University of Oregon graduate Ally Tritten recently completed a six-month, IE3 Global Internship at the Holt Sahathai Foundation (HSF) in Thailand. Here, in her third and final blog, she reflects on her experience working alongside HSF’s dedicated staff in their efforts to find homes for children with special needs. Many of these children are now in Holt’s Waiting Child Program.
While working closely with HSF staff members, I also became a part of the “HSF family.”
This, I didn’t expect. Not at first.
My initial impression of the HSF staff was that of a tight-knit group of individuals who defined strength and commitment to helping children and families attain success in life. I was immediately consumed with their high energy level and strong work ethic. As I entered each office room, the HSF staff scurried about their business – taking phone calls, working on computers, and looking at files stacked about a foot high on each desk.
I was excited to begin my work for this organization.
And within a few days, I was one of them – files piled high on my desk as I completed one task, just to begin another.
During my first week in Thailand, I also had my first business trip. About 16 of us traveled five hours north of Bangkok toward Cambodia to visit some of the foster families in HSF’s foster care program. Through this experience, I was able to get a first-hand look at the diverse social welfare services HSF provides for families and children. Throughout the coming months, I would be called on several more journeys deep into jungles, walking through water and over small wooden planks covered in fire ants in order to make a foster care home visit – a trip HSF staff often struggle to make for follow-up info on children eligible for adoption.
Once back in Bangkok, I began the primary work of my internship. The special needs project was in full force.
Getting to Know the Children
Our four-person team began visiting orphanages throughout Thailand, where we gathered information about every child designated for the special needs project. After reviewing their files, we would then work with each child to complete a variety of tasks and activities. This step, which took about two hours for every child, helped us gain a better understanding of each child’s developmental level.
With vital translation help from one of the Thai members on our team, I would then interview the child’s caretaker. These interviews gave us a better idea of each child’s daily routine and self care habits. I then wrote reports for each child we observed – focusing on the section that identified the child’s current physical, social/emotional, cognitive and language development.
In total, we visited 11 orphanages and assessed about 100 children.
After submitting my assessments, my supervisor would add them to larger reports that encompassed each child’s background and medical history as well. Once finalized, the reports were sent to the Adoption Center in Bangkok and later distributed to different agencies in hopes of finding families for all of these wonderful children.
Of all the children we assessed throughout the project, about a quarter of them were eventually released to Holt for home-finding.
When You Give of Yourself…
My goal for this internship was to find as many loving, kind and supportive families as possible for children with special needs. That expectation never changed. It still hasn’t.
It will forever be difficult to describe, however, my personal expectations going into this internship. How do you know what to expect when you’re dropped in a country where you have never even stepped foot?
The big green anxiety and fear monster lurks his head around every corner and under every dark table. But the beauty in any of these “leap of faith” decisions is the transformation that occurs throughout the process.
As I sit here in my comfortable bed in comfortable Oregon and the sweet memories of Thailand begin to fade, it all becomes more or less like a dream.
But now that I have returned home and re-acclimated to American society, I can honestly say now more than ever: I have realized that working with youth and adults with special needs and their families in an international context is exactly what I want to commit myself to for many years to come.
It’s not just the tremendous need that drives me.
Walking through an orphanage of 400 children with special needs and showing them each individual love and attention is just one reason why my heart continues to choose this path. It’s also the overwhelming sense that anyone feels when a child reaches for your hand – just to feel the warmth of another human being. During these moments of the internship, I had a sense that each human being that you come into contact with makes you a better person, if you open your heart and mind.
Despite the many challenges of working abroad, this incredible internship in Thailand has only reinforced my desire to pursue this path – and made me commit to applying for a 2-and-a-half year contract serving as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Everyone I met in Thailand has taught me something. Whether discipline, work ethic, a peaceful nature, tolerance, patience, or attentiveness, they have each given me a gift that I will carry with me into the next chapters of my life.
Thailand will forever be a part of me because it is here, among these people, that I learned the most valuable of life lessons: when you give what you can of yourself to others, you find there is an overall happiness that surrounds you. It can’t be touched with your hand or bought with a paper a bill.
This kind of happiness must be felt with the heart.