“Pa Ruay” lives in a small village in the Kok Khong district, sometimes alone and sometimes with her son who struggles with alcohol. Her husband died about 20 years ago. While her home is small and simple it provides shelter from the sun, winds, and rain. We found Pa Ruay through Suwannee, a member of one of our local partner foundations, who is originally from this village. Her mom still lives there and is well connected and knowledgeable of who in the community is struggling.
At 90 years old, Pa Ruay is too old to work. She receives government assistance of 800 baht a month but often struggles to feed herself and her son. When their hunger is too much to bear, she has to ask her neighbors for food.
Stepping through her open doorway I noticed there is no door. We found ourselves in a very traditional Isan kitchen. From there the house is loosely divided into three sections. To the left sat a smoldering cooking fire. Around the room hung an array of hanging baskets holding food to keep ants and other stray animals away.
Aside from the open doorway and large gaps in the tin sheet patchwork walls, there was little ventilation and smoke permeated the house. Next to the door lay a slingshot, which I soon came to find out is a common sight in many of these village homes! Cheap and basic, these handheld slingshots are the first line of defence against hungry animals and who knows what else may come.
To the right was Pa Ruay setting up woven mats on the concrete floor of her living room, and through the doorway behind her lies her bedroom. Just a thin layer of woven straw acts as a barrier between you and the concrete floor. Even at the young age of 31 I find it difficult to sit on these floors for long, but so many elders in these villages can sit for hours with no problems. And they have a good 60 years or more on me!
Pa Ruay gives us all welcome hugs before lowering herself down on the mat with ease. We hand her the care package, Suwannee and her mom working together to take each item out and show her, making sure it will fit her needs.
She sees the food and cooking oil and tears well up in her eyes. In a country that is very much about “saving face”, there must be a lot of shame involved with having to ask neighbors for food. Through tears she thanks us for the stock up of food, now she will have food for the end of the month when she usually runs out and has to ask around for help.
Pa Ruay doesn’t have many friends and she often feels lonely and depressed. She has five children but most of them do not live nearby, she spends a lot of time alone.
After giving her the care package we took some time to sit and socialize together. While care packages address meeting the physical needs, we also spend time connecting locals with each other to feel companionship and meet the psychosocial needs for human interaction.
Want to help elders like Pa Ruay? You can “adopt an elder” by signing up for monthly donations, or for just $50 you can provide someone like her with a complete care package.