Even with a fatal cancer eating away at her little by little, this strong-willed woman will not give up on saving the lives of hundreds of HIV/AIDS orphans
Suthasinee Noi-in is better known by her nickname Mae Tiew (Mother Tiew) among the AIDS/HIV orphans living in Home Hug Orphanage. Though she established it in 1987, it took her more than ten years to turn what was once a makeshift shelter into a properly run orphanage in Yasothon province, in northeastern Thailand.
Suthasinee’s devotion to her cause came under the national limelight in 2007 when her story was turned into a TV commercial for a life insurance company. The popular ad showed her dedicating herself to maintaining and supporting these children despite suffering from cancer herself. But “fragile” is not a word you would use to describe this smiling, average-sized 54-year-old woman who seems to glow even without any make-up. If she were fragile, hundreds of children might not be alive today.
Her desire to help others started over 25 years ago at university when she joined a volunteer camp to help poor farmers in the province. However, her inspiration went further back to her imperfect childhood. “Coming from a broken family, I grew up as a love-deficient child. But my parents taught me an important lesson—we should set a good example for the children instead of just repetitively telling them what to do. My father was my role model for making other people happy and my mother was a role model for sharing love with others,” she says.
Suthasinee is the second of three daughters. She spent her childhood in Rajburana district in Bangkok. Her father was a civil servant who was often away from home, while her mother was a homemaker. Today Suthasinee is taking care of her mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease; her father died some years ago.
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Bangkok Technical College, Suthasinee decided to take a teaching job in the northernmost province of Mae Hong Son where her students were ethnic mountain people. Then she moved to Child Village in the westernmost province of Kanchanaburi. After that, she switched to work for a non-government organization that aimed to improve the quality of life of slum dwellers in the Khlongtoey District of Bangkok. During the course of working in the slum area, Suthasinee started to notice the great suffering of many poor HIV/AIDS-afflicted children who became orphans after one or both parents succumbed to the disease. This was especially prevalent among the migrant workers from the northeastern part of Thailand. She decided to tackle the problem at the root cause by choosing to work in Yasothon province—among the poorest areas in the country—since that was where she attended camp during her university years.
“After living in Yasothon for a while, I realized that the problem of AIDS/HIV orphans was much more complicated than what I had initially thought. I felt compelled to do something to help them by enabling them to live a happy life with their close relatives and neighbours. The best strategy is to strengthen the family bond and promote social acceptance. It is essential to prevent the problems, because we will never be able to solve them all,” says Suthasinee.
At present, Home Hug Orphanage accommodates around 87 children between the ages of three and the late teens. There were over 100 children last year but several succumbed to complications due to HIV/AIDS while others have completed their education. In addition to those living in the orphanage, Suthasinee also takes care of some children who still live with their parents at home.
Home Hug Orphanage always welcomes volunteers to help care for the children, especially during weekends and school breaks, since supervising close to 100 children from different backgrounds is no easy task. However, Suthasinee warns that any potential volunteer should not expect to encounter quiet and passive children. The atmosphere at the orphanage is, in her own words, like “a world war.”
“During school time, the world war starts from 5 to 7am. The children wake each other up to get ready for school. In addition to breakfast, they have to take their pills regularly. The older children help out with household chores, watering vegetables and taking care of the younger kids. After the children leave for school, the world war subsides for a few hours. It restarts at around 4pm and continues till 8pm. On Saturdays and Sundays, the world war goes on nonstop from 5am to 8pm,” Suthasinee says, laughing with noticeable delight.
This iron lady been suffering from intestinal cancer for several years and goes for treatment from time to time. Although she is fighting hard with the disease, Suthasinee’s desire to help the children never falters.
“When I feel exhausted, I tell them that I am going to take a rest. When I regain strength, I will tend to your requests again. When I lie down, my head becomes a toy for them. That makes the world war subside for a while. Some of them rub my head while others scratch my hands and feet. Sure enough, a lot of them will use that moment to tell me that their friends are bullying them. However, all the stories are soon forgotten and they go back to sharing some fun games again,” Suthasinee says.
Post A Comment