Our home is widely considered to be one of the best group homes in Northern Thailand. Our facilities, an upper and lower campus, are gorgeous. Considering it's an institution, we offer a huge variety of amenities to the girls such as: a library, computer labs, English lab, sewing room, tv rooms, playroom, basketball court, etc. We even have a talking bird and multiple doggies on campus. The girls all get fantastic birthday presents in the summer and Christmas presents in December. We will even pay to send them to college, vocational school, or nursing school if they can get accepted. To top it all off, the majority of our staff are alumni of the home so they really get it. They truly understand and can empathize with the life experience our kids are having. They handle the girls social and emotional needs with infinite patience and gentleness.
Long story short: It's a great group home. If I had to grow up in an institution you can bet I would pick this one! However, how does it rank when compared to a family? I was really watching closely this trip. I don't think I was searching for evidence to support a pro-adoption leaning. Of course, maybe I was and I'm just less self-aware than I think. I want to tell you about three things that happened though.
1.) I am very proud and pleased that many of our alumni come home for the holidays. It touches me that instead of hating every memory of their childhood in an institutional setting they pack a bag, buy a bus ticket and come see their old roommates and dorm mothers. They hug my neck and say, "Why you still work here? Get rich job in America!" They sit around in the kitchen and eat Akha food and play with the new little girls. It is their home and I am honored to be invited in. This year I was talking to one of our alumni who is turning into quite the little fashion designer in Bangkok. I told her how proud we all are and asked why she made the long trip back when she's so busy. She smiled sadly and said, "Who else would I go to?"
2.) All of our little girls line up in the mornings before school. Our Children's Director makes sure everyone's uniform is clean and straight. Then we sing a few songs, do the multiplication tables, spelling words, Bible verse, remind everyone they are loved and walk them to school. We have more than 100 girls so this is as good as it gets to "having someone help you get ready for school". On the way to school, the girls all pull on me grabbing for my waist, my hands, my arms. Just a chance to hold on. I'm so worried they're not being hugged enough. How much is enough? They all want to know if I know their names. I feel terribly because I can't remember every girl's name. I just can't. We have so many new little ones and it's been a while since I've actually been at the home (I work in our US office). They are so thrilled when I know their names and so devastated when I don't. Why? Maybe they need parents to love them and call their names everyday.
3.) My brother's sponsor daughter is nine years old. He and his family have been sponsoring her since she arrived at our home several years ago. They send gifts and cards a couple of times a year. Her biological family situation was dangerous and she had to be removed. She has met Travis twice. He came last Christmas for two weeks and then again this year. She is a funny, sunny, cheerful, obedient little girl who everyone loves. The day we left Chiang Rai she hung onto Travis like a barnacle. She cried giant crocodile tears. She refused to go in the gate to school. She begged to know when he would return again. All in all, it was a heartbreaking display. Why? If she doesn't need a family then why?
I support our home and the work we do 100%. I am very proud of our staff, our donors, and our girls who are the real heroes. However, I still say that no group setting, no matter how well run it may be, can take the place of a family unit. And yes, I do understand that adoptive families come with a less than ideal set of circumstances. But the purpose of family is not to be perfect, it's to love each other just as we are and to be available for each day as it comes.