this most vulnerable population. They are at the mercy of whoever is in charge, whoever has the power and position.
I write about this because I just recently returned from this place, working with an organization that tries to prevent the sale of children from impoverished areas by proactively offering an alternative path of education and provision. I left not feeling despair, but hopeful. In seeing and experiencing first hand the work that was taking place to help combat this problem, I felt that there was at least someone advocating for these precious children without a voice.
My thoughts quickly turned to my home of Tualatin, Oregon. I began to consider the vulnerable population here at home. Where were the ones at the mercy of whoever held the power and position?
It was clear to me that children in foster care, children who are taken from their families, powerless, without a voice and often times without a warning, are among the most vulnerable people in our community. Although foster care is in place to protect children, there are inevitably a lot of ways we, as a community, can come alongside and help make this a smoother, more nurturing experience. With Love immediately came to my mind as an example of an organization on the frontlines doing just this!
A few days after my return to the States, I tuned in to a news segment on Straight Talk Oregon highlighting the “Foster Care Crisis in Portland.”
My conclusions were confirmed; last year 11,445 Oregon Children spent at least one day in foster care; 7,546 children are there full time.
Upon investigation, Oregon foster care was deemed to be in a crisis condition. Findings showed that DHS offices were run down and uninviting; recruiting and maintaining reputable foster care families was a struggle.
However, the news segment featured two Oregon non profits who are on the frontlines helping change these conditions. Jillana Goble, a foster parent and founder of Embrace Oregon, spoke about changing the feel and experiences of DHS offices for children in foster care. EmbraceOregon.org. Their work with welcome boxes and creating nurturing, welcoming environments in DHS offices is very inspiring; it is truly an example of caring for the vulnerable in our community.
I was also pleased and excited to see With Love’s founder and President Allie Roth interviewed about the changes With Love is making in the community.
Allie, a foster parent herself, explained her concern for foster families in the community. Many people truly want to care and welcome these little ones into their homes and families but they are burdened by the financial strain and unprepared for what is needed.
A child in foster care deserves dignity; they need security and to know they are worthy of love.
Not only does With Love provide what is needed for children 0-6 years old, they also account for the individuality of that child.
When a request is made for material goods, With Love also seeks to understand who that child is in order to prepare items that align directly with them; what Disney characters make them smile? Do they like horses or do they prefer trains?
Care and thought goes into each delivery, ensuring that every family is equipped and every child is valued.
Allie emphasized that With Love is truly a product of the community that comes around to support these efforts. Through donating, organizing, deliveries, shopping and cleaning, 1400 volunteers stepped up last year alone to do this hard work.
Additionally, community partners donate large amounts of necessary materials too.
An average delivery to a foster family is $1300.00. Furthermore, every three months foster families are eligible for another delivery to update wardrobe or supplement developmental needs.
Deliveries can be dropped off within a 30 minute radius; however, if a foster family is beyond the delivery zone, they can arrange to have their needed materials collected and ready for them to pick up themselves.
Last year, With Love was able to donate a million dollars worth of products.
Watching this news segment made me feel extremely thankful. I of course already knew about all With Love was doing in the community to help the foster care system. But seeing their mission and impact broadcasted in such a way made me hopeful.
Naively, I looked at the vulnerable population in a third world country and thought that the need for providing dignity and hope to such a community was so far away.
However, there is a need right outside my door.
Community involvement has never been more important to make a growing mission like With Love continue to do the good work here.
I am so grateful for the people who donate time, materials and love in order to create a better world.
Perhaps extra summer time with your family has you wondering what you can do together to impact the community for the better. Check out numerous opportunities at With Love.