Linsey Pluckrose

(Pictured: Linsey, Kane and Peh)

     I have just returned from my fourth amazing trip to Sarnelli House. I first visited Sarnelli with my good friend Andy, who had made the trip with Bupa 6 months before and was keen to return. I was excited and apprehensive, unsure what to expect.  As it turned out there was no need to be. Sarnelli House is an instantly warm and comfortable place to be. You only have to step foot in one of the houses and you are surrounded by smiling faces and arms being held up to request a cuddle from the new visitor. Within minutes little hands clamour to drag you away to play on the nearest swing or with the nearest ball.

     Time at Sarnelli is spent doing all the things you’d do with kids at home; swimming, bike riding, nail painting, hula hooping, going for ice cream, shopping, colouring, playing with building blocks and teaching English to name a few. The days fly by and no matter how long you stay you’ll wish you had more time to spend there. There are always children to hang out with; the boisterous little boys that run at you and want to be thrown around and tickled and the quieter ones who are happy for a cuddle, or to sit quietly watching a film, when you seek them out.

     There are so many kids at Sarnelli that it is impossible to get to know them all over the course of a few weeks. Over four years I have built up relationships with a number of them, from toddlers to teenagers.  Looking forward to returning each year to see how they have grown, the progress they are making and their enthusiasm for our presence keeps me going the whole year round. 

Bang, Oi and Nuke with Pi Linsey

     The one thing I did find hard at first was the language barrier. It wasn’t something I thought about before my trip, I just imagined playing and hanging out with the kids. It’s not really until you get there that you realise you really can’t understand a word of Thai and they understand very little English. This can be daunting at first, but with time and a little effort you soon learn the art of communication through mime, sign language and pointing at words in a phrase book! The children really appreciate you making the effort and a Thai dictionary or phrase book is a must have for the trip.

     Over the years people have asked me why I go, or questioned why I would want to “give up” my holiday time to volunteer. The implication often being that I am somehow doing something difficult, giving up something, being worthy. The fact is I’m doing none of those things. I go to Sarnelli because I love it, it’s not a chore, and it gives me far more pleasure than a couple of weeks lying on a beach could ever do. I believe that some people who think of visiting worry that it will be a sad place to be, or they will feel too emotional. For me this definitely isn’t the case. The kids have sad stories, yes, many of them horrific and heartbreaking, and when you sit and read them, or listen to Father Mike’s stories, you can’t help but be saddened. But as soon as you are around the kids there is no sadness; they are brave, warm and happy.  You are able to forget their illness and histories and just delight in the feeling you get from hanging out with such a large number of playful, cheeky and loveable kids. You will be sad when you leave, certainly, but that will be sadness at the knowledge you are going to miss seeing the kids every day. Every year I come home feeling refreshed and relaxed and impatient for the day I can book my next trip. 

     My thoughts on Sarnelli wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the staff. From Pi Da, who welcomes you and feeds you delicious food after a hard day running after kids, to the drivers who ferry you around, to all the house mums that do a phenomenal and exhausting job keeping all the kids under control and making them feel loved and secure and part of a family – they all add to the experience of visiting Sarnelli House. It is hard to find anything to say about Father Mike and Kate that hasn’t been said before and that does them, and the work they do, justice. I am in awe of their commitment, good humour and energy. It is an impressive feat to be adored by over 160 kids, yet they manage it. If only every kid could have a Father Mike and a Kate in their lives.  

     This year Andy and I were joined by Brian, another friend of mine. I had no qualms about encouraging him to come and my conviction that he would have the experience of his life was borne out. It was a great feeling to introduce someone else to the experience and to watch him fall in love with the kids, the environment and the staff in the same way we did. Now he has returned home and told all his friends, some of whom will end up sponsoring kids or visiting themselves.

      If you’re thinking about visiting, I’d say go for it, and if you feel apprehensive, I’d say don’t be. My advice would be to go with enthusiasm and energy and a willingness to get involved; the kids will love you for it and in return you’ll have an amazing life affirming experience. Oh, and buy that phrase book. 

Linsey Pluckrose