Visit to Baan Unrak - House of Joy
Baan Unrak, translated from Thai as "House of Joy", is a children's home and community development project in Sangkhlaburi, Thailand. On July 20, 2018, youth from Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore had the privilege of visiting Sangkhlaburi, which is a six hour drive from Bangkok, and is located at the border of Burma and Thailand.
Baan Unrak was founded in 1990 when an Italian nun, Donata Dolci, also known as Didi Deva Mala was approached by an abandoned wife who could not care for her young child. Didi Deva Mala took up the responsibility of that child and gradually, more children were handed over to Didi, as the villagers began to trust her and the selfless work that she was doing. Today, Baan Unrak is a shelter for 130 children, who are looked after by Didi Deva Mala, some local women and a few volunteers from all over the world.
One of Baan Unrak Foundation’s biggest project is a residential shelter providing a loving home, food, medical care and education to children from Thailand and Burma, including the neighbouring Mon and Karen States. In addition to the home, Baan Unrak founded an accredited primary school in 2004 in order to provide formal education to the children.
They also have a women's project wing which aims to tackle the many issues faced by needy women along the border by providing vocational training, jobs and English lessons to single mothers and women. In 1995, Baan Unrak decided to develop a weaving project to help women in being self-sufficient and able to support their children in the future. The fabrics are all weaved in the home and then hand-crafted to make various products like clothes, bags, baskets and other accessories. These are sold at local shops and on the internet which allows them to use the profit to support their programmes.
Baan Unrak also runs a small vegan bakery which sells a variety of vegetarian meals and snacks. The bakery generates revenue as well as occupation for many Burmese women who have fled Burma in hopes of finding a decent job in Thailand.
The youth arrived on July 21, 2018 and had the wonderful opportunity to interact with and hear more from Didi Deva Mala. She shared about her journey and the various challenges she faces while running the children’s home. Didi receives some donations from her family and friends in Italy and some donations from sponsors all over the world; however, this is an irregular source of funds, which leads to many financial troubles.
We were truly amazed to see the unconditional love and care that Didi was showering upon the children and the selfless service that she and her volunteers were doing to support these children. Didi encourages the children to practice yoga, chanting and meditation on a regular basis. Their diet is strictly vegetarian comprising of rice, vegetables and soya chunks. Not only does Didi support the children, she also teaches the children to serve the community in the villages surrounding the home. There is extreme poverty in these villages, and the children deliver rice, and food to the individual huts for residents with no source of income. This was really touching, knowing that the children themselves have very little; but they are still so happy to give back to their community.
The children put up a fantastic show for us featuring singing, yoga and dancing choreographed by them. They were very excited to show their talents and the youth were very impressed by the discipline and the creativity the children displayed. The children taught the youth how to value small things in life. Overall, this journey was one of the most memorable and touching experiences in the lives of the youth as it taught them so much about community, service, respect, humility and most importantly, love!