“I’m not doing this because I want to save the world – but hopefully I can help at the humanitarian level,” says Yvonne Ziegler, who spends two mornings a week visiting the Pak Kred Babies Home in Bangkok with another five to 15 expatriate women.
“I’m basically a people person,” she says. “I have three adult children now, so I want to ‘put something back’. I want to do something voluntary with meaning.”
The home looks after babies who will be adopted out to both Thai and western families, and the main objective of the visits is to give the children some time with a one-on-one carer.
Yvonne cares for an 18-month old baby called Pip under circumstances which have conspired to keep him at the home, rather than adopted. “The parents of my baby brought him to the home directly from the hospital, but they didn’t sign him over for adoption,” Yvonne says with some frustration.
In Thai culture, she explains, it’s acceptable to put your baby into an orphanage while you get a job and get yourself ready to look after a new life. “But they haven’t come back for him. The home has been looking for them since he was 12 months old, and they say he can’t be adopted out until he is five in case they are found.”
This energetic woman also assists in collecting clothes for the Human Development Centre in Bangkok’s Klong Toey slum area, and she occasionally visits Rejoice, an AIDS hospice in the northern city of Chiang Mai, to provide assistance there. “I am in a privileged position because I can go anywhere here. I can go to the Hyatt and I can visit the slums. I’m terribly interested in what makes the world tick. There’s so much going on – I don’t want to get stuck into a routine with a 40-hour a week job.”
Nevertheless, Yvonne does work for ten days per month as the Australian Embassy’s Prison Visits Officer. The job involves visiting the 11 Australian prisoners who are currently in four of Bangkok’s gaols. “I make sure that they are receiving international standards of care. It’s consular care – I’m not giving them cake and cookies.”
Yvonne came to Thailand 18 months ago when her husband, who works for the Australian Defence Forces, was posted to Bangkok. She had never been to Asia before, but after spending 25 years moving around Australia, and 18 months in England while her husband attended a military college, she says “I’m used to the idea of moving.”
For Yvonne, the hardest part about being in Thailand is not her volunteer work – it’s being away from her three adult children, who remain in Australia. “I miss them very much,” she says.