Family Magazine

Your Day is About to Get Better

By Behan Gifford @sailingtotem


Get ready to smile! You know how when you smile at someone, it’s hard for them not to smile back? When someone passes along a good feeling, it’s hard not to share it and pass it along yourself? That’s pretty much how the kids & kittens fundraiser happened. It all started with a picture of the cute little boy we call Monk (for his impassive demeanor and bald head). His name is actually Hualan, but whatever the name, who can resist a trouser-less toddler gripping onto his favorite thing in the world, a new-to-him scooter?

When Mike messaged me after seeing Monk’s picture on Facebook, wanting to get scooters for other resident shipyard kids, a quick fundraiser was born. I never imagined that so many people would be so giving, so generous, so eager to take that smile and pass it along but in just a few days, we raised almost $1,400. This blew me away- the whole purpose was to pass along that good feeling by making a bunch of kids really, really happy. Does it get any better than that?


Siobhan and her buddy, Biya. Thanks to Jamie from SV Esper for the photo.

Who are the kids, anyway? The first I met were from the Burmese families. These parents have to overcome big hurdles just to get to Satun, and support their families, paying agent fees that cost them months of salary just to get to this place and have a living. PSS built housing for many of the yard staff and their families live, where they pay only for water and electricity. It’s affordable housing for people who have come far from their home villages looking for work, and can’t afford anything more. They are Burmese, Cambodian, and Thai; children range from infants to teens, so the kids are often “around” in the yard. Our kids had gotten to know many of them (despite the lack of shared language) during our stay, between mock Muay Thai battles in the yard, weekend afternoons playing card games and drawing together, running around on the scooters in the yard’s open spaces.

With Totem’s launch date looming, this all had to happen quickly. The day before our planned launch, and only a few days after the whole fundraiser idea coalesced, Julie (PSS shipyard management) and I spent a morning shopping in Saturn town. I had worried about being able to spend our budget raised, but I shouldn’t have. First, we picked out wheels for each of the kids: scooters, bikes, trikes, ride-on trucks. Then we got a few things for fun: soccer balls, frisbee and badminton rackets (it’s popular here, and they have a net in the yard).

soccer balls

Choosing soccer balls in Satun. Thanks to Julie from PSS-Satun for the photo.

School supplies were next: notebooks, pens, pencils, and erasers. Last, we went to the bank to get cash for uniforms. One of the hurdles for kids to attend school daily is that they need three complete uniforms (with different shoes), each worn on different types of days at school. One uniform set can cost more than a parent earns in a day- it’s significant, so you have some days where some kids might not be able to go to school because they don’t have the right clothes to wear.

We planned a giveaway/ presentation for that night. During our stay at PSS, we’d become fans of Bobby’s Pizza in Satun (pizza tossed the old school way and served with a Liverpool accent- what more to love?!), and when Bobby caught wind of the plans he generously offered to drive out with a big pizza treat for the kids. Time for a party!


Julie serves pizza to the kids at the shipyard. Thanks to Jamie from SV Esper for the photo.

Bikes, assembled and waiting. Remember getting your first bike? Mine tasted a lot like freedom! There’s a age range that’s the sweet spot for a scooter, and these kids span a spectrum. For the youngest, we got ride-on toys. For those a little older, set got scooters; older kids were given bicycles. Scooters are stacked on the right just out of the frame.

bicycles lined up for gifting

The bicycle lineup! Thanks to Jamie from SV Esper for the photo.

At left in the photo below is Cho, one of the Burmese mamas and shipyard staff, with her daughters and grandson. We only share a couple of dozen words between my broken Thai and her broken English, but with a chain of translation she helped explain to gathered group what this was about, and how it came to be- the fantastic readers from Totem, a world away from Satun.


Cho and family. Thanks to Jamie from SV Esper for the photo.

Each child was called up by name. Here’s the really cool thing: every time one of their compatriots received a gift, the kids CHEERED. A rousing, fantastic, I’m-happy-for-you cheer as each of them picked up the smile and carried it along. There wasn’t the shadow of jealousy for what one received or another didn’t: they were so genuinely happy for each other.

wai thanks

Jamie, of SV Esper, does weekly videos. Meeting Jamie and Liz was one of the highlights of our stay in Satun, and he’s put a video together that covers the fundraiser and party for the kids. It tells the story better than I am here, including a tour through the shipyard staff homes adjacent to the shipyard. It’s a great watch, other than the parts where I’m getting a little over emotional sharing the story of the fundraiser! But listen closely in the beginning: that’s the cheer, the uplifting enthusiasm that happened over and over as each kid came forward and got their scooter (or bike, or whatever). They were just so happy for each other- it was beautiful!

This was also about the kittens. Facebook followers know that our girls nursed a pathetic looking gaggle of prematurely mama-less kittens (and two puppies) during our stay at the shipyard: growing them bigger and stronger, holding them through worming shots at the vet, getting special kibble for kittens who stop nursing too soon, diligently giving them daily eye drops, ringworm treatments, oral vitamins and antibiotics. Needless to say these little kittens worked their way into our hearts!

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At the vet in Satun. Thanks Julie for the photo!

As a result of the fundraiser, there’s plenty of kibble and kitty litter to keep the kittens well cared for inside the shipyard offices. They’ve come a long way but they still need to get bigger and stronger before they can become “shipyard cats.” And, they’re in good hands! Jamie and Liz from Esper will see them through the coming weeks, and Julie is consistently supportive.

There are times in my life when I really can’t believe how lucky I am. Except I do. I really do know how incredibly fortunate we are. But this week was an emotional wringer of reminders and I felt luckiest of all to be the vehicle to help bring a spark to these kids. I just wish I could have brought every donor into the shed to see the look in the kids’ eyes when their hands where put on a set of wheels, just for them! And I wish they could experience the gratitude from the parents for a little uniform help. It is tremendous.Thank you to everyone who gave- please know that you have made a difference!


The monk who started it all, and eternal kid Tony. Thanks to Jamie from SV Esper for the photo!

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