Posted by: thewhitesintokyo | March 29, 2009

Running an orphanage

For the record, I’m weighing my words carefully on this entry. My intention is merely to reflect on what we saw and experienced, and to hear your thoughts and/or suggestions as well.

To begin with, we could not have been led to a better ministry opportunity than spending a week at the Tree of Life Orphanage in Buriram, Thailand and we hope to return soon. The kids we met and the love that was shared between the high school students from our church and those children was unforgettable and surely worth the long trip from Japan. These seventeen orphans each have a story, and most, if not all, would not have adequate food, clothes, or shelter without the help of TOLO (acronym for the orphanage). The kids are better off because they are at TOLO and we were fortunate to meet them and have an opportunity to impact their lives in some very direct ways.

However, we also felt a certain degree of anger at what we saw and experienced during our week at TOLO. I do feel that there is a time and a place for anger, especially when it regards the health and care of children. At best, we were unimpressed with the management of the orphanage by the director. At worst, we were furious about the conditions these kids lived in and the lack of effort on his part to do just about anything about it.

For instance, check out these photos of the bathroom floor before and after we cleaned it. I highly doubt that this floor had ever been cleaned.

Now, the director has had wonderful intentions in creating and maintaining this safe haven for children, but that doesn’t mean his work is done.

– Just because the kids have food to eat doesn’t mean that their dental health should be neglected.
– Just because there are walls, a roof, and windows to protect them doesn’t mean that torn up window screens can’t be patched up with a little duct-tape to keep the mosquitoes and cockroaches out.
– Just because the kids have a room to play in doesn’t mean that they should be playing over a foul-smelling opening to the septic tank (right underneath the rug in their playroom).
– Just because he doesn’t take a salary doesn’t mean that he has no responsibility to make sure that the children change their clothes more than once a week, to clean up bathrooms or his own dishes after meals, to maintain the grounds outside the building itself, or to treat all the kids with love, patience and respect.

Maybe it’s easier to judge his behavior because the director is not Thai. I understand completely that different societies and cultures have different standards of what “clean” or “healthy” means. But this man is from Texas! He knows that leaving a bathroom in the condition that it was in cannot possibly be conducive to the health and well-being of these children.

If we had seen effort- something, anything!- on his part, I think we would be more understanding. However, what we saw was a very incomplete foundation for the total care that those kids need. And it’s not even a matter of finances or time. It took us three days to scrub, dust, and organize every surface in that home, and basic maintenance is not too much to ask.

If he wasn’t there to do this though, who else would? Now, he’s not quite Miss Agatha Hannigan, the mean-tempered woman in charge of the orphanage in “The Little Orphan Annie, ” but he’s no saint. Do we just have to accept what we see and pray for things to improve in the future?

I chose not to address this with him directly since my role was to help lead the youth on the trip as best I could, be there to lend a hand, and love those kids as much as possible. But now that we’re so attached to the children at TOLO and are planning to return next year if possible, I’ll be thinking about how we might be able to address this and make life just a little better for these wonderful children.

Your thoughts?



  1. Hi Brad and Rachael. I’m a writer for the White Bear Press and the Vadnais Heights Press. I stumbled across your blog and am wondering if I could write an article about your work in Japan and Thailand. If you’d be willing, please give me a call at 651-407-1233 or email at

  2. Ooo, yeah, how do you improve a system from which you are outside most of the time… I thikn you almost have to approach it with a kind of optimism, saying, “of course this man would want to run the best home that he could, of course he has the best intentions and there are things that have just gotten in the way of that, of course he would love our help in anyway that we can…”. Maybe your church could try to send things to TOLO, like cleaning supplies, in hope that if they have lots of them, they’ll actually use them. Maybe in your contact with him or the center you can just tell them how much you appreciated getting to help clean and if there is anyway you can help set up something long term. My guess is that as long as you are offering help with something, criticism wont be much to worry about. Generally I would guess orphanages are a place where any help is good help. You guys do good stuff…

  3. Thanks for the comments Dan- it’s good to hear from you bud.

    Now that I’ve had a few days to cool off, from both the heat of Thailand and being upset about some of the things we saw, I’m starting to think along the same lines.

    First, we left all the cleaning supplies we bought (since there weren’t any to use when we arrived). Hopefully they will be used. Also, it was encouraging when the kids at TOLO joined in as we cleaned inside or worked on landscaping outside. They seemed to enjoy the work and would certainly be able to pitch in later on. I mentioned that it would be nice to come back in a year and see things the same way, but he didn’t respond and I’m not sure my point sunk in very well.

    Thank God for men like you with unrelenting hope- it’s refreshing to hear.

    And if we could just get you a plane ticket and 10 days off, I’d love to show you around TOLO and Thailand sometime next year…

  4. Hey Brad,

    I like Dan’s comment and I think that would be a very good way to go about making some changes.

    Having worked with an orphanage here in Oaxaca for a year and a half now, I have realized that after even a little while of having so many things to deal with, some other things just end up being less of a priority. Not saying that is an excuse for kids living in an unsafe environment – but, for example, after spending hours wiping a kid’s runny nose, you tend to not worry about it so much. Of course, when a new person to comes up, they are certain to wipe it – but then they go away…

    I don’t know if that’s helpful at all. I hope you are able to develop a good relationship with this orphanage – sounds like something you enjoyed, and that they could use some extra help :).

    Laura 🙂

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