In 1992, prompted by a need which they felt was not being adequately addressed, Dr. Vicharn and his wife Dr. Prakong Vithayasai established the Support the Children Foundation. The primary aim of this non-governmental organization (NGO) is not only to provide medicines to HIV-infected infants, but also to give them tender loving care and a better quality of life.
Most importantly, the two doctors wanted to set an example for government organizations and other NGOs of how to offer compassion and real help for AIDS orphans, and to overcome their fears and prove that affected children could be healthy, and even live normally in a caring society.
In the first five years of the project, 25 AIDS children died while another 24 HIV affected children were adopted by new parents from various countries. The foundation spent more than 30,000 baht a month per on sheltered housing they set up. In 2000, Dr. Vicharn decided to devote himself full time to take care of these hapless kids and run the Support Children Foundation. His wife Dr. Prakong followed suit one year later retiring from her job to help the foundation full time.
After that, the two doctors of mercy taking care of 24 abandoned AIDS infants and all of the infected children were treated with anti-retroviral drugs provided with a comparatively better quality of life, while given the treatment they needed for their illnesses.
The Foundation set up four houses at various different locations in Chiangmai city, the northern province of Thailand. Only six kids stayed together in each house and all four houses found financial support from the Association Francois Xavier Bagnoud (AFXB) at the beginning. The Thai-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce also co-sponsored one of the houses.
Since they were given the best care and attention and somewhere to live, none of the last 24 AIDS children have died and today the children look healthy having grown up like most normal children. They attended normal school without discrimination, played around the house after school and enjoyed various activities altogether.
“14 Years have passed since the first time my wife and I took on this project, and the bad times are just a memory,” Dr.Vicharn recalls with a smile.
In fact, so successful has the program been that today, the houses are empty.
“There are no more infected children left under our direct care. They grown up and healthy and all of them are now with their real families or with their foster families. The last boy left the foundation in April last year,” Dr.Vicharn explains.
There is no one in any of the houses. No more children running around, or watching TV in the living room or lying in their bedrooms. What you can see are hand-made cards, paintings, and group photos hanging on the walls, memories of when they were here together with their foster mom and dad, Dr. Vicharn and Dr. Prakong.
One of Thai Norwegian Chamber of Commerce Board Members, Vibeke Lyssand Leirvag says it’s the best thing for the children that they can live with real families.
“The Foster Family Project for those 24 children ended in April 2005 and the reality is that the children cannot live with the Foundation forever. And now that the children are back to their respective families, we still keep track with the families and help them in anyway we can,” Dr. Vicharn says.
“But now that all the houses are empty, it’s time to do something about that. Our mission to send the children to foster families has been successful so there is no need to keep the houses anymore and we have more outreach projects covering 22 villages in 18 districts of Chiangmai with more than 400 children in a list,” Dr. Vicharn continues.
“So we plan to sell 3 houses (one house is used as SCF office) and use that money for more projects and to help fund the foundation in the future. Both Dr. Prakong and I are quite old now and life is uncertain.”
Both doctors spend their time from eight to five o’clock working at SCF as full time unpaid volunteers. Every day social workers from the foundation visit villages and show people that they can not be afflicted by AIDS simply through association with HIV-infected people. The foundation also provides food supplements, powdered milk, cloths, books, school fees, lunches and uniforms for children under the age of seven, all of whom are AIDS orphans whose parents died from the disease.
Most of the orphans live with their grandparents in poor families and it is much more difficult for the elderly to take care of themselves and take care of their beloved but sick grandchildren in the last days of their own lives.
What they really need is financial help, various kinds of anti-retroviral medicines and the most important thing, the proper way to take care of their AIDS children.
Furthermore, a grant from the Norwegian business community also provides media to educate people in various groups about HIV/AIDS. Dr. Vicharn and his wife Dr. Prakong have produced numerous books and training materials on HIV/AIDS both in Thai and English languages.
The first textbook on AIDS in the Thai language “HIV Infection in Clinical Practice” was published and distributed to all hospitals and organizations involved in the AIDS-awareness campaign. Another teaching set on AIDS which includes 32 informative transparencies and a handbook is given to each teacher after training to facilitate them teaching in turn to their students.
“Education is an important priority,” Dr. Vicharn says. “We want to educate people on how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS and what to do if they are already positive. The opportunities provide this type of education is important, thus the Norwegian Chamber of Commerce also gives scholarships to vocational students to reach their full potential in education.”
“And although there are no more children in the houses to take care of it doesn’t mean we don’t support the foundation anymore. We still donate money for the student’s school fees and other related expenses,” Norwegian Vibeke says.
One student whose father died from the disease, 22 year-old Wuth who is himself HIV-free, won a scholarship from the foundation for his education on a year-to-year basis. Today he is a third year vocational student at Rajamagala University of Technology in Chiangmai and has had Norwegian support for six years already.
“I feel that I am so lucky. I have chance to further my education with Norwegian help and I also have part time job to support myself and help my mother. Moreover, I really appreciate that I had the chance to be a trainee at Ms. Vibeke’s jewelry design company last year. It is one of the great opportunities in my life to practice my skill and try my hand at various tasks,”
“In the future, I would like to have my own art exhibition and donate some money from that event to the Support Children Foundation and maybe pay back the foundation for what they did for me and other HIV-infected children,” Wuth said.
Potential donors wishing to help the good cause of Support the Children Foundation. Please contact the Support the Children Foundation — 181/208 Moo Ban Chotinanivate II, Soi 6, Potharam Road. Chang Pheuk, Muang District, Chiang Mai. Tel: (053) 408-424.
Donations can also be sent to the Support the Children Foundation, Siam Commercial Bank, three-month deposit account number 673-1-00837-7.
The donation is tax-deductable.