SHORT INTRODUCTION VIDEO: "Getting to know Sarnelli House"
produced by Thai Children's Trust (November 2009)
New Introduction Video (by Redemptorists Australia - November 2012)
HOW IT BEGAN
Since 1966 Father Michael Shea, C.Ss.R. and other Redemptorists have cared for the poor people living in the northeast areas of Thailand. Their work centered on the outcast, those that no one loved the incurably ill, the elderly and the orphans both Catholic and Buddhist.
The Redemptorists' work with the AIDS victims began around 1998. It first started with the adults. Many of the AIDS victims were banished from their villages. Their families and long-time neighbors and friends wanted nothing to do with them. They were forced to leave their homes and live in hovels in the jungle. The Redemptorists brought to them food, medicine, compassion, love and the Word of God.
Often husbands die before the wives, leaving them with no way to support themselves and their children. When employers find out they have AIDS they lose their jobs. They are too weak to work their regular field or factory jobs anyway.
As the parents died, the question was who would care for the children left behind. The families, even grandparents, want nothing to do with the children, no matter if they have the HIV virus or not. Just being the child of an AIDS parent is enough reason for people to turn their backs and leave them to fend for themselves, regardless of how small they might be.
However, some relatives have been encouraged to take the child if the Redemptorists paid for their care and school expenses, and this has evolved into the Outreach Program. Other children who were not so lucky began to arrive and Fr Mike Shea’s work of Sarnelli House began. However, he would not know the extent of his work with HIV/AIDS people and exactly what God had in store for him especially when faced with the sick children - toddlers and babies who were HIV positive or had AIDS. These are the tiniest of the AIDS victims. There were also children brought in by their dying mothers, other family members or the Thai Social Services Department. Some who are born in prison, others found wandering the streets, going house to house begging for food. One has been found abandoned alongside the road, one found in the town garbage dump. Several young girls have been rescued from a life of prostitution, and even if they had a home they would not be allowed to attend the public schools or play with other children. When they arrive into Fr Mike’s care, they are confused, frightened and withdrawn, but with love and attention they soon settle into their new homes and the work to give them a peaceful loving home begins.
SCOPE OF OPERATIONS
Although Sarnelli House is the name of the house that cares for children with HIV/AIDS in Don Wai it is also the umbrella name for the projects under the care of the Redemptorists run by Fr Mike Shea in the province of Nongkhai in Northeast Thailand.
1. Sarnelli House in the village of Don Wai – home for children with HIV/AIDS
2. Nazareth House in the village of Don Wai – home for teenage girls with HIV/AIDS
3. St Patrick Boys Home in the village of Pi Si Tong – home for abandoned and orphaned boys
4. Jan and Oscar House in the village of Pi Si Tong - home for teenage boys
5. House of Hope in the village of Pi Si Tong – home for babies and toddlers
6. Our Lady of Refuge Home for Girls in the town of Viengkhuk – home for abandoned and orphaned girls
7. Outreach Program – home visiting and support for people living with HIV/AIDS in the community
8. Batik Program – to teach women sewing, needlepoint, batik and other crafts. The work is sold and parts of the profits are used to purchase more materials and the rest is given to the women as pay for their beautiful handiwork.
Funding these projects is entirely Fr Mike Shea’s responsibility, although Nongkhai District Hospital and Sirinagarind Hospital in KonKaen have between them, taken on the provision of the Anti Retro Viral (ARV) medications for the children living at Sarnelli House.
However there are other continuous commitments such as meeting the payroll of at least 50 caring, dedicated, competent and tireless staff at all the projects, maintenance of buildings, vehicles, provision of food, school fees and school uniforms and just about anything else that come up.
1. Sarnelli House (Don Wai)
Sarnelli House is an orphanage for children who have HIV/AIDS. It was built with money that was graciously donated by the Redemptorist's Priests Foundation of Thailand, and was officially opened in October of 2000. It is located in the shaded rural village of Don Wai. The mission of Sarnelli House is to provide a safe, healthy, loving, and happy environment for these children for however long or short their lives may be.
Most days at Sarnelli House are happy, filled with children's games, laughter, singing, dancing, good meals, prayer, and love. The children are cared for by extremely loving housemothers at this peaceful and quiet bamboo surrounded facility. Sarnelli House can accommodate up to 70 kids and features 2 large dormitories, kitchen, laundry facilities, dining area, undercover pavilion, as well as a large shaded yard complete with play equipment. And at any time you're guaranteed to see a little smiling child peddling around on a small bike.
The children that are old enough and well enough attend Rosario Vittaya School. Otherwise, there are lessons coordinated for the children by the Sarnelli staff. Yet everyday at Sarnelli House holds a lesson for all of us: to smile, play and appreciate the time we have to live.
There are currently (April 2008) 60 children living in Sarnelli House, aged from 18 months old up to 16 years old. 59 of them are HIV positive, infected from their mothers at birth or raped by infected adults. These children are on Anti Retro Viral (ARV) medications that was started by Fr. Michael Shea and was taken over later by the public hospital in Nongkhai. The children are now healthy and happy like any children their age.
There are over 20 staff members taking care of the children with understanding, sincerity, and compassion. Their salaries are small compared to the job that they are doing. Sarnelli House is like a family that has Fr. Mike as a father and all the house sisters as mothers. The older kids are big brothers or sisters of the younger ones.
The house mothers who are taking care of HIV/AIDS kids have their health checked once a year. They receive training about HIV/AIDS patient care given by the public hospital. There is a policy to protect the privacy of every HIV/AIDS patient that asks for help from Sarnelli House.
Sarnelli House is a well run and successful orphanage. It has been recognized by the Health Care Department of Nongkhai, a public organization that cares for HIV/AIDS children in the Northeast of Thailand.
2. Nazareth House (Don Wai)
Nazareth House was built in 2007 to house the girls who have HIV/AIDS and who are becoming teenagers. Girls 12 years old and up live here. It is located within walking distance to Sarnelli House and has 10 bedrooms, a kitchen, a laundry, a basketball court and a play ground. The girls living here will be taught the skills of cooking, sewing, personal health and Thai handicrafts and continue to attend school at Rosario Vittaya in Viengkhuk.
In the last year it was used to house the toddlers and babies of the House of Hope, while the old House of Hope was rebuilt. The House of Hope babies were returned to their completed building on 25th April 2008. Consequently the program for the girls is just beginning. We are accepting donations for 2 computers, 3 sewing machines and other supplies to really ensure the program is worthwhile, and that it will give the girls living skills for their future
3. St Patrick’s Boys Home (Pi Si Tong)
St. Patrick's Boys Home is an orphanage for young men and boys. The mission of St. Patrick's is to provide orphaned and abandoned young males a home to grow up in which is safe, healthy, and supportive. All of the children that live at St. Patrick's also receive a quality education at Rosario Vittaya School located in the nearby village of Viengkhuk.
St. Patrick's is located in the Northeast region of Thailand in the village of Pi Si Tong, which is a small farming and fishing village with a population of approximately 114 families, located a short distance away from the village of Don Wai and Sarnelli House.
Construction of St. Patrick's started in the spring of 2001, after Fr. Mike received major donations supporting the project from the Marist Mission Centre, Australia. The main building is a 2-story structure large enough to support approximately 25 kids. There is a laundry facility on site as well as two apartment rooms for the live in staff. The facility also includes two large fishponds, a slowly developing banana and fruit orchard, numerous rice paddies, and a large yard for the kids to seek out adventure. On October 27, 2001, the building and the grounds were blessed. St. Patrick's officially opened and the first 9 boys moved in. Now there are 17 boys living all together (April 2008).
A "typical" day for the boys begins by waking early to eat a healthy breakfast. Then they are bussed to school in their uniforms by 7:00 a.m. They return from school around 4:30, help with the daily chores and take a quick shower before they eat dinner. By 6:30 p.m., they have an hour or two for homework and playtime and then it is to bed. On their days off the St. Patrick's boys like to spend time riding bikes, playing volleyball or soccer, fishing or simply being kids. They have found their own unique way to be a family together, and St. Patrick's will continue to grow.
4. The House of Hope (Pi Si Tong)
The House of Hope was built with the idea of providing a home for children and babies ill from TB and other opportunistic infections associated with HIV/AIDS. Here they would receive special treatment until they recovered. Father Chuck Beierwaltes and Father Dave Polek, two Redemptorists from the Midwest USA, contacted friends, and soon donations were gathered to build the "House of Hope" in the village of Pi Si Tong, a mile from Sarnelli House in 2003. This work was carried out at House of Hope, but is now being carried out by Sarnelli House where a trained nurse and assistant nurses care for the sick children.
The House of Hope has now been rebuilt as a nursery for babies and rugrats. The new 2 story building (pictured) was opened and blessed on April 26, 2008. It has a fully enclosed wading pool, a large yard and plenty of room for young children to explore and grow healthy. Donations given to Father Paddy Power for his furniture work has helped furnish the House of Hope.
There are now 14 babies and toddlers being lovingly cared for at House of Hope. Some of these toddlers have come to House of Hope within hours of being born at Nongkhai Hospital. Their mothers, finding out that they themselves had HIV did not want their babies and so they were given to Father Shea.
Rules for visiting the babies at HOUSE OF HOPE
Visitors and guests are requested to comply with the following:
• Shoes must be removed prior to entering the babies room (no exception).
• Before touching or holding children, please wash and clean hands.
• Personal belongings are to be left outside of the babies’ room (misplaced and/or lost property must be under the visitor’s and guest’s direct responsibility).
• People who are unwell and not in good health should not enter into babies’ room.
• Foods and sweets are not allowed in the babies’ room, prior approval should be obtained from person(s) in charge of babies’ room.
• Babies’ are not allowed outside of the grounds House of Hope – no exception.
• Each visit should not exceed 30 min (Group visit should be even less and not exceed 15 minutes).
• Making unnecessary loud noise and/or disturbing children while sleeping is not permitted.
• In the case of visiting in groups, prior formal approval should be obtained from the Director.
5. Our Lady of Refuge Home for Girls (Viengkhuk)
In April of 1999, Fr. Mike had taken in 3 orphaned children; he purchased the building that would become Our Lady of Refuge, Home for Girls in Viengkhuk. He had received donations from German Kindermissions werk, as well as other private donors. Our Lady of Refuge Home for Girls is located near the ever-changing shoreline of the Mekong River in the small city of Viengkhuk, it is a short 5 minute drive from the nearby villages of Pi Si Tong and Don Wai, home to St. Patrick's Boys Home and Sarnelli House. Rosario Vittaya School, where all of the girls receive a quality Catholic education, is conveniently located directly across the road from Our Lady of Refuge Home for Girls. The house was initially a small and humble 2-story building but was renovated and expanded.
In October of 2001 after St. Patrick's Boys Home was opened Our Lady of Refuge, Viengkhuk became strictly a girls' orphanage. Several of the girls who have been abused were given to us by the Provincial Courts in Nongkhai to raise and educate. The mission of Our Lady of Refuge Home for Girls is to provide a healthy, safe, and supportive environment for orphaned and abandoned young girls to grow up in. The facility now includes 2 large dormitories, rooms for teenage girls housing 2 girls a room, kitchen, an office an apartment for live in staff, 6 bathrooms, a banana orchard, a large playroom/TV room, as well as a large shaded yard. It has the capacity to hold approximately 35 children.
The girls enjoy many kinds of activities including making handicrafts such as photo frames and batik and hair clips, cooking food dishes and desserts, and growing vegetables.
The girls have grown to become a large and happy family. They not only play with each other and care for each other, but also genuinely love each other like sisters.
6. The Jan and Oscar House (Pi Si Tong)
14 teenage boys from Sarnelli House moved into the newly built Jan and Oscar House in May 2009. Thanks to the amazing generosity of the Jan and Oscar Foundation (Jan & Oscar were two young Swiss boys who drowned in the tsunami several years ago, and their mother set up a foundation in their name, and gave the grant to build this home), and the Rotary Club Pully Switzerland, this home can integrate the boys living with HIV/AIDS from Sarnelli House and the boys from St Patrick’s Boys Home which is next door. A common dining room and kitchen was also built and is used for meals for all the boys. The Jan and Oscar House is a 2 storey building with a big dormitory upstairs where the boys sleep, and shower and toilets. Downstairs is the play area with 2 very old computers and a TV and tables and chairs for doing homework and learning English. There is a vegetable garden directly behind the Jan and Oscar House that the boys help to maintain. The boys from St Patrick’s and Jan and Oscar Home and the little kids from House of Hope now have their own school truck and all travel to school together.
Kitchen of combined dining room (pictured) for St Patrick's and Jan and Oscar House boys
INFORMATION FOR VISITORS VISITING ANY OF THE SARNELLI HOUSE PROJECTS
(for every houses above)
The Outreach Program is a program to visit HIV/AIDS patients in their homes. Fr. Mike Shea started this outreach work with three novitiates from the Redemptorists Novitiate in Nongkhai as his staff, and visited the first adult AIDS patient group in Don Wai.
Fr Mike Shea and three novices at the beginning working for HIV/AIDS people
The Outreach Program covers 5 provinces of the Northeast Thailand and sees approximately 70 families. It provides for the primary needs of families affected by HIV/AIDS by supplying medicines, food and money for educating the children. As well as the home visits, the Outreach Program has visits prisoners in jail, who do not have any relatives to visit them. Once a month the Outreach Team has an activities day in Don Wai where the families and children are picked up and driven to Don Wai for lunch, writing letters to their sponsors and general support.
Kaek, the very first patient we encountered
Educating local people by our staff
CERTIFICATE OF PROVINCIAL HEALTH OFFICE
The certificate of Provincial Health Office was issued on the 4th of June 2002.
MAP OF DIFFERENT HOUSES