Article: Swim Safe Program at Agape, Thailand, 2015

Published by the YASS TRIBUNE, 22 Apr 2015.

Among the rolling hills in Northern Thailand is a small Orphanage named Agape, a far cry from Thailand’s tourist areas, it is a place where many HIV infected and affected orphans live and receive medical treatment.

Last week Ben Spencer and fiance Alison Giles from Binalong visited the orphanage for a week to teach these underprivileged kids how to swim, under the banner of their local organisation; Spencer Swim Safe.

The couple joined a group called ‘Team Love’ with 22 others, mostly from Mittagong and Bowral, who travel to the orphanage each year to set up a weekly program for the kids; with fun activities that they wouldn’t otherwise get the opportunity to participate in.

“We went in expecting sick kids and we were surprised at how happy and well they were,” Alison said.

She explained that during the last six years America has been able to provide a drug to help with the disease.

Spencer Swim Safe’s visit to Thailand was an eye opener for Ben Spencer and Alison Giles.

“It means these kids aren’t dying from the disease anymore, it used to be a place for babies to go to die, now it is a happier place to be in, but it is still so very sad to see these kids with no parents.”

The orphanage is for kids who are either suffering from HIV or whose parents have died from it. A year ago a pool was built at the Orphanage and Zoggs Australia sponsored the equipment.

Spencer Swim Safe’s visit to Thailand was an eye opener for Ben Spencer and Alison Giles. Photo: Contributed.

“We spent a week there, swimming with toddlers,” Alison said.

“Their swimming skills were very basic, we taught them basic skills and water confidence. Hopefully now they can use the pool more and more.”

Spencer Swim Safe’s visit to Thailand was an eye opener for Ben Spencer and Alison Giles. Photo: Contributed.

Ben’s mum, Vicki Spencer, also visited the orphanage and predominantly looked after a little blind girl.

“They formed a bond and she took the little girl into the pool – which was very rare – it was absolutely moving.”

The other volunteers from the group visited the surrounding villages, sending out support where kids in the villages with HIV are on the brink of attending the orphanage.

“It was heartbreaking, one girl of about 8 or 9 with HIV was with her mother who was about thirty. Her mother was nearly dead with HIV,” Alison explained.

Spencer Swim Safe’s visit to Thailand was an eye opener for Ben Spencer and Alison Giles. Photo: Contributed.

“The little girl was looking after the mum and great grandmother who was going deaf and blind. The group was talking about bringing the girl and mother to the orphanage.”

The orphanage also has a facility where the mothers are able to take their children with them and stay until they die, where the kids then stay.

Alison describes prostitution as a big problem in this area.

“It’s considered a good job, that’s why they have such problems with HIV, they are just trying to feed their families,” she said.

“It’s hard to change a mentality. The kids at the orphanage are given the information about HIV but in the villages parents are desperate to feed their family and have to make money some how.”

The orphanage houses children from birth up to 24-year of age, where they are encouraged to go onto study at university. The orphanage gets sponsorship for clothing, the running of the orphanage, schooling and university.

“When you get over there you realise how great our lives are here in Australia. The hardest thing was to leave the kids, we were there for a week and having a great time, but then we had to leave them behind – without a mum and dad.”

Spencer Swim Safe will hopefully go back in the new year, if they are able to raise enough funds.

“You do form a bond with the kids and you miss them,” Alison continued.

Alison described it as a life changing experience.

If people want to get involved with Spencer Swim Safe they are encouraged to contact Ben Spencer via the Facebook page. The organisation accepts donations and also takes on volunteers.

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Alison teaching vital swimming skills to one of the orphans at Agape Home.