July 2009

Fr Shea is greatly missed while on his annual trip back to the States. Thanks to the good management of his loyal band of workers, they are able to keep all the children and staff on track with the day to day running of such a diverse organization as Sarnelli House. We wish him a speedy return and the joy of a satisfying yield.

In the middle of June, 3 of our workers were driven down river to pick up a new-born baby girl, whose mother didn’t want her. The Downriver Outreach Program had been in communication with Fr Shea who of course agreed to have the little one. The mother has HIV and is not so very well. She has 3 other children all living with their grandmother. Little Miss Maggie came to House of Hope when she was 3 days old. Because it is unclear whether she has contracted HIV from her mother, she has been taking 0.6 mls of AZT, a form of Antiretroviral (ARV) medicine, as a syrup every 6 hours. When she was 2 weeks old she was taken very tenderly into Nongkhai hospital where the sweet little thing had to have a blood test to see that she didn’t have any side effects from the medicine that could damage her liver or cause anemia. Her blood tests were normal. Next week she goes back to the hospital to start on Bactrim syrup twice a day until we know if she is HIV positive or not. This will prevent her from catching a certain type of pneumonia that is a common cause of death in children with HIV under 2 years of age. She can’t be tested for HIV until she is 3 months old because the results may show up her mother’s HIV antibodies that could still be in her system, and give a false positive reading. In the meantime she is being cared for very lovingly at House of Hope, taking her milk, crying, pooing, weeing and behaving just like a new baby should, so we just hope that she remains healthy and has not been infected with HIV.

Swine flu has been on everyone’s lips here and a couple of schools have been closed down in Udon Thani. While we are trying to be extra cautious with the children whose immune system is low, many of the other children have picked up on the chances for a few days off school. We have had quite a few amateur dramatics before school, with performances of children so weakened by the flu as to be on death’s door. Really, professional acting schools should apply here. Even the Baby Buffalo (Miss Dottie) at Sarnelli House, who is 3 and a half years old and started school this year, can clutch her temples and frown very convincingly and tell the House Mothers she has a headache and a fever and can’t possibly go to school. Unfortunately she fails in consistency and a few minutes later will be running and laughing with the other kids, eager to stay with her friends.

This month all the children at Sarnelli House are having their vaccinations reassessed. Many of them came to Sarnelli House as little children with no record of having any of the usual childhood vaccinations, some came with incomplete records, and many with no records at all. So this month we took 20 kids into the outpatients department at Nongkhai Hospital and they all had to begin their vaccinations again. None of the little ones cried despite an injection in both arms, but a few of the older girls from Nazareth House, found it too much and shed some tears. We are very lucky to have the support of Nongkhai Hospital and the expertise of the team at the university Hospital at Khon Kaen to help us manage the children’s HIV.

The rain has been pretty consistent and even obliging in the last month, raining only at nights for a week or more. The evenings bring a cacophony of sounds with the frogs’ chorus the loudest and the shrillest. There have been some spectacular storms with beautiful lightening strikes illuminating the night sky and outlining the banana trees and the great big bamboo clumps.

The last few weekends the children from Viengkhuk, St Patricks, Nazareth House and Jan and Oscar House have been helping out with the planting of the rice. The younger kids love it, as they have not quite got the stamina or the attention span to bend over for hours, facing muddy water, knee deep, watching your arm slide in and disappear up to the elbow. So they hang out and splash mud, tease everyone, chase after those of the opposite sex and generally make a nuisance of themselves.

There have been a few wildlife encounters. On one occasion a group of boys from St Patrick’s were raising a ruckus in a copse of trees in the middle of the rice paddies. There was shouting and beating of sticks and eventually a dead 2 meter snake was proudly held aloft. There is also a lot of squealing from the girls from Nazareth House when a worm is spotted in the mud, for fear that it is a leech, and they all trample over each other trying to reach the bank first.

Everyone is fully clothed and covered from head to toe, despite the high humidity, occasional outpouring of rain and the heat of the sun when it is not raining. The seasoned workers like the staff are in rubber socks to their knees, long sleeves tops, hats, gloves and scarves across their faces with only their eyes showing. All this to keep out the sun and protect the skin from getting wrinkly and water soaked. The kids are usually barefoot and bareheaded.

At the end of a full day all the adults come back slow and worn out, but the kids are still full of energy, wanting to go back tomorrow for some more fun in the mud.


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