Can I call you Ruffio?

And just like that, munchkins they weren’t.

These are my boyfriends Gop and Nex fighting over me at school. If it were December of 2014, Gop would be writing me love notes and Nex would sneak up to kiss me on the cheek then run away giggling. This year they’re both still trying to get a date for the weekend but the sweet, shy smiles have gone. Gop now wants to practice boxing and Nex wants me to watch him sail.

Teacha – Well boys, it’s almost 2016 and you are munchkins no more. You’re lost boys now. Can I call one of you Ruffio?
Gop – Teacha you are crazy and I do not understand you but Nex swim no good and he gay, have boyfriend!
Nex – Ayyyyy Teacha Mai Chai! Gop cheat at boxing (makes eye gouging motion) and Nex is most handsome, not gay.

More insults and a couple lies ensue before they turn back to me, hands on hips and ask again,
“So Teacha…Saturday.”

Leaving the school, I laughed and thought about Tee. I tutored Tee everyday last December to prepare him to get into a private high school in New Zealand. The tutoring sessions and the international school were both low on his list of priorities at the time and he put on plenty of “what’s the point” teenage melodramas.

I told him the point was I needed him to do better and if he wasn’t going to do it for himself, he was just going to have to do it for me. This really set him off.

What? Why I gonna do something so hard for you. I not even want to do for myself and you have messy hair! I said Tee, you love my messy hair so much it just might change the course of your whole life. Do better.

Back to 2015. In a poetic circle, Tee came to see me after finishing his first year abroad.

Tee – Hey, Girl with no friends. I not see you one year so why you look the same?

Teacha – Because I’m an adult Tee. I don’t have to change my look everytime a pop star has an identity crisis, that’s your department.
Tee – You are a mess. Do better man.
Teacha – Alright angsty, I hope you didn’t come to study because I don’t teach international students

Tee – ”No, not study. I come to tell you I gonna go to college USA for you.”

Teacha – Because you love my messy hair

Tee – Because I love your messy hair.

Again creeping on my own instagram, exactly 52 weeks ago. He was not exaggerating about the negative effects of heat, wind, rain, and bike helmets have on my hair.
Again creeping on my own instagram, exactly 52 weeks ago. He was not exaggerating about the negative effects of heat, wind, rain, and bike helmets have on my hair.

I look at these pictures of the boys and think of how much they have changed yet stayed the same and I can’t stop smiling. Though I feel a slight pang for their munchkin days, possibly the best thing about love is that it is never complacent. It changes always because it changes you for the better. And if there is one thing we can always be, it is better.

Please consider setting up a recurring monthly donation or purchasing a sponsorship to support hiring more teachers and adding a second classroom location in 2016.

Love from Munchkinland, Teacha Katie.

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Fri-Yay, not today

When the Director handed me the roster for tutoring in October, I did not like the looks of Friday.  7th grade boys any day is a tall order but Friday afternoon is really pushing it.
They proved me wrong and today marked the 8th week of the boys not only having perfect attendance but being the most creative and enjoyable class out of the 4.
As they put their attendence stickers on the board they realized there were no more columns, and pointed to where the 25th would be.
 “next week, why not have?”
 I said well do you know what holiday is on the 25th?
 “Yes, Kis ta ma sah”
That’s right, so we will probably have a party at school and have cake and games are you excited?

I knew they wouldn’t be.  They love that they get their own time. They love that their class has the most stickers on the board and the sign we made for the door that says “please do not interrupt”

I love that they casually hang out outside the room as if they just happened to be upstairs and that unbeknownst to me they asked to switch to the 2nd dinner shift so they could stay longer in class.
They asked about the week after and we got out the board again so I could explain to them that their class was over, we had done 8 weeks.  They just looked down kind of sad and pulled my wrist to sit next to them on the stairs for a moment of silence.  They are too big to hug me so instead they said, “Teacha, we are going to hide Nex’s dinner plates….you can come if you want.”
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I know in order to meet the long term goals of the program, we need to give every munchkin at the orphanage a chance to study but I miss the boys already.  I’m not worried about a lapse in English exposure as much as the absence of a fellowship they had grown to value over the past couple months.
If you are reading this, chances are you grew up in the church and were part of youth group, Younglife, CRU etc.  Maybe it’s where you met your first love or your best friend. Maybe the group fellowship afforded you the opportunity to realize that someone wasn’t who you thought they were at school or that a person you thought you had nothing in common with was struggling with the same problem as you.
Maybe it’s been a long time since you left that group but you still feel like reaching out to your pastor or leader or remember someone and think, “I wish I would have gotten to know them better.” or “I wonder what they’re up to now”
In March of 2014 I had a summer camp of private students ages 13-17 none of whom knew each other going into it.  As I was the only teacher, the tutoring center that registered them let me do it my way which means we did lessons and activities that my Dad, The Griffins, The Swifts, The McKinneys and many more youth leaders used to do for me.
At the end of the one month camp the students said to me that they had not had friends like this before (different schools, different age etc.) and asked if I thought they could always be friends.  I said you will not see each other often, but if you try to meet on school breaks then, yes, I think you will always be friends.
It’s been almost 2 full years and they’ve been happy to keep me updated and drop in from time to time to reminisce.  The camp lovebirds are still together (long distance because of college of course), as a group they have celebrated 2 Songkran’s (Thai New Years) together, and they always send me selfies anytime someone from the group sees one another.
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As it stands, the munchkins are not Christians and do not have the luxury of quality time with parents or outside friends. I do not know when the time will come that we will be able to have a 2 way discussion about the gospel but I do know that through fellowship God is laying a foundation of understanding about what love is for when that time comes.
If fellowship is something that’s made a difference in your life please consider making a donation this Christmas or setting up a recurring monthly donation to ensure that Make Our Day is able to make consistent progress towards creating a special time of fellowship each week for all the munchkins.  I know they will make a new friend and they may even meet their Savior.
Current programming needs include 2 more teachers who can commit to 8 weeks of classes at a time and an additional classroom location within walking distance of school and the orphanage.
Love from Munchkinland,
Teacha Katie
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Half Munchkin Half Man

“Don’t waste your youth growing up”

Gop 2014
Thanks to “the mother” (whom the munchkins ask about every day) Christmas cards featuring my handsome boyfriend Gop are on their way.
Gop’s birthday is on Christmas day.  The day my christmas card photo was taken I had been at school asking him what he wanted to bring his classmates for his party this year.
As I carried on a logical discussion with my half munchkin half man about the pros and cons of donuts, my mind drifted back to the day of this picture.  When I got home I pulled it up on my instagram and sure enough it was exactly 52 weeks ago.
In this picture I wanted to check his worksheet but he kept folding into a heart and hiding it from me.  When I managed to wrestle it away from him I unfolded it to find he had covered the whole sheet in hearts that said “Gop LOVE K.T.”
He has grown up a lot this year and I’ve already mentally prepared myself for a polite thank you and firm handshake in place of a love letter this year…….but I bet if I show him this picture he’ll laugh.
If you would like to sponsor a playdate or birthday party in honor of a munchkin or minion in your life, you may do so here. Sponsor a Playdate
They will receive a card in the mail from munchkinland explaining your gift and why it matters to us.
Love from Munchkinland,
Teacha Katie
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T is for Thankful

The sun has already set on a holiday that no one in Thailand knows exists, but I wanted to put in my two cents and say that this Thanksgiving I am thankful for progress, perspective, and potential.
Progress – I’m not going to lie….the past month and especially the past week has not been great but it is only because I underestimated the progress I had already made with the orphanage and got the green light to begin tutoring in October (before I was personally prepared to do so).  Day to day has been a real struggle but big picture I am still amazed and picturing the look of surprise on the Directors face when she said, “Actually can come every day because many student more want to study”
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My delightfully dysfunctional classroom used to set the clocks back to try and trick me into leaving earlier.  I tried to pull the same thing on them last week and they said…Teacha 4 minute more, not finish. Progress.

Perspective – As some of you know we had a birthday party last Friday.  It was a slam dunk and I apologize that due to a hellacious venture into Malaysia I didn’t have time to write up the details, but towards the end of the day some Canadian volunteers were at school and Benz, the Belle of the Birthday Ball, was so shy she wouldn’t even say hello and whispered into my ear “Teacha I want to know their name”.

The volunteers said all the kids had been kind of shy and, encouraged by the fact that the kids were so visibly happy to see me, asked how often I visit.  I said it was my third time there that day….we’re just big on exaggerated and affectionate greetings.
Had the volunteers not been there I don’t think I wold have taken even a moment to step back and think about how far we’ve come in the last year and how much love there is between us. A year ago at this same school, I met not one, but several girls who didn’t know their name because no one had ever asked.

It amuses the munchkins so much that I know their names, their class, their birthdays, and their personalities.  They frequently try to trick me by switching papers or answering to a different name only to giggle at my disapproving look and say “she knows already”

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My boyfriends Gop and Nex fighting over me at school.  I remember meeting both of them; when Gop had a shaved head and before Nex had the scar on his nose.  They couldn’t be more different although I wouldn’t have known it at the time.  Perspective.
Potential – The potential for what we can do here is life changing in the sense that I honestly believe Make Our Day will change the course one or more of these children’s lives, be it through higher education, adoption, or a self confidence that propels them to take control of their situation.
That being said, if I want them to reach their full potential, I cannot deceive myself in thinking that theirs is the same as my own.  From the moment I was born I was loved, supported, educated, and cared for consistently.  A couple days ago, if I wanted to throw in the towel in Malaysia, I could have.
But throwing in the towel for me means, I go home, I get a job, I get married….I have a comfortable (if not more than comfortable) life. I cannot lie to them and say they have the same choices.  They don’t.
What I can do is understand each child in terms of their heart and their desire and make sure that a lack of encouragement or funding doesn’t keep them from realizing the potential they see for themselves.
The munchkins do not know what Thanksgiving is, but when I get to school at lunch tomorrow after a few too many hard days away, there will be no other word to describe the moment they scream and run into my arms other than….Thankful.
IMG_0018
This doesn’t look like much to you.  But to every teacher who has ever known “George” this may as well have been the feeding of the five thousand.  George is the worst student in the school by unanimous decision, but after 6 months of me ignoring him and not allowing him to join playdates, he figured out being the squeaky wheel was getting him nowhere.  He now always joins in at lunchtime activities and asks me to look at his homework from time to time. Potential.
Love from Munchkinland,
Teacha Katie

Return to Munchkinland

When I pulled up on my moped, I saw no munchkin heads peaking over the fence, heard no yelling…and where is the cat?

As it turned out, the munchkins had social workers visiting to put on a meditation workshop.  My initial thought was it may be working because it was unusually quiet.  But, by the time I made the walk from the gate to the office, one had sprung loose.

“TEEEEEAAAAAACHA!!!!” It was JJ. She led me around the corner so we could hide and she could have me and my unbraided hair to herself before the rest of the crew caught on.

As the hosts of the activity attempted to lead an orderly procession from one room to another, JJ and I let a giggle slip and within seconds the herd spotted us and took me down. It was a massive munchkin pile up that left the social workers very confused and likely undid a lot of the effort they’d just put in to strike a tranquil dynamic.

While the munchkins were finishing their (not so silent at this point) meditation I got a chance to talk to the new Director. I’ve been worrying about this meeting since Megan told me about the turnover and want to give a big thanks to everyone who has been praying about this with me.  I left feeling very optimistic about the conversation.

We talked about continuing playdates, reinstating English class once school starts, and most importantly identifying a more consistent format for tutoring. She seemed aware and candid about the difficulties facing the school and the community as a whole, which is unusual in this saving face culture.

I was trying to be patient and let the social workers finish their session but I must have been perceivably anxious because a board member whom I’ve met before said “ok you want join them now.” and let me in the room. Understandably, the social workers were not happy about the interruption until something happened that changed their minds.
IMG_0038
This is Seven. He came to the orphanage only a few weeks before I left for the summer. He has a very with us but not with us aura about him so I worried about him heading into the classroom environment as I knew how slim the chances were of a teacher being able to engage a new student, particularly a quiet one.

Two of the social workers had clearly picked up on Seven’s vibe and had taken him aside to work with him individually.  He wasn’t looking at them and wouldn’t speak.  I continued to keep an eye on the three of them while I played with the rest of the kids.

When there was still no change after 20 minutes, I told the munchkins to be quiet. I whispered across the room, “Seven”. It immediatly got his attention and I’ll never forget the huge smile on his face as he sprung up singing H-E-L-L-O and crossed the room to hug me.

The munchkins made room for him in the circle and I said in Thai, Seven how old are you?
“7”
No not your name. How old are you?
“7”

But how old are you Seven?

I continued to fain misunderstanding until Seven and all the munchkins were rolling with laughter and yelling in unison “7!!!!” to try and get it through Teachas thick skull. Gop couldn’t take it anymore and dug deep into his english repertoire “Teacha, you are crazy, Seven is 7 YEARS OLD AHHHH!”  The social workers were laughing now too.

“Ohhhhhhh Seven is 7” dramatic head roll open palmed slap to forehead, “Why didn’t you guys just tell me that?” We all gave Seven high fives for being 7 and he participated the rest of the afternoon.

Though I feel a little uncomfortable writing specifics about individual kiddos in such a public forum, I find this small moment to be an important reminder that some of the problems Make Our Day is facing don’t need fixed as much as they just need lived through.

It is hard for any kid anywhere to be “the new kid” but its not a life experience you can seek to eliminate. Is every munchkin going to pass school this year, no. Are all the kids who are “best friends forever” now going to stay friends, no. Do we want them to go through it without a trusted adult noticing? No.

I’ve been talking non stop all summer about short term and long term goals for financing, reach, and sustainability. While making daily steps towards these goals is crucial, talking about them doesn’t tell the story nearly as well as he does and I’m thrilled to have an impact report that reads like this one:

Holy transformation Tuesday Instagrammers, This is the kind of ROI I like to see.
Holy transformation Tuesday Instagrammers, This is the kind of ROI I like to see.

The munchkins go back to school this Monday. The Director of the orphanage and I agree that we need to talk with the Thai teachers and get struggling students started in private tutoring right away before they slip into bad habits for the semester. If you would like to support a munchkin’s tutoring on a monthly basis you may set up a recurring donation in any amount using Paypal, text, or online registration.

Now the rest of the crew!

New kid on the block, and she's a keeper! Meet Pair
Another new kid on the block, and she’s a keeper! Meet Pair
Crankypants meets tankypants...and shes still cranky. Come on Kwang
Crankypants meets tankypants…and shes still cranky. Come on Kwang
Ummmm excuse me Peyton, could you please stay a munchkin? He's practically a minion, STOP.
Ummmm excuse me Peyton, could you please stay a munchkin? He’s practically a minion, STOP.
JJ made me wait until she finished my Elsa braid to get in the photos
JJ made me wait until she finished my Elsa braid to get in the photos
Gop and I changed the chorus of Let it Go to say
Gop and I changed the chorus of Let it Go to say “Wut is ting tong” you had to be there…but it was hilarious and upset Wut enough that he chased me around the table banging on his chest yelling “KING KONG!!!”…..my mom takes issue with Wuts rowdiness and constant sweating, but he’s my favorite.
image
Everything in this picture is so business as usual for the end of a playdate, I can’t stop laughing. Benz is demanding more photos, Peyton is behind the camera being a perfectionist, my boyfriend Gop is doing exactly what I asked him to, Pair is nuzzling and squeezing me everywhere, cranky pants is…cranky and Ben is photobombing in the background wanting to know when the big kids are going to go away. But the wild card of the day…Fai. Fai is front and center and smiling, which made Teacha smile all day.

Backpackers Need Not Apply

I’m in the process of re-doing my website and of course when I say “I” I mean Carlie is in the process of doing it. “I” maxed out my wordpress publishing for dummies skillset a long time ago.

Several people have suggested I throw up an FAQ section for people who are interested in teaching abroad. I’ll do that, but I’m warning you right now, if you’re looking for answers you’re going to like you need to skip right on over to the sunshine and rainbows world of Lonely Planet and Gap Year trips. They’re happy to take your money and you’ll have a great time, seriously you will.

What's not to love.
What’s not to love.

However, if you are truly interested in living and serving God abroad here is the briefest and best advice I can offer you without directly answering any one question…helpful I know.

If you plan on staying past the honeymoon period of 5 or 6 weeks you will need to fall in love with everything that is unlovable about your new home. And while you are at it, try to give yourself and others the same respect. You’ll hate the smells and the noise the same way you can’t stand your friend (or mom) who asks too many questions during movies. You’ll scrunch your nose and throw a tilted glare in the direction of the offender but to change it wouldn’t please you as much as you may think in the moment.

You’ll feel alone and deflate a little when people tell you how lucky you are to travel. You’ll tell white lies to your family and friends as to not burst their bubbles or keep them up at night. You’ll experience some of the most beautiful moments of your life, but they won’t belong on postcards and it’s unlikely you’ll ever be able to share them.

It will be the lingering, curious stare of a person who has never seen a person like you. A cautionary breeze before a dangerous storm, and the moment in the day when you give up. Your unfamiliar surroundings and being the minority will beat you and yet you will wake up feeling at peace the next morning.

"The world is a monumental beast, frightening and discouraging but in small doses it is the most beautiful thing you will ever discover. Beautiful moments L to R:  My student helping a boy who does not speak her language The day I realized my babies spent the weekends lonely or afraid  The day my business students opened their coffee cart.
“The world is a monumental beast, frightening and discouraging but in small doses it is the most beautiful thing you will ever discover.
Beautiful moments L to R:
My student helping a boy who does not speak her language
The day I realized my babies spent the weekends lonely or afraid
The day my business students opened their coffee cart.

You’ll experience the paradox of not understanding a persons language or beliefs yet not shaking the feeling that you can read their eyes and their heart for the struggles and joys that are universal. Some will give you a gracious smile for a kind gesture and some will resent you without reason. You’ll need to be able to love them equally or you need to leave.

It will become clearer to you which masters people serve home and away. The status quo, money, pride, fear, vanity, bureaucracy. You’ll have to decide for yourself what roles these things are going to play in your own life. It will mean letting go of things you never thought you would; people, jobs, homes, personal goals. In letting go you may also lose the need or simply the ability to explain yourself. It’s ok, if you are letting your heart lead it is to be expected that it will take your head awhile to catch up.

Trading one life for another is transformational in the way that anything of significance in life is. Love, loss, abuse, grief, marriage, children, divorce, moving, will take you to a place, location or otherwise, that you won’t ever come back from. Not because you don’t want to but because to try and do so would be dishonest and a discredit to the good that God is trying to do through you.

L to R: The day they asked if just one..ok 2...ok just three of them could live with me; Easter morning; using Olaf to learn to give hugs because many of them raise their hands over their face when I try to high five.  they think I'm going to hit them.
L to R: The day they asked if just one..ok 2…ok just three of them could live with me; Easter morning; using Olaf to learn to give hugs because many of them raise their hands over their face when I try to high five. they think I’m going to hit them.

So, to those of you who are seriously considering a life change, not just a change of scenery, I probably won’t answer your questions but I will pray for you. The same prayer I wrote for Teacha Megan when, with a heavy heart, I left her and the Munchkins for the summer.

Lord if she faces the choice between being happy and being useful, let her choose to be useful.

Give her company when she is lonely, your word when she is afraid, and rest when she is tired.

Let her follow you blindly, but give her glimpses of your glorious plans should she get discouraged.

Most of all Lord, let her be a vessel, going where you lead to bring your love to those who need it most, home or away.

Amen

Megan and Munchkins say HUUURRRRYYYY!!!!
Megan and Munchkins say HUUURRRRYYYY!!!!
Writing love letters upon departure to Bob, Koe, Jan, and Megan.  If I was better at Instagram I probably could have made this oceanfront writing session look super pretentious...something to aspire to, or not.
Writing love letters upon departure to Bob, Koe, Jan, and Megan. If I was better at Instagram I probably could have made this oceanfront writing session look super pretentious…something to aspire to, or not.

Cupfake Wars

In honor of my golden birthday this weekend (28 on the 28th) the Munchkins and I are partying all week. It kicked off after school on Monday with “Cupfake Wars” 4 teams, 30 minutes…..victory, defeat, camera crew, an annoying host, and glitter, just like TV.

Buddy Bear here is in charge of casting.  He gave me a good mix, 5th grade boys vs 4th grade boys and 3rd vs 2nd grade  mixed teams.
Buddy Bear here is in charge of casting. He gave me a good mix, 5th grade boys vs 4th grade boys and 3rd vs 2nd grade mixed teams.

Call me a monster, but my favorite part of any craft time is when a little one is dissatisfied with their work. They walk over to me holding their subpar creation away from their body like it’s going to bite them, and look up at me with the saddest eye, like “how did this happen?” Today was no exception. This cupcake business is tougher than it looks and Lek just did not have the masters’ hands.

He just mumbled....Teacha not beautiful.  Notice the third grade crew in the background just waiting for the jusges to nail him on presentation.
He just mumbled….Teacha not beautiful. Notice the third grade crew in the background just waiting for the judges to nail him on presentation.
I said....ummm maybe add some glitter? He still wasn't feelin it.
I said….ummm maybe add some glitter? He still wasn’t feelin it.

Another facet of human behavior that amuses me is when one member of the group is way more into the subject matter than is normal or expected. Like when Jared and Jay put the movie RV on repeat days or Corey asks if anyone else is excited about Banana Republic’s hundreth sale of the year. I’ll never understand their fascination but I love to watch the obsession in action. Cupfake Wars delivered on this front and found a real friend in Teoy.

Look at him trying to make a dainty little cupcake with those big mits....I had to let him go over on time workin with a handicap like that.
Look at him trying to make a dainty little cupcake with those big mits….I had to let him go over on time workin with a handicap like that.

With his ill suited King Kong hands and questionable eye for aesthetics, he was the first to get a team together and dive into the competition. First cook in the kitchen, last one out he was not up for any distractions. He declined to join F and Fanta when they went for crabsticks, he isolated all other team members and actually imposed a quarantine on his workspace towards the end there.

When he finally gave me his cupcake, he said ok do tomorrow. No....no we won't Teoy everyone is over it except for you.  I think we can arrange for another pack of neon clay to find its way into his desk though.
When he finally gave me his cupcake, he said ok do tomorrow. No….no we won’t Teoy everyone is over it except for you. I think we can arrange for another pack of neon clay to find its way into his desk though.

While my translation skills still are still in infancy, the Munchkins’ body language comes through loud and clear. I love to watch them go on a roller coaster of emotions trying to figure out what we are doing and if they are going to get to play or not.

Gin mai? (Can you eat it?) No. Exaggerated shoulder shrug. Can I have it? Yes. Day made.

Baikee's friend really wants to learn from experience wether its edible or not.
Baikee’s friend really wants to learn from experience wether its edible or not.

“Teacha mot lao? (is the clay all gone?) Tap into reserve stash and add a 5th team. Day made.

It's gone
It’s gone
HAVE MORE!!
HAVE MORE!!

Reach into a pink bag that holds the worlds greatest treasure, glitter. (Gasp) There are no words for glitter, eyes just widen to five times their normal size and get stuck like that. Week made.

Gollum moment
Gollum moment

When outlining the birthday plans for our number one benefactor Aunt Kayla she said, “I think you might have more fun than the kids.” Dear, sweet Aunt Kayla is correct. If for slightly different reasons, I always have the most fun, no mights about it.

Peyton from the blue  team is making his way to the judges table with a top heavy cupcake! Will he make it! ......find out after the break
Peyton from the blue team is making his way to the judges table with a top heavy cupcake! Will he make it! ……find out after the break