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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Illness is no barrier to helping others

By Marco Gorin - Together with the late Nick James I had the honour of meeting with Ms Suthasinee last year in Yasothon (Thailand) while visiting the foundation headquarters where she and the kids under her care reside.

Ms Suthasinee is very simple in her demeanour and soft spoken yet extremely focused and determined in her work for the kids. What not many people realize when reading about her relentless commitment to the kids at the foundation or seeing her in action is that she suffers from cancer and that her illness is at an advance stage and with no chance of reversal.

Recently my good friend and hiking partner Steve Skilbeck brought to my attention an article which appeared in the Bangkok Post some two years back but which, fortunately, still remains extremely relevant in its contents and its assessment of the work and nature of Ms. Suthasinee whom is also affectionately known by the kids and her supporters as Mae Tew.

To follow is the entire article which we hope will serve as an inspiration to many in both the way in which we should aspire to live our lives by never giving up and also in deciding to make a donation through Charity Trek 2010 in support of this great cause.

Making a donation is really easy as it can be done on-line by credit card in the comfort of your home or office or by arranging for a wire transfer into the dedicated charity account (details available upon request at :

As appeared in the Bangkok Post / Spectrum Section on 21/12/2008

Article Written By: Bamrung Amnatcharoenrit

Whether at home or in the cinema, most of us have seen the three-minute Thai Life Insurance commercial featuring a woman who takes children off the street and cares for them at her own expense. In the commercial, we see her playing with the children, running into the sea with them in one scene and cradling a guitar and singing them happy songs in the next. We also see her, head shaven, on a hospital bed. Many may not realise that this commercial is based on the life of a real person and her struggle.

That woman, Suthasinee Noi-in, 53, is now in the final stages of cancer of the intestine.

Ms Suthasinee is the founder of Home Hug, or the Suthasinee Noi-in Foundation for Children and Youth (3 Moo 12, Ban Prachasawan, Tambon Tadthong, Muang, Yasothon province, 04-572-2241).

She is a mother to 112 children, all of whom have suffered from the results of HIV infection, drug addiction, sexual violence and/or child prostitution. The youngest is two months old and the oldest 18.

In 2000, her doctor diagnosed her cancer and told her she would live no more than six months. Ms Suthasinee's first thought was for the children's welfare. She made a will awarding the Catholic Pracha Pipat Foundation the assets of Home Hug and responsibility for looking after the children in the house, and also to carry on the foundation's work. But eight years after the diagnosis, she's still around, and still making a difference.

She has never been back to the hospital.

''One day I met the doctor who took care of me. He looked at me in disbelief, asking how it was I'm still alive,'' Ms Suthasinee said, laughing.

''Personally, I do not believe in medical diagnoses. I believe life keeps going on if we have a strong spirit

[to fight] against disease.''

At present, she is very happy with her life, saying of the cancer: ''It is just a disease that comes to human life. Life still goes on, as with all my beloved children. Their laughter is a good tonic.''

Ms Suthasinee, called ''Mae Tew'' by the children, has devoted nearly half her life to helping children, in Kanchanaburi and Mae Hong Son provinces before coming to Yasothon. She established Home Hug 21 years ago, with help from the Japanese embassy in Thailand. Her children are well aware of Ms Suthasinee's efforts on their behalf.

''What I want to give back to Mae Tew is to learn as successfully as I can. I believe I can choose a good future for myself from here,'' said Boy, 13, a resident of Home Hug for five years. His father died of cancer and his mother of an HIV-related illness. Boy is a 7th grader with 3.2 GPA who wants to be an engineer.

Ms Suthasinee has chosen to prolong her life through alternative healing. She meditates and regularly bathes in natural mineral waters and a herbal stream.

She believes she is very lucky to be able to work with children.

''Even with the threat of a lethal disease, I don't want people to donate to the foundation because they pity me. I definitely do not want such money. Rather, I want donors to realise the problems of the children and give them love,'' she said.

''Mae Tew has become my mother,'' said Pim, 13, another orphan. ''She gives me love and a good future. She teaches me how to love and help people. She treats me like I am her child. That's why I love her so much.''

Pim, a 7th grader with a 3.15 GPA, said she and the other children help to take care of Ms Suthasinee when she is feeling ill because it was she who took care of them in their time of need.

The early years of Home Hug were the toughest. Ms Suthasinee sold her belongings piece by piece, even her mother's house in Bangkok, in order to build a home for the children, feed and clothe them and buy medicine.

''Sometimes, there was simply no food; the children had to find insects to eat,'' she said of the early days.

Things are now much better, but running Home Hug is an expensive task. Looking after 112 children, paying for food, clothing, medicine, education and utilities, the bills can run as high as 700,000 baht per month. The money comes from donations, but often this is not enough, so Home Hug and the children struggle. This is the reason she can't take in more than 112 children at a time.

Born in Bangkok, Ms Suthasinee's parents divorced when she was young.

Her childhood was spent between her father in Ubon Ratchathani and her mother in Bangkok. She graduated from Technology Krungthep College, now Rajamangala University of Technology Krungthep, majoring in nutrition.

She became interested in social issues while still at college. After graduating, she worked at Moo Ban Dek, a village school, in Kanchanaburi for a year and then moved to Mae La Noi district in Mae Hong Son, where she lived for another 10 years.

''I learned many things, among them a way of thinking, from local people. Sometimes systematic study doesn't provide an answer,'' she said.

At Mae La Noi, she worked in agriculture and acted as a consultant on legal issues. Thanks to her degree in nutrition, she was also able to help rural people process and store food, while a personal interest in performance arts was beneficial in educating people.

Ms Suthasinee once walked across the mountains for 40 days to meet a monk at Chiang Khong district in Chiang Rai. There, she dressed in white and ate one meal of salt and pak kood (Diplazium esculentum, a fern) a day. This, she says, was how she discovered her ''inner strength''.

After that experience she decided to spend her life helping others. She returned to Bangkok to stay with her mother and worked with the Foundation for Slum Child Care in Klong Toey. This led her to make a decision to do volunteer work with a doctor in Yasothon. There, Ms Suthasinee found many youths at risk.

Some, aged 15 to 16, were pregnant and some infected with HIV. Many moved to Bangkok for work but knew nothing about the labour laws, so they ended up being cheated.

With scarcely a thought for herself, she fills her days doing anything she can to help the children, from acting as a legal consultant to taking action to help them out of a crisis. In her view the opportunity to do this work makes her among the luckiest of people.

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