The Movement On Own Feet - Centipede

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A letter from Bangkok

Dear friends,

Even though we do not know each other personally, I would love to send a couple of lines to you. Mrs. Bela’s visit to Asian countries finished already, but the strong memories and feelings that have their wonderful “consequences” last… This letter will come only to some of you, the dearest and most devoted ones. I leave it up to Mrs.Bìla to whom she will send my lines. They are not for children, because you will have a look at more sad and hopeless sides of the Eastern world.
When Mrs. Bela arrived, we found each thanks to our “seventh sense”… though we met in the school in Kladno, we did not have the chance to talk too much and know each other thoroughly… when we met at the airport we knew immediately that “this will work”
Mrs. Bela brought a huge amount of toys, pens, notepads and candies for the kids… and a head full of wonderful ideas that may seem a bit crazy in the beginning but can be brought to an end finally. You all know her… We sat at my balcony and discussed all those… and we sat there many many times after. If only my balcony could tell!!

On Monday, Mrs. Bela went to Mercy Centre to meet Mrs. Usanee. A Thai lady who visited Kladno with me and who is working in the Centre. She welcomed Mrs. Bìla and the Ambassador and introduced Mrs. Bìla to Father Joe, the founder and the director of the Centre. It was Mrs.Bìla´s first contact with HIV positive children. Above this, she still had a jetlag and there was this terrible heat that can be a burden to each visitor. It was a good idea that we started in Mercy Centre. Even if it is an orphanage that serves as a hospital and hospice as well, the children have their beds and a good certainty that they are taken care of. The children know about their disease; it influences their everyday life. Regularly, they have to take their medicine cocktails that can be very strong, depending on their actual health condition. Unfortunately, their health condition is very sensitive and depends on their actual physical and mental situation… even the changes of the weather can influence it very badly. The very hot climate is not very kind to those little ones.
I know these children from the past. From time to time, I come to the Centre to play with them. Occasionally, we go with the children out of the Centre. I remember once we took them to the Dream world to show them snow… yes, there is a hug hall with a real winter. You cannot imagine how happy the children were (and so were we, of course).
What drives me crazy is that you never know how many children will be able to join us… Some of them simply can’t make it that day. Within an hour their condition can worsen so much that it can endanger their lives. Their little organisms are much less immune then the adult ones and they react much faster. And this is visible as well. Sometimes, they the kids are very skinny and have abscesses all over the bodies or skin rush out of the unbelievable number of pills they have to take to be OK. And then – the terrible exhaustion that appears all of a sudden… the drops of sweat on their forehead, the sad sad deep eyes and somewhere in the deep the will to fight the exhaustion… In this moment, everything has to stop and the children have to take a rest…
When the children are relatively OK, they look completely the same as the other kids and you would not recognize any disease, which is killing them. You think this cannot be true…

During our first visit to Mercy Centre, after meeting father Joe, we went to see the children who were taking their rest after lunch. There were three rows of small beds with sleeping children… There were fans everywhere so that the children could breathe smoothly. Entering, you can feel the heavy exhaustion and the struggle to gain new energy… We were walking there and I was ashamed to take photos of their deserved peace.
Suddenly, one boy woke up… he felt there was somebody around, got up and embraced Mrs. Bela. He did not know her, but she was the aunt who came to see him and who may even embrace him back. That was one of the first pictures…
Other children were waking up after…and it was the same. We needed to take many pictures so that we could send them to you, back home. Therefore, we started. Mrs. Usanee was telling us stories about the children. Unfortunately, they were very similar. All the HIV positive children have their disease from their parents who are mostly dead already. Their health condition or social situation does not allow them to live at home, have their room or play with other kids. Some of them are so lucky that they have some still living relatives who come to visit them from time to time… However, those are just a few. Some of them have very sad childhood, filled with abusing of the family members; beating and expulsion from the community because of their terrible disease they are not responsible for. Terrible is, that this childhood, which will be very short, is the only thing that these kids will ever have.
Mrs. Bela was wonderful. I am not a hero. When I go with the children out and see their desire to touch me… They hang around me and I look like a bunch of grapes. I cannot think about how many are there going to be here next year. Definitely a few less. And in five years?! Almost nobody. I cannot think about that, it makes me cry, even now, writing these lines. However, I have been in contact with those children for a longer time. And seeing all this for the first time must be a bit shocking. But Mrs. Bela held up.

The children were very happy about the toys Mrs. Bela brought. Each of them chose one and we took a picture of him or her… I am still wondering how we could manage to gather all those information and did not lose ourselves in the number of pictures and names… And the children were so happy. They were running around and having lots of fun !!
When we were in the Centre, Mrs. Bela suddenly noticed one girl who was sitting at the entrance. She had such strange eyes… we learned that she was 24 and HIV positive. She knew it, of course. And she knew there was not too much time left for her. She was terribly sad, realizing this… She could give so much love and happiness… but there was nobody to accept all this.
From Mercy Centre we went to our “headquarters”, my place. It was clear you were waiting for the information impatiently… So we started to work immediately. It was a marathon, but seeing you waiting for every single letter from us, sending us your energy and support… that made it easier for us. Moreover, you know Mrs. Bìla… things have to be done! But you were wonderful as well. The way you were “registering” yourselves for the children and texting your curious messages, regardless the time difference, convinced me that you are a team of wonderful people who are dedicated to a wonderful thing and do it with their hearts.

Great is that thanks to you Centipede children realize how lucky they are that they do not live in war and can enjoy the family, health and live in peace. And they are able and willing to help the others, not so lucky ones. I am sure they will know more now and realize even more that only a little can be enough for living. And it does not have to be a new computer, necessarily.
On Tuesday, Mrs. Bela and the Ambassador went to Cambodia. I tried to get Mrs. Bìla ready for the fact that Cambodia is even worse than Thailand with its Mercy Centre. Thanks to the Khmer Rouge period, which finished not long ago, the country is much less developed than Thailand is. In the Cmabodian towns (not speaking about villages), you can see and feel the poverty.
The Khmer Rouge period left thousands of incomplete families and orphans. There are also still quite large areas with mines. That is why there are also many people and children with no legs and hands. All this is connected with the level of medical care and unfortunately the amount of information given about diseases as AIDS is. The main thing is to get money for the family to survive. The way to do so is very often prostitution, including the children’s prostitution, unfortunately. Without the necessary education in this field, the disease spreads terribly fast. And the kids do not stay aside… that is the saddest thing. Innocent kids.
In Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, there is a project of the School of Public Health and Social Work of St. Elizabeth in Bratislava, Slovakia. House of Family, which is the name of the project, takes care mainly of HIV positive children. In the house live cca 20 children (according to their actual health condition); some other come to the House to get the medicine, food, or to school or simply to play with their friends. There are 2 Slovak doctors who take care of the children. I met couple of them /they stay there for about 4 moths each time/ and I have to admire them. In these conditions of permanent physical and mental stress they do their work in an excellent way.
House of Family is a real house with one class, two bedrooms, kitchen, doctor’s office and a large garden. I met Seng Sophan there, for the first time... he is a little boy, very ill and weak and undeveloped.
It was breaking my heart seeing him walking into the room full of children’s laugh. Suddenly he appeared, very small, very skinny and very weak. He is 8, but he looks like being 4. He is HIV positive and at that time he had even tuberculosis and his condition was very serious. He almost could not walk because his joints were swollen and he had a terrible pain while coughing. Could you give an injection to this little boy in pain?! Well, he had to get one. While Andrea was preparing it, I took him in my arms and wanted to calm him a bit. He embraced me so strongly as if he wanted to release his pain to me… I wished it would only be possible… Suddenly he stopped moving and his hug loosened. I could not breathe and speak… and I was terrified to death. I did not have the power to call Andrea. So I sat there and cried. Fortunately, when she came, she realized that he “just” fell asleep. He was so terribly exhausted that – feeling a sign of security – he relaxed and fell asleep immediately.

These kids are ill in the same way as the children in Mercy Centre. And their life stories are very similar. One or both parents died of AIDS, they lived in the streets and so on and so on… In this corner of the world the help of our Slovak friends is invaluable. And Mrs. Bela arranged the connection between Centipede and House of Family…, the same way as in Bangkok. She brought them pens and a huge teddy bear… The children took the pictures with it later. I still have many toys here for them that Mrs. Bela left here… House of Family is a sad experience…

… even sadder is the hospital Takeo province, 1,5 hour drive from Phnom Penh. Mrs. Bela went there on Wednesday. She went there with Lind Vejlupkova, a Czech lady who has been living in Cambodia for three years and who is taking care of HIV positive kids. She is also helping with our Czech project of the humanitarian assistance, buying rice and soymilk and distributing it to the people there. In a place like this, people do not realize completely how ill they are and that they have to take medicine, if there is any. And that they have to eat regularly and they should not sell the rice they are getting. The people have to be taught this at first, but this goes very slowly… Moreover, there are many people who do not care about other people’s health and try to steal food from them to sell it and make more money. That is why somebody has to watch that the rice is given to the people in need… And Linda is wonderful with helping us, even if it is exhausting her…
Also Wayne lives here… an American veteran from Vietnam, who has his personal experience with death… He can talk now about being ordered to kill … though, it is clear that the memories and feelings are still in his head and heart. Death is very common for him. Something that cannot disturb him. Is this still human? However, maybe thanks to this experience he stays in this place full of pain, dying and suffering. And he will stay there till the end of his days, for sure.
His biggest “pride” is the crematorium he managed to build there. Because of this, he can gravely bid farewell to the ones who died… Coming to the crematorium, you can see the photographs of the children and adults who passed away. Everybody knows that there will be Wayne’s photograph on that wall one day…
There are children in this place too, of course… and Mrs. Bela met them.
First thing Mrs. Bela did after coming back from Cambodia was, that she jumped into the pool to wash everything off, both physically and mentally. We sat on my balcony and talked. Well, I did not learn much about her visit to Cambodia that evening. She could not talk about that much.
Her mission was successful. With the House of Family in Phnom Penh, she agreed on the adoption of 23 children. For a yearly fee of cca 180 USD, the children can get medicine, school equipment (notepads etc.) and partly food as well. We want to choose more kids from Takeo hospital; we need to discuss the way Centipede can help the children there. It is a remote place and we have to be sure that the money will get to the right hands before we send it. But we will make it, I am sure.
Following Thursday, we went to Mercy Centre again. We got off the car before coming to the Centre and walked around its surroundings where people in slums live. In an unbelievable amount of garbage there are their “houses” made just of couple of boards; they earn their money for living in various ways.
To the Centre we came at about 11 o’clock. And we came the right time. The children were playing and there was a lot of fun around. We started to draw pictures with the kids. Mostly Centipede, there was a picture of it on the Army notepads... and the children loved it.

On Firday, Mrs. Bela went to the South, to Satun...

I could write a book about tsunami. Unfortunately... It was my toughest and saddest job ever. I went there immediately after the fatal Sunday. I will never experience so much hopelesness and human tragedy. You all know from the newspapers what happened and I do not want to come back to that... However, you can hardly read in the newspapers that there were more Thai tsunami victims than the foregin ones; or how tsunami affected their lives... Being there in the South and going from place to place to look for missing Czech people, I met many Thais. Their wondeful smile that never dissapears from their face and we all could learn from them, was still there. But it was very exhausted, sad and with a huge concern about the future. The sea... the beautiful turquoise Thai sea was a killer that does not make any differences. There were ruins and mess everywhere, photos of the dead people to be identified, the smell of decomposed bodies...
Lives of those peple depend on the tourists and the short season that was tragically interupted in its half. Fishermen, owners of the hotels and resorts and all the others... A tough time started for them. Those who survived were happy to save their lives only... they lost the fishing boats, houses and everything else... This is also the story of almost all the children from the Baan Boh-chet-look school in Satun; the school where Centipede sent money to buy their school uniforms, notepads, toys and one meal a day for each child, till the end of the year... I wish you could see the places they live in. And how proud they are of their new uniforms !! Even from the poorest shelter comes out each morning a child in a clean uniform and goes to school. This means so much for them...
This time Ambassador accompanied Mrs. Bela as well. Except him, Mrs. Usanee, as well. She “found” the school for us. The children were so happy... Mrs. Bìla came and brought all the presents from you, presents they might have never seen before (or have them, of course), they appreciated it a lot. All of them wanted to touch her and meet her personally. I am sure Mrs. Bìla had a wonderful feeling of a well done work from her visit. Work of all of you.

Thailand is a beautiful land and the people here unbelievable kind and friendly, always with a smile on their faces. The Buddhist philosophy of love and non-violence is the reason for that. I miss this sometimes back home. That is why I was so surprised seeing you in Kladno; how you lead the children to be interested in what is happening around in the world, that they should help to the people in need and especially to the children who did not chose their destiny... I was even more pleased seeing that the children understand all that and take help to the people as something natural to them. Knowing this, I can do nothing else but thank you for everything you do for the children and with the children.
I am very happy I could meet you all, even from the “tropical” distance, and come a bit closer to you and the Centipede children. And that I can help a bit with the project Mrs. Bela started here... I truly hope I will meet you personally one day.
Now I can only thank you once again for your wonderful work and again express my appreciation for everything you have done. Please, give my best regards to all the Centipede children and thank them in the name of all the children here.
Truly yours,

Hanka Flanderova

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