Graduation Story

Watching the children of Sarnelli House develop into teenagers and young adults comes with mixed feelings of worry, excitement and, most of all, pride.  The American abolitionist Frederick Douglass said that “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men” but when the children themselves arrive broken and bruised by their start to life, the task of repairing them might appear overwhelming.  But day by day and month by month, the security and love they receive from Fr. Shea, Fr. Ole, Kate Introna and all the Thai staff here at Sarnelli House enable these broken children to build their own strength.  It is hard to measure in days and months. In fact, it is only when landmarks are reached that the achievements of these kids are plain to see.  March gave us such an opportunity as 16 children from Sarnelli House graduated from Junior High School and Vocational College. 

Seven girls and two boys graduated from Rosario Junior High School

Seven girls and two boys graduated from Rosario Junior High School in nearby Viengkhuk. The next step for two of them is the continuation of their general education in Senior High Schools, with one eye on university in the future. Others will pursue their education in more specialised vocational colleges. They are going to study a range of exciting courses, from automotive engineering and electronic engineering to food and nutrition and hospitality.  For the girls at least, this move of school will also mean a move from Our Lady’s Refuge for Girls in Viengkhuk to Nazareth House in Don Wai village where they will live with the older girls. The boys will continue to live at Gary & Janet Smith House on Jomp’s farm.

Two of the blind kids, one boy and one girl, finished Junior High School at Viencomme School. They are a remarkable pair, very intelligent and full of humour. Nut will bring her infectious laugh and curious mind to Khon Kaen next year where she will attend a School for the Blind and Bank will take his dry wit to a similar school near Bangkok. They will both be missed here at their home in Sarnelli, having been here for over six years. They have received great support from Dap, another blind man, who has helped them to choose their courses and colleges.

Three older girls have now competed vocational college, receiving certificates in Food and Nutrition, Architecture and Computers respectively. They will continue these courses to a diploma level over the next two years with the option to pursue a degree course after that. They are all very impressive young women, who have in their own way overcome great odds in their long time at Sarnelli House. They will now move to live together in Nong Khai, to be closer to their colleges. We will continue to help with their tuition and accommodation. It will be very sad to see them go as they have lived here for seven, ten and fifteen years but Sarnelli House will always be their home and we know they won’t be atrangers.

Another girl has completed her Vocational Studies in Marketing at a college in Udon Thani and will now proceed to further study a little close to home in Nong Khai and finally, one of our boys finished Junior High School in Phon Phi Sai and will continue studying there.  All of them have been helped in their decisions by Br Keng, who guides our children through the maze of course choices, college applications and the organising of accommodation.

They are all very excited by the next stage of their lives but a little daunted at the same time. Whether it is moving house, school or even city, we hope these kids are able to cope with the transitions they face. But what they have faced and overcome up to now bodes well for their futures.  Some of these children have been with Sarnelli House for a very long time and came to Fr Shea abandoned, in some cases very ill and in one case having been brutally raped as a child. Their resilience is remarkable and humbling. When some of these little boys and girls first arrived here, the general consensus was they wouldn’t reach 12 years of age, but the advent of anti-retroviral drugs changed the game and now, here they are, taking little steps towards reaching their potential - a potential that one upon a time seemed destined never to be fulfilled. We hope that the world they find outside the walls of Sarnelli House is kind to them and that they are not rejected or hurt again. 

It is thanks to a cast of hundreds that they have got this far: donors, sponsors, volunteers, friends, the wonderful staff, and of course Fr Shea, have all ensured that this story can be celebrated. But most of all, it is due to the will of the children themselves and it is to them that we raise a glass, say a prayer and look hopefully onwards.