The Viengkhuk problem

In April of 1999, Fr. Mike had taken in three orphaned children, but where to put them? A local lady who had been cleaning his house and doing his laundry, asked him if he would like to buy her little wooden house for 80,000 baht (about $2,750). This building would become Our Lady of Refuge Home for Girls in Viengkhuk. It took six months to find the money to pay for this new shelter. Fr. Mike renovated the house by the end of 1999, drilled a well, and by the time the money was raised, had eight children in total. 

Our Lady of Refuge Home for Girls is located near the ever-changing shoreline of the Mekong River in the small townland of Viengkhuk. It is a short ten minute drive from the nearby villages of Pi Si Tong and Don Wai, home to the other houses which give shelter to our children. Rosario Witthaya School, where all of the children receive a quality 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 has since been renovated and expanded into five buildings, including two dormitories, a school room, a kitchen and TV/living room and a small house for staff. There are mushroom houses and an outdoor laundry, as well as a basketball court and space for badminton and football. The girls are very happy there.

The Viengkhuk girls are a busy lot, making handicrafts such as jewellery, bags and hair clips, learning how to cook traditional Thai dishes and desserts, and growing vegetables. In fact, jewellery made at Our Lady of Refuge is sold as far away as the Netherlands, the UK, Australia and the USA - something the girls are very proud of. Over the recent year, a well-established Thai designer has helped the girls to develop the “Bracelove” brand of jewellery, which has sold at fairs in Bangkok and Udon Thani.

Our Lady of Refuge, Viengkhuk is currently home to 21 high school girls, ranging in age from 12 to 18. 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. It is a lovely house to visit as the girls and staff are terrific fun and very welcoming. Perhaps because they are located five kilometres from Pi Si Tong and don’t receive as many guests as the other houses might, they are always happy to see you. 

It is a house with a serious attitude towards education. Sr. Lek has been housemother there for over a decade and encourages the girls in their studies. And the results match the effort as the school grades at Our Lady of Refuge Home for Girls are almost always the best of all the houses. Academic grades are awarded out of 4 here in Thailand and last term, eight of the Viengkhuk girls received over 3 (B+ grade) with 16 of the 21 scoring over the school average of 2.5. Many of our young adults now attending university grew up at this house and are a fine example for the teenagers living there now. 

Unfortunately, the Viengkhuk era is about to end as the grounds are no longer safe for the girls living there. The Thai government has built a four lane highway through the town of Viengkhuk, and it covered up the irrigation canal that carried rain water from our property to the Mekong River. The highway is much higher than our little compound, by about 10 feet. It spilled into the drainage ditch that runs east-west through the village. The widening of the road has also removed the safety ditch that protected the houses from any cars coming off the highway. So as long as a car doesn’t veer off the road and drive straight into the girls’ dormitory, the whole place will certainly be flooded come rainy season. 

As a result, Fr. Mike has had to dip into the rainy day fund to begin the construction of a new house for our Vienghuk girls, on a patch of land in the village of Don Wai. It will be built next to Nazareth House and behind Sarnelli House. Work has already begun, such is the urgency of the situation, and we need to have the building finished before the rainy season starts. Raiding the reserves for a job like this was never part of the Sarnelli House plan so the hope is that we can find sufficient support for the completion of this project. 

Anyone looking for further information regarding this project, or seeking to help, feel free to contact info@sarnelliorphanage.org or see our donations page




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