Baan Fah Sighy Home of Blue Skies overlooks the Ping River, eleven kilometers from the town of Hod about 3 hours drive from Chiang Mai. It is the sanctuary of some 25 children, the oldest aged six and the youngest just a few months old. These are orphaned or neglected children brought into the home as babies by Australian missionary Phil Hohnen and his Thai wife Wanida.
Atop a hillock rising gently from the banks of the river and surrounded by farmland, the grounds of the home is planted with fruit trees and bougainvillea of brilliant red, white or pink blooms. The orchard-garden is visited by squirrels and birds, the quiet punctuated by chirpy songs and laughter of children. There are also classrooms, a swimming pool, a playground and a large circular thatched roofed hall. The stupas of two temples on distant hills reflect the morning sun turning a pale pink at sunset.
In the weeks I spent with the children as a volunteer, we would often make outings to the river where the children delightfully waded and splashed in the shallows under the watchful eyes of Kun Suthip the Chief Nanny and the children’s teachers. They would net and release little fish trapped in small pools on the sandbanks, make sand sculptures and collect bits of driftwood or smooth pebbles of interesting shapes, colors and textures. Before sunset, we would troop to the bridge spanning the river and quietly, peering over the parapet, we would wait to watch waterbirds flying low over the bridge to roost upriver. Sometimes, we bought freshly netted fish from fishermen camped by the riverbank to be deliciously, crisply fried.
At other times we would opt for a ramble through the countryside. Then for the children, itwas an adventure of balancing on perilous tree trunks over enormous chasms; at least they imagined the narrow, shallow irrigation canals to be. Curious buds and bugs were eyed, butterflies and dragonflies chased about and thorny mimosa teased into closing. Birds were a game of name and skinks or chameleons of who-spots-first. Big leaves could be folded as food wrappings or coned as hats or simply to fan with. Long bladed grasses were good for origami, whistles or miniature thatched shelters. Occasionally stray tubers would be dug out; tapioca or sweet potato treats. Recipe treasures of herbs were carefully pocketed while hourglass shaped, dried hollow gourds were good water canteens or musical rattles.
Within the grounds of the home, there were seasons when large, horned iridescent beetles were plentiful; delightful playthings to some of the boys while it took getting used to with the girls. There were bright huge caterpillars and not long after, butterflies of many hues would flit about the flowering fruit trees of the garden. And there was a tall tree with great spreading branches on which hung many nests of weaver birds. Of course, the household geckos we took for granted except when one would amuse us with a buzzing mouthful too much to swallow.
Over the course of a year the children and I watched the seasons change; rainy and lush with the river full in flow; hot and dry with the wide expense of sandy banks exposed; trees in flower, then to bear fruit… the rhythm and cycle of nature that is so very much a part of our joyfulness.