I’ve just completed a bike ride through Thailand covering 1600km in 16 days and it’s something that I do every January. To think of starting my year any other way, just doesn’t make sense.
The bike ride is in support of the charity Hands Across the Water that I formed in 2005, to support children who were left without parents following the tragic events of the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. Eleven years on the charity now supports several hundred children across seven different locations across Thailand.
One of the homes that we started supporting six years ago is a little drop of humanity called Baan Home Hug. It’s located an hour’s drive west of the rural town of Ubon Ratchatani in the north east of Thailand. Baan Home Hug is home to over one hundred children, many of whom have HIV and either do not know or have no connect with their parents. Many of the kids who without Baan Home Hug would not be alive today, were given up, left on a door step by those that should have cared the most, their parents.
The bike rides that we do each January are a major step towards raising the funds that are required to keep Baan Home Hug and the rest of our homes operational. Riders come from a number of countries every year to ride in what is best described as a shared experience that provides food for your soul. After a christmas and new year period of indulgence that seems to get a little more each year in my house, the timing of the rides in January is a way to recalibrate for the year ahead and again bring things back into perspective. Another benefit is the 1600km of riding helps to shred the christmas cake kilos I find each December.
One of the reasons the ride is so successful and provides that important nourishment of our soul is one of our riders Mae Thiew. She is the founder and director of Baan Home Hug and there is no greater love than that which Mae Thiew has for her children.
Her love for her children is so obvious to see when you are in her presence and she is surrounded by her children or when you look into her eyes when she speaks of them. There is a sparkle of unmeasurable love that comes into her eyes, it is unmistakably love of the strongest kind.
She knows love, she knows loss and she knows heartbreak. The children, over the last 30 years that Mae Thiew has run Baan Home Hug have given her all. For many years the resources at hand were such that she was unable to care for all the children providing them with the medicine they needed, many, too many lost their battle for life and gave Mae Thiew a very cruel lesson in loss and heartbreak. The type of loss and heartbreak that is only felt by the loss of a child.
But, its the love of the deepest kind that sees her continue, in spite of such loss.
Each January since 2011, Mae Thiew has joined me, along with many others, by climbing onto a bike and cycling down the banks of the Mekong River and in January of this year she repeated her feat of 2015 in riding the double, doing 1600km.
She is not a well lady, she battles stomach cancer and over the last six years we have said a final goodbye several times, but each January she manages to find a way to ride again.
I ask her “Why ride Mae Thiew, you’ve done it all now, you have nothing to prove to anyone, why continue to ride when you are so unwell?” Her response “I do it for the children, to show them that I am strong and to show them they should work hard.”
Her levels of residence and determination are off the chart when we measure them against our comfortable lives in Australia. But what trumps those qualities is the love that she has for the children. The children she has lost, the children that are in her care now and the children that she is yet to meet, but will over the coming years find their way to her.
I watch her ride along some of the roads which are not the easiest to ride on. Some have pot holes and those pot holes have pot holes! I see her climb the hills and I see the struggle she must endure to make it through to the next water stop, but she arrives at every water stop with a smile on her face and a full heart.
As we finished the first of the two 800km rides this year, we stopped as a group two kilometres from Baan Home Hug where we would ride to meet the children and I asked each of the twenty one riders to reflect on their experience. When it came to Mae Thiew I asked her what was she feeling “I’m full” she replied, “full of love for the children”.
Songs have been sung, books have been written and movies have been made telling the story of love and it’s many different forms, but the story of Mae Thiew and her love for her children, many abandoned by those who should have loved and protected them the most is surely love in its purest form. It’s a love with compassion, warmth, tenderness, and devotion. But it is not without discipline, sacrifice, respect and rules. She is the task master, the disciplinarian, the educator, the boundary setter and the chief giver of hugs.
Depending on your measure, Mae Thiew could be the richest or equally the poorest of people you might meet. She has very little in the form of tangible assets to show of her life’s work. But she has a heart full of love and when the children who have been cast aside by their parents and society, look to her, or reach to hold her hand, she is the richest person I know.
Mae Thiew isn’t loved for what she has, but for who she is and how she loves those, others choose not too.
It is the perfect love story.