In the lush rolling hills of northern Thailand, a healthy baby girl called Pidsinee was born to the delight of her parents, Somporn and Sopak. Of the Karen tribe, 22-year-old Somporn and 18-year-old Sopak dreamt of having a large family and growing old together. But only four months later, Somporn found himself as a single father.
Sopak contracted Japanese Encephalitis and developed a high fever. Driving through rough jungle terrain, Somporn took his wife to a large hospital in Chiang Mai but within a few hours of arriving, Sopak passed away. “The doctor said that there was nothing he could do to save her,” says Somporn. “How I prayed, every day, for my wife. But God did not come to her rescue. I could think of nothing, just wondering how it all happened. How could one die so easily?” It was only four months after Pidsinee had arrived in the world. Somporn drove home to his daughter, the seat empty beside him.
At the funeral was Phongphet, the project director of the Bethania Church Child Survival Programme. “I remember that Somporn came home with his head hanging down. He seemed lost. Pidsinee was extraordinary quiet too, like she knew what was happening,” Phongphet says. “When I saw this, I suddenly thought of our programme. With no stable income and little knowledge of childcare, it could be the answer for him.”
Since 2011, Bethania Church Child Survival Programme has reached out to caregivers and babies in the multi-racial communities of Karen, Hmong and Thai in northern Thailand. Somporn was registered as the one and only male caregiver in that project, along with his infant daughter Pidsinee.
“Initially, we taught him about practical skills and provided for his immediate needs to better care for his child,” says Phongphet. Somporn learnt about personal hygiene, child-care techniques and household safety as well as receiving monthly food boxes to help his family survive. Somporn also found a safe haven to share about the problems he encounters as a young single father.
“Raising Pidsinee has not been easy,” Somporn says. “If I were to do it by myself, I would never have made it on my own. But with the help from the Child Survival programme, and my parents, life is getting better.”
Somporn has also passed on what he has learnt to his parents. “I taught them how to prepare a bottle, as well as how to clean it,” says Somporn. “In our house, there is one corner used only to wash the bottles. No one is allowed to cook or boil anything in this area.”
With the help of the local church and the Child Survival Programme, Somporn’s life is gradually turning around. Phongphet says, “Somporn saw how we had helped him; how we did not just pray for him and left doing nothing. He saw that we lived out our faith through action. When he witnessed this, it brought encouragement and peace to him. Now he smiles more and has the strength to keep raising Pidsinee as best as he can.”