Saturday, December 8, 2012

Recycling love

December 9, 2012
Written at an Internet Cafe in downtown Bangkok
 As we were waiting in line at LAX taking photos Sasha and I wondered how all our toys would ever get to Thailand. Our luggage was well over the weight limit and included 140 pounds of stuffed toys. Divine intervention helped us get our booty through the Thai Airways check in and safely to Thailand, where Sasha’s brother (a Bangkok police officer) got our bags through customs with no questions asked.

Sasha with children from Kings School.

Bringing toys from the US to impoverished children in Thailand has been something Sasha (a Thai national) has been doing for decades. I become involved in her efforts after the Asian Tsunami in 2004.  Scribbling the words Toys for Thailand on a card board box and putting it outside my office at Palomar College to collect stuffed animals for tsunami orphans in 2005, I am amazed that today Toys for Thailand, Inc. is a non-profit organization with international support. Our humanitarian project has provided me with a sense of purpose and soul satisfaction that has gone well beyond any success that I have ever experienced as an educator.

In the past 7 years Sasha and I have made 13 trips to Thailand together bringing donated toys and dollars to help neglected children (first in the tsunami zone and now in the rugged north).  On many trips we were joined by friends and sometimes Sasha’s husband and daughter.
In the years right after the Tsunami the airlines were willing to give us complimentary cargo shipping, and in those glory days we would take up to 600 pounds of toys. You can imagine the logistics in getting all those boxes through customs and into the hands of children in remote disaster zones.  I’m in awe of what Sasha has been able to do in her efforts to support children in her home country and I feel privileged to be her partner.
We are certainly not alone in our T4T efforts, along the way a fascinating group of guardian angels have joined in…friends, family, colleagues and people who discovered T4T Online, on a poster in a Dr’s office, in a yoga studio or through our fundraising events (Taste of Thailand). Each trip we seem to expand a little bit more, gain credibility and donors. Our efforts have gone beyond bringing toys to providing direct support to Tribal schools: rice husking and soy milk machines, agricultural supplies, vocational training materials, telecommunication equipment, and water filtration systems…but it is always our recycled toys that children appreciate the most.
On December 24, 2012 Toys for Thailand will host our third annual Small World Festival in Maehongson, a magical place in the mountains of Northern Thailand. All the recycled toys that made their journey from the US will be at the festival ready for distribution. T4T has provided funding for six hundred children representing various Hill Tribal groups: Shan, Karen (White, Red and Black), Lawa, Lahu, Lisu, Hmong, and the long neck and long ears to come from their village schools to celebrate at the festival.

T4T volunteer Judy with Aisue.

All of the children attending the festival live in dire poverty, some abandoned, some orphaned but most from families that cannot care for them. These children do not have TV or Internet and most do not have electricity, refrigeration or running water. Despite different languages and cultural traditions, all the Tribal children respond impulsively with glee and excitement when presented with a toy.

Being a toy trafficker must be my calling on some karmic level. Putting a stuffed toy into the hands of a child who lives with few creature comforts and seeing their face light up with joy, is an experience you don’t forget. It melts my heart every time…the soft cuddly second hand toy provides an immediate source of tangible comfort to the child, a message from someone far away saying that you are not alone. Sasha calls it providing recycled love.