Dreams and Fears are essential to the stable state of the human mind. They act as a motivator to fuel desire and drive, which simultaneously gives us an exalted purpose in life. Progressive evolution of ones' dreams and fears comes naturally to those who have opportunities. What if you had no opportunities? What if you have only experienced fighting for survival? And what if that could change? The lack of evolving dreams and fears among the needy children of Thailand persist because children’s basic rights to survival, protection and opportunities to development continue to be denied. Ethnic minorities,refugees, migrants and the severely poor are of the major groups in Thailand that have been neglected and subsequently lacked positive development. Despite achievements in development amongst other groups in Thailand, children of these minority groups are often severely underprivileged. Those at high risk include orphaned children, street kids, child labourers, children with disabilities,children without schooling, and children without birth registration. Trafficking of children within Thailand as well as internationally and a lack of education in HIV and AIDS has also seen the most vulnerable people in this society become the group most susceptible to exploitation. These issues are the reason why Fr.Ray Foundation was created, and why it continues to work hard today.
Immersed among the hustle and bustle of speedy motorbike taxis, shopping vendors, street kitchens,people running their daily routines, beggars, prostitutes, transgenders,families on vacation and sex tourists, there lays a haven to Thailand’s underprivileged people. A well hidden orphanage nestles on a quiet street not even a 10 minute drive away from the commotion in downtown Pattaya. This retreat like orphanage,referred to as Fr.Ray Foundation is called home to many of the needy children in Thailand.
In 1970, an Irish-American priest named Father Raymond Brennan was working in Thailand as a counselor and care-giver to the poor. One day he was approached with a proposition that would change his life and the life of many others forever. He was asked by a poor mother if he would care for her new child. Father Ray agreed to provide her baby with love and a life of better opportunity than she was able. As time passed, and word of mouth spread throughout Thailand, children flocked to him in rapidly increasing numbers and by 1981, his orphanage was registered and authorized. Children were brought to the orphanage by poor families, prostitutes, and young mothers. Some family members, never wanting to be seen, left their child at the gate of the orphanage in hopes that they had given them a better chance. Even a handful of children flocked to the orphanage on their own, some escaping pimps and even fleeing the gangs they had become apart of. Parents that were shunned by the public for having disabled children even came to the orphanage in search for a facility to educate and accommodate their children. With the stunning increase in demands, funding was urgently required. With time and hard work money came,and so too new projects designed:
The Vocational School for the Disabled
The Redemptorist School for the Blind
The School for the Deaf
Home for the Street Kids
Home for the Elderly and Stateless People
Since the beginning the orphanage has welcomed over 970children and almost 250 children have been placed with new families throughout Europe. For those children who are not eligible for adoption, they are provided with a home at the Foundation, for however long they need it. Fr.Ray Foundation ensures that regardless of faith or nationality, all its children are sheltered, clothed, fed, educated and loved. Remarkably, all of these children are also given the opportunity to go to College or even University all paid for by the Foundation. The Foundation currently exists by relying on many individuals and a few caring organizations for financial help. By 2003, when Father Ray died, there were more than 750 people in his care. The majority of his adulthood was spent caring for the children of others and making sure their quality of life improved. Since his absence, people devoted to him and his passion, have ensured the orphanage continues to provide Thailand’s underprivileged with basic elements of life, but most importantly, an education which will allow them to effectively and equally work and live within Thai society.
In February of 2006, I came to the Foundation to volunteer full time for 6 months. When my background in photography became known to the Foundation, I was quickly assigned to be the principle photographer and filmmaker in addition to partaking in the other volunteer activities involving the children. Many of my responsibilities included creating advertising for funding and sponsoring. I had to bring awareness to the world about the continuing problems children are facing in Thailand. The days I spent there, turned into weeks, and then quickly into months. Time at the Foundation flew by and I only had a chance to become involved with parts of it. I was soon motivated to photograph the children of each project and learn as much about them as I could in hopes to produce better images to impact advertising. I immersed myself with as much as I could in hope of being a part of the many “first times” for the children, capturing a shot to express the moment. As my participation in the projects intensified, so did my curiosity about these children’s histories. With a slight understanding of each individuals trying past, I was saddened, mystified, shocked, and even disgusted at times. My awareness made me truly appreciate the magnitude of how necessary each project was to the Foundation. Before going to sleep at the end of my days at the orphanage, I would catch a glimpse of the photographs of my family and friends stuck to the wall. I would smile and remember the happy memories of my life experiences and my many first times. I couldn’t help but feel like the luckiest girl in the world for having a family I call home. I promised myself I would remember that everyday for the rest of my life.
Motivated, to enrich my experience, I engaged myself in as many project activities as I could. Activities included swimming with the blind children at the beach, playing tag with the deaf kids, feeding the babies their lunch and putting them to bed and walking the elderly to the corner store. I watched and tried playing wheelchair basketball as well as teaching the nannies how to swim. Experiencing these different activities lead me to one collective feeling or realization. This feeling was not sympathy nor gratitude, or embarrassment that I had such indulgences and they did not. The feeling that these people exuded was one of peace. Through these children’s sometimes horrendous pasts and experiences of living on a day to day survival, the orphanage had given them something they never had before. They were given the freedom to dream and fear within the realms of possibilities that before arriving at the orphanage they never had. They no longer had to worry about when and what they ate, or if they could sleep for a few safe hours. They now had a childhood that they never possessed before and this seemed to put them at peace. This childhood that they regained gave them not only an inner peace but the ability to evolve their once incapable dreams and fears. With a new zest for life, a feeling of love and appreciation,these children taught me the importance of life. They knew they were different than other children but soaked up every moment of attention that was given to them. They appreciated the feeling of sand in-between their toes and the waves crashing at their thighs. Teenagers held your hand and tried to speak English at any moment they could. Babies demanded to sing songs in a combination of all the languages volunteers had taught them. The children even hugged you just a little bit longer.
This brought me to toy with the idea of creating a picture book that demonstrated that Fr.Ray Foundation gives children a chance at creating a life full of love, skill, education, respect and a chance to dream and fear with the drive to succeed. I want this book to commemorate Fr.Ray and celebrate all the children who were given the opportunity to claim the ability to dream bigger and fear less!
With this focus as my intent, I have taken portraits of children, young people, and elderly that are looked after at the Foundation as well as portraits of people who work and volunteer for the Foundation. Combining people’s portraits of those who grew into privileges to those who did not,verifies that we all have the potential to dream and fear within our realms of possibility. We all just need the basic elements of life provided, in order to do so. The layout of this book is quite simple. I have photographed each portrait in a place that my subject loves being, or loves something about. I have presented each portrait next to text about their dreams and fears. I have kept each person’s dreams and fears written as true to original form as possible except for editing spelling mistakes. I hope that each one reads true to their individual way of speaking English, so it is almost as if you can hear their voice.
To find out how you can contribute, check out www.thepattayaorphanage.com