Medical team caring for children at Thai orphanage


The medical team from Gainesville adopted five children to sponsor at the Akha Training Center, a program called Children of the Golden Triangle, in Chiang Rai, Thailand, on Sunday.

DAVID MASSEY/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 18, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 18, 2005 at 12:20 a.m.

We traveled to Chiang Rai Province, two short flights on Thai Air, and we were met at the Chiang Rai Airport by David and Asa Stevenson.

Their story is long, but the gist is that they run an orphanage in Northern Thailand near the Burmese border in what used to be the heartland of opium farming - "The Golden Triangle" - which now has sunk even lower to become the focal point for the sex-slave trade.

The Stevensons' situation is a direct result of the disenfranchisement of the Akha, a mountain tribe in the region whose people are citizens of no country, without government support, and who are so impoverished or otherwise distressed they will sell their daughters into slavery.

The Stevensons offer the alternative of a boarding school of sorts, although a sizable minority, perhaps 30 percent, of their flock are actually orphans. In any case, the Stevensons and Asa's sister Amphon work with a volunteer staff and older students to feed, clothe, house and teach 300 such children.

We rode in the back of David's pickup from the airport into the mountains and as the air cooled on the way up, the faces of the people warmed. When we finally drove into the driveway of the Akha Training Center, home of "the Children of the Golden Triangle," we were ambushed by waiting children, and bombarded with a chorus of hellos and hugs all around.

They ran up to the truck to touch my hand before the vehicle even came to a stop. I have never received such a welcome.

We had lunch and quickly set up our makeshift office in a pavilion. I worked in parallel with Judy Oetter, an experienced and competent ER nurse turned executive health director. We were coordinated and assisted by her sister-in-law, Loraine "Lo" Oetter, currently an ER nurse with many years of experience in all sorts of circumstances.

Both demonstrated the highest degree of compassion and empathy that you could imagine.

We worked long into the evening seeing preschooler after preschooler with a range of complaints from eczema to scabies to bronchitis. Most of all, we saw happy, well-fed, healthy children in the most amazing of circumstances.

We had one little 7-year-old girl with a fever of 105, who we found to have dermatitis and impetigo.

We treated her with a light dose of Augmentin/Amoxicillin combination and running Ibuprofen and Tylenol.

By bedtime, she had cooled down considerably and we were finally able to get some sleep.

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