Today is a long awaited and carefully planned day.
Ever since I was in college, I have sponsored a child through Compassion. I have lost track of these children once they graduated, but they have been boys and girls from Haiti, Dominican Republic, Uganda, and El Salvador to name a few.
Currently, I am sponsoring a little boy whose name is Phuchit “Tono” Borriboonkhongwat. He lives in Thailand, and I have supported him financially and written letters to him for about one year.
Here is what I know About Tono from his letters
He lives with his mother and father. His dad farms in the rice paddy. His grandmother also lives with them. He has two brothers.
Tono likes toy cars and to play with his friends. He plays sports, especially soccer. His favorite team is Man City so black is his favorite color.
When the weather is cold, Tono wears a sweater to school. He likes music, and his favorite subject is Thai language.
Tono likes crafts, playing chase, and drawing people.
His favorite food is som tom. He doesn’t like papaya salad. He goes to hunt for red ants for soup. He also shoots birds.
Tono knows about Jesus’ love for Him and about God’s creation. His favorite Bible story is about David.
Ephesians 5:16 is his favorite verse.
Alongkorn Keereekaewsoong writes his letters in the local language since Tono cannot. Then the letter is sent to Chiang Mai for translation into English.
When Rob and I had Thailand on our list of places to go, I told Rob that we would be visiting Tono. He agreed, and we started the six-month process of making that happen.
At 8am, Suwit, a Christian pastor, would transport us to the village and additionally act as our interpreter. He speaks Thai, Burmese, Karen and English.
Many Karen people have left Myanmar for other countries. Some of them settled in Finland, Norway, Japan, Australia, USA, and Thailand.
Suwit went to the college at the refugee camp because it was cheaper at $300/year. I didn’t know that there were colleges in the refugee camps. Perhaps it is a satellite campus?!
I asked him if it is hard to spread the gospel to the animists who try to appease the evil spirits in the forest. He said that it is easy when they are experiencing troubles. The evil spirits request many things of them to make things right. The people realize that they can’t do these things. They turn to Christ who sets them free from the evil requests.
This reminds me of Peter and the Law. In the Bible it is about the Jewish Law, but it would apply here in a sense. The Way of Jesus Christ promises an easy time with burdens lifted!
We turned off the main highway and entered a partially paved dirt road with many ruts and holes. We were on this bumpy and winding road for about an hour. Driving through these mountains made my ears pop over and over.
Beware of wild elephants! Now that’s a sign I hadn’t seen before.
This cool tree house is for watching for elephants to shoo them away. Suwit didn’t seem to know what people do when they see one. I assume that a scare-elephant similar to a scarecrow would be useless.
Wow! Another sign. I asked Suwit if he had ever seen an elephant along this road and he laughed and said “No, they usually they cross the road at night.” Yikes, I thought coming across a deer at night was a big deal, but this is a huge deal.
We drove through beautiful scenery. Corn is the biggest cash crop in the region.
The roads are a challenge. During the rainy season, this road is impossible to navigate, and in fact, that is why some portions of pavement are missing.
This road is only five years old and can be used by car and motorcycle. Prior to this, the sick had to be carried to the main road.
Home Visit and Gift Giving
Grandma, Mom, younger brother, Tono, older brother, me, Rob and Dad
Tono’s dad, Grandma and older brother standing outside the kitchen
Tono’s mom standing outside their house.
School Visit and Meeting Tono’s Friends
Tono in his classroom desk
Today is scout day and the boys and girls are in uniform. Tono is wearing traditional Karen clothes.
They took us to the “organics” where they are learning about gardening. With guidance the kids can harvest anything that they want and eat it for lunch.
Volleyball truly is a worldwide sport.
A team came in to feed us lunch. I can say it’s SPICY, and SITTING on the floor to eat without your feet pointing out is really uncomfortable.
Here is Suwit on the left and Tono on the right
The Compassion Project
Art truly is the best ice breaker. We drew people, scribble drew, folded papers, and hand games.
Here is a drawing that Tono made of us.
I requested that the brothers smash their faces against the glass door. They were happy to oblige.
Compassion Staff and Tono’s Family
This man is the Compassion Project manager. His name is Boon which means blessing. I tried to explain to them that my maiden name was Boone. That didn’t translate well. Instead I told them that my niece just had a baby, and they named him Boone. Much better. Note our traditional Karen best clothing.
Here is what I learned about Tono while I was in his village of Ban Pah.
Tono is a Karen word that means “meet each other”.
Tono was very quiet and could hardly make eye contact with us. The staff was trying to push him to hug us, hold our hand, and speak with us. They kept saying that he was shy. I would act the same way, and I’m not shy. He was overwhelmed.
We went to Tono’s house and exchanged gifts. I had the staff buy requested items for me and I also bought a little red car. Also, I amassed a collection of toiletries from hotels, etc. I didn’t want to overwhelm them with Western goods. I am sure that these items were quite accessible but they received them graciously.
His older brother’s name is Tha Maung Klen which means “tamarind” because he was born under a tamarind tree. If my parents were to follow this tradition, my name would be St. Catherine’s Hospital.
His younger brother’s name is Tutu which means “little one”.
Tono’s mother had made a shoulder bag and a scarf for both of us. The staff had made us vests. These are both in the Karen tradition. I don’t know how they determined the size since we are larger than they are.
But then when we went to school, it was apparent that Tono was a great leader of his peers. He was talkative, and he was like the Pied Piper.
Ta Blut is thank you in the Karen language.
He goes to the government school Monday through Friday and to the Compassion school on Saturday. There are a lot of full time staff at Compassion. It is unclear what they do during the week. When I asked, they said translating.
There are 30 children and each could write to their sponsor only two times per year. It was a rule. As a sponsor, I am asked to write way more than that.
Tono’s Dad farms for only half of the year, and it was not clear what he does the rest of the time.
Mother does not work or sell items. They have a few chickens. They do not have a garden. There was a lot of laundry out drying…even shoes on the ends of tree branches. I thought maybe she made money by doing laundry. The kids had nice, large backpacks.
Grandma has her own room. She lost her husband due to sickness likely malaria when her only child, Tono’s mom, was three.
After seeing so much poverty in Southeast Asia, I was surprised how well off Tono’s family was. They have running water and a large house. This is certainly a far cry from the picture of poverty that is evident in his Compassion story. Perhaps our money has allowed this family to thrive and we are seeing the results of our support. His older brother is also sponsored.