Last October, lives changed forever when the worst monsoon season in more than 50 years hit Thailand. Nearly 300 people perished and 8 million were affected. Homes were destroyed, hearts were broken, but the spirit of Holt’s foster families could not be crushed. In the face of such devastation, Holt took comfort in the inspiring stories brought to us from the field. Although many of our foster mothers lost their homes, they never wavered in their devotion to their foster children. Our overseas staff sheltered the families, and kept the children safe. We commend Holt’s foster mothers in Thailand for their love and dedication, as well as our staff who rose to meet the need.
You may remember this story brought to us by Jennifer Goette, Holt’s director of programs for South and Southeast Asia, and published in November. Jennifer tells the story of one Holt foster mother whose home was damaged during the monsoon.
In March, engineers began the second phase of flood response by conducting an evaluation of destroyed and damaged homes. The engineers will now volunteer their time and begin the repair of 20 homes for birth and foster families affected by the flooding.
Jennifer Goette, Holt’s director of services for South and Southeast Asia, recently returned from Thailand. While there, she witnessed first-hand the devastation caused by the worst monsoon season to hit Thailand in 50 years and sat down with a Holt Sahathai Foundation foster mother.
By Jennifer Goette
Bangkok, Thailand — Watching the floodwater rise in and around Bangkok in news reports these last couple weeks, it has been difficult to get a true account of the tragedy caused by the worst monsoon in Thailand in 50 years. Until my visit to Bangkok this week, I didn’t understand the true impact of the tragedy or how critical the work of Holt Sahathai Foundation (HSF) has been for families dealing with dislocation and personal loss.
Since early October, HSF staff has worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of children and families served by their program. They have coordinated deliveries of food and supplies to hundreds of families using military vehicles, small boats and sheer willpower. They have relocated approximately 25 children and their foster parents to the HSF office, where the families have found safety, comfort and nutritious food. In many cases, HSF staff have continued working long hours, seven days a week, despite the desperate situation of their own families and homes.
One foster mother — relocated to the HSF office with her two foster daughters — sat down with me and shared her story….
I am sitting with Patchara and the Executive Director of HSF, Jintana Nontapouraya, as the light fades in the early evening and Patchara’s youngest foster daughter sleeps in her arms.
Patchara has been a foster mother with HSF since 1996. I can tell that Patchara, with her warm personality and sweet disposition, holds a special place in the hearts of the entire staff. Nearly 15 years ago, Patchara adopted the first child she fostered and has remained a foster mother with HSF ever since.
Patchara shares with me about the uncertainty families faced in the early days of the flood, when it was unclear just how grave the situation would be in areas around Bangkok. As the floodwater rose higher throughout Pathum Thani Province, the local residents evacuated to higher ground, staying with friends or relatives, or relocating to temporary evacuation shelters. As she worked with her husband to construct a barrier around their home, Patchara’s primary concern was not for the safety of her house or her personal belongings — which are now two meters under water — but for the safety of her two foster children. “They are my family,” says Patchara with a smile. “There was no question that I would continue to provide for their care during the disaster.”
Like the other foster mothers, Patchara has been forced to relocate to ensure the safety of her foster children. HSF’s foster program — staffed with 10 social workers, providing support and training to 100 families fostering 130 children — completed a weekly assessment of the dangers associated with the flooding for each family. When it was determined on October 21st that the Patchara family could no longer stay in their home, HSF worked with Mrs. Patchara to determine that the HSF office would be the safest place for her and the two children. HSF immediately arranged for transportation and assisted with the move. She has lived at the HSF office ever since.
When asked about the support HSF has provided, Patchara becomes animated: “I always feel supported by HSF during difficulties,” says Patchara. “During the flood, before I relocated to the HSF office, the staff called every day and responded immediately to my needs. I feel safe here at the office and can continue to provide care to my two foster children.”
Fortunately, nearly every foster mother has been willing and able to continue to provide care in the face of the tragedy. In the couple of cases where foster families have not been able to continue care, the children have been welcomed at the HSF office to be cared for by staff and the two cooks hired to prepare food during the crisis.
“For HSF, there are so many challenges caused by the flood,” says Jintana. “Out of 100 foster families, there has only been one who has not been dramatically impacted by the flood. We are responsible for these children and take this very seriously.”
Patchara realizes that it’s only a matter of time before she can return home, but she worries about the future for her and her family. Although her family owns their home and the land around it, they do not have any savings and will need a lot of financial support to repair their home.
With the situation brought on by the flood, Jintana plans to provide the relief and reconstruction needed for each family, though she worries about HSF’s ability to raise the needed funds.
“I truly appreciate the spirit of our foster families who are so committed to these children and also the staff who are incredibly dedicated to their work,” says Jintana. “We have continued efforts to distribute food, water and supplies to affected families, but we realize that there will be a lot of work to do later after the water recedes. All of the homes in affected areas have been damaged and will need significant repair.”
Foster families in HSF’s program receive between $65 and $75 per month for each child in their care. These funds help to compensate foster mothers for their time, but also pay for food for the child. Everything else is provided by HSF – transportation, medicine, education – to ensure each child has the best possible care.
Disaster relief efforts have been focused on the immediate needs of food, water and temporary shelter, but the majority of costs will be incurred now as homes need to be repaired or reconstructed. Jintana imagines HSF will need more than $35,000 to provide the needed support. “Our foster care program is always dependent on generous donations and support from Holt International,” she says. “But this is beyond anything we have experienced before. When the water is gone, the work will continue – and funding will be a critical factor in our ability to meet the needs of each family.