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Water for Life … the story of Darm’s determination to survive and how Rotarians resolved to make one child’s dreams become real


Water for Life … the story of Darm’s determination to survive and how Rotarians resolved to make one child’s dreams become real

At a recent Rotary International District 3340 conference held in Udon Thani, full details of a life-saving high-powered water filter project completed at Ban Nong Waeng Municipal School through the generosity of Rotarians were given to a crowded conference room. To explain the background of this essential project, the story of one small boy, Nong Darm, and his devoted grandmother, was related by Past District Governor Somchai Chiaranaipanit, highlighting the significance of Rotary’s motivating themes of clean water, education, health, poverty and hunger reduction.

Ban Nong Waeng Municipal School is located in Khon Kaen, one of the largest cities in Thailand, and is surrounded by poverty-stricken families living in crowded, disease-ridden shanty communities with few modern facilities. The school’s students come from families with little money and few possessions.

H.E. Bhichai Rattakul is shown the open sewer from where Grandma (2nd right) collected the dirty water.

On the first day of the new school year in 2007, an old woman, skinny and dark-complexioned, walked through the gates with a small, thin and grubby boy, intent on enrolling him in the kindergarten class. The woman said little to the teachers, except that her grandson, Nong Darm, desperately wanted to attend the school. She explained that she had no money, and had begged and borrowed a uniform and other necessities for her grandson. Seeing her good intentions and sincerity, the school admitted the child.

During the first few months, it was noticed that little Nong Darm was often ill, afraid of strangers, and often missed school. A rumour was circulating that the child’s father had died of AIDS; as a result, the boy found it difficult to make friends. Teachers decided to find out the truth by visiting his home.

The little boy lived with his grandmother in a squalid squatters’ community near the railway line. When his mother was 5 months pregnant, his parents had divorced; shortly afterwards, his father had indeed died of AIDS. After Nong Darm’s birth, his mother had left for Bangkok to earn some money - she had never returned, leaving her mother, the child’s grandmother, to look after him. The old lady, being illiterate, scraped a living by collecting and selling vegetables and garbage, occasionally being hired for small tasks, which meant that the child was often left alone. However, she became a loving mother to her grandson.

DG Peter lovingly presents Darm of whom he had so often spoke about.

Inspecting the shack in which Nong Darm lived, teachers discovered that there was no water supply. Apparently, neighbours had told his grandmother to connect to their supply, but had left the poor woman to pay both water bills. As she had no money, the supply was cut off. Subsequently, she had used sandbags to dam the community water and sewage outlets, skimming off water for drinking when the silt and muck had settled. Drinking the water had caused Nong Darm’s diarrhea, yellowish skin, weight loss and skin allergies. The little boy was immediately classified as being at risk, and his case was taken to Khon Kaen’s municipality council, who immediately installed a water supply at his home. He was also tested for HIV/AIDS; fortunately, the test proved negative.

Khun Bhichai is thrilled to see Grandma and Darm as they respectfully greet him.

Meanwhile, members from Kaen Koon’s Rotary Club, together with the Rotary Club of Kyoto, Japan, learned of Nong Darm and his grandmother whilst on a visit to the school to launch a library project. Immediately, they agreed to help.

Past District Governor Som­chai Chiaranaipanit told the little boy’s story to the past president of Rotary International, His Excellency Bhichai Rattakul and to other Rotarians from several regions, all of whom promised their help, with Rotarians from Thonburi and Bangna agreeing to raise funds to provide a filtration system for Nong Darm’s school.

Khun Bhichai presents articles of clothing and amenities to Darm and Grandma.

H.E. Bhichai Rattakul came to Khon Kaen and met with the child and his grandmother, and Rotarians from Bangkok and District 3340 donated relief items, emergency supplies and blankets to the slum communities. Rotarians also visited Nong Darm’s home, finding that his grandmother had stored broken tiles to use on the mud floor in case of floods. They also found that the shack had no electricity - a tragic picture of the plight of the poor in Thai society.

H.E. Bhichai donated funds to the child’s grandmother to help her care for him; subsequently, a Rotarian who owned a wholesale business gave the old lady a job packing products. A fine example of ‘Generosity gives Love’.

Darm seems preoccupied as Grandma enjoys her new job at Rotarian Nate Chuenchom’s repackaging shop.

Caring still exists in Thai society, especially amongst Rotarians, who give their time and funds to assist the underprivileged, particularly children. Nong Darm’s primary school now has a library and its new high-powered water filter, intended for public use as well as for the students. Community members and local monks may use the fresh, clean water, and students and teachers can take drinking water home with them, free of charge.

Nong Darm’s story was also told to Rotarians in Taiwan’s Gao Zong City by Past District Governor Som­chai, during his visit as the Thai representative of Rotary International.

On hearing the tale, Rotarian Clement from the Rotary Club of Kaohsiung Harbor City donated $1,240 to District 3340’s fund-raising project to help needy children.

A proportion of the money was used to buy water tanks to further improve the drinking water supply for Nong Darm’s school.

As for Nong Darm, he is in Prathom 1 (1st grade) now. Although he is not the cleverest boy in the class, the school takes good care of him, and will help him to grow up to be a good and useful adult. Like all young boys, sometimes he may be naughty and stubborn; but there is one thing that teachers and administrators cannot fail to notice. Nong Darm is clearly happy and healthy, and has many friends!

His grandmother is still earning her modest living, and receives cheerfulness and assistance, although she is occasionally worried about what will happen to her beloved grandson when she dies.

The Rotarians at District 3340’s Rotary International conference were clearly touched by the little boy’s sad story and its happy ending. Nong Darm and his grandmother, guests at the event, could only say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you for your kindness.” H.E. Bhichai remarked that, “Rotarians must continue with this type of caring and giving - it is tragic that Nong Darm and his grandmother were living in such distressing conditions. Now they have hope that dreams can become real.”

District Governor Pratheep Malhotra added, “Rotarians have shown their devotion to brightening the lives of this child and his grandmother. The project has been a great success, and should be expanded to other areas where children do not have clean, filtered water and are sick as a result. There are millions of children in this world that desperately need our love and care. Together we can try to save hundreds, thousands and possibly millions of children’s lives. Let’s start by saving the life of one child. That one child could be your own.”

H.E. Bhichai responded, “The success of the project came from love - from one to another, and thence to many hundreds. Rotary has given the child a new life … and shows that Rotarians possess and use the gift of nam jai, kindness and generosity, at all times, by helping parents and grandparents to guide children to a better life. If we can change one person’s life, we can change many hundreds of people’s lives.”