April 13, 2012
As Queen Elizabeth continues her second world voyage it was time to grace the shores of Thailand and pick up the story of the Father Ray Foundation from last year. Almost a year ago today Queen Elizabeth was preparing herself for a visit of some very special children. The Father Ray Foundation was set up in 1974 and caters for over 850 children from all over Thailand. Sadly Ray himself passed away 8 years ago but the foundation he started is still going from strength to strength.
Fund raising is a key aspect of the programme and helps to tell the children’s story and allows them to meet people from all walks of life. Currently the foundation is focused on building homes for orphaned children where they are placed under the care of a new mother and taught all the basic skills of living a full and purposeful life. Each home costs around twenty thousand dollars to build and equip and when completed it will house 5 children who will live under the care of a house mother. The foundation has also created a university for children with body deformities where they can learn useful trades that will help them succeed in life such as electronics, welding and plumbing. Growth has occurred at such a rapid and successful rate that there is a need for continuous expansion as the university and the school for the blind are simply overwhelmed by the numbers of children.
The Father Ray Foundation is now under the direction of a dedicated man called Thomas who had the batten handed to him by Father Ray; originally from the United States he would now consider himself a local and a father to thousands of Thailand’s wonderfully gifted children. Thomas has a small selection of his troop that performs in schools and other sectors to help promote and educate Thailand’s masses. As you can imagine after their first visit on our maiden world voyage in 2011, the opportunity to meet the children again was one that couldn’t be missed!
Pippa, the Zone supervisor and I armed ourselves with as many presents from the zone as we could find and headed down to the terminal to be greeted by ninety four smiling faces with many that I remembered from last year. After going through the security procedures and handing out the ships visitors’ ID (later used for the children’s scrap books!) we managed to relocate the children to four deck forward, towards the bow of the ship where our chef’s sugary delights lay in wait. At this point I do feel slightly guilty in forcing sugar loaded cupcakes into ninety four children just before embarking on a two hour drive to Bangkok but the day was all about them and not their teachers!
We passed out all our gifts to the now animated and excited children as the performance time crept slowly closer. Then after a quick photo session we rounded the team up for their big moment and as we descended slowly down to the back stage position several cup cakes were still being devoured on route or smuggled in tiny hands. It is interesting to note at this point that the foundation uses over twelve thousand tonnes of rice a year just to fuel and feed their ever growing brood so every dollar is so needed to help maintain, educate and feed.
With Thomas Vincent in the role of MC the show opened with a beautiful traditional Thai dance and featured live acoustic guitar and vocals along with children as young as 5 doing a hula dance. The children delighted the audience for over an hour involving some wonderful choreography, sensuous singing and wonderful wheel chair troop. By the end of the show there wasn’t a dry eye in the house and the guests of Queen Elizabeth having been completely captivated by these inspiring individuals stayed in the theatre for sometime after the show to share stories with the foundations elders. At the end of the show the Entertainment Director Keith Maynard gave our guests the opportunity to donate money to the foundation and many delved deeply into their pockets and generously donated nearly $2000. Cunard have also donated $500 to the foundation, which will be used to provide the new village with all the power it needs for 20 days.
They say a picture paints a thousand words and the smiles on the faces of these children will explain more than I ever can how much this special day meant to them.
After the show the children had to rush off to Thailand’s capital Bangkok for another performance and as the entertainment team escorted the children through the ship there was just enough time for a final stop in the Queen’s Room and a group photo before we said our goodbyes. By this point the children were so animated that an opportunity to run around the Queen’s Room was not going to go amiss and as hoards of tiny feet and wheel chairs waltzed their way around the dance floor we were greeted by a smiling deputy captain – Aseem Hashmi!
As we said our goodbyes Thomas made me an offer I couldn’t refuse – to come to Thailand and help volunteer with the Foundation for my vacation period. Just the thought of seeing those smiling faces once again is enough motivation to do as much as I can for them. So watch this space and a further update regarding the Children of the Father Ray Foundation.
Thank you for all your kind help
Sports Director Cunard line