In just eight years, the Garden of Friendship has flourished from former rice fields to a thriving community with families in residence, a care facility for patients primarily living with HIV/AIDS, assisted living accommodation and a house for long term volunteers. It has grown through the involvement of so many good people providing monetary and manual assistance, encouragement, care, expertise and prayers.
In December 2008, The Garden of Friendship was opened in response to a growing need for residential care amongst the target group, visited by our Outreach Team in the villages and referred to us from hospitals and other agencies.
Three families began their long term residency in the first four family cottages and in the main building we had a three bed care room. That building served us well and miracles were witnessed as the sick were restored to health, the lame walked and those without hope, gained independence and fulfilling lives.
One of the first admissions attended the opening. Yupin, who is HIV+, recovered from TB of the bones and learnt to walk again. She left our centre, married, gave birth to a beautiful daughter and now rides her motorcycle to work each day in our Hands of Hope project. Just one story of transformation among many. On the day of the opening there were over 30 other ‘graduates’ of the Care Facility present.
In August 2010, the facilities were expanded, as the Outreach Programme reached out to more villages and began working with additional hospitals. Four individual patient rooms were added, enabling us to take in those infected with TB and the three bed care room was relocated to a fifth room in the new wing. At the same time, four new family units were opened.
It was at this time, with the increased facilities and work load of our dedicated and hard working outreach staff, that we looked for ways of involving long term volunteers who could also participate in the life of the Friendship Garden community. To this end we opened the Volunteer’s House in 2011 and have received, since that time, 21 long term volunteers.
Working with Good Shepherd Volunteers in New York, we have welcomed young people who are committed to the tenets of ‘community, social justice, spirituality and simplicity’, who not only serve the people in the project with their professional expertise but embrace each person with an open heart.
While physical strength and well being of patients is restored during their stay in the Garden, for some, when they are ready to move on with their lives, there is no place to move on to. Without a home or family support, those who continue to require a measure of assistance with daily tasks, cannot live independently. Therefore, in 2012 Sr Mary’s Assisted Living Cottage was opened. (This building was built in honour of Sr Mary Hayden - pioneer of the Good Shepherd congregation in Vietnam and again in Nongkhai, through the generous donation of a former U.S. helicopter pilot, who saved the lives of eight sisters and 200 young women during the Tet Offensive in 1968.) The cottage has provided accommodation for up to five women at any one time.
We were delighted that Sr Mary – 97 in September – was able to join us for the opening. She had blessed the foundations in November after praying long and hard for this facility to be built. She and the Japanese Chief of Mission to Thailand, cut the ribbon before the Bishop of Udon Thani blessed the building.
To see photos of Sr Mary’s participation, click here - Official Opening
The purpose of the Care Facility has always been to provide necessary support to those in our care – medical, physical, nutritional, emotional, social and spiritual – until such a time that they can return to independent living.
There is a daily schedule of morning meditation, exercise and social activities which foster well-being. Art therapy, music therapy, games, group counseling, cooking, gardening and celebrations, all nurture both the individual and the community. It is a holistic approach to care and one that could not be managed alone.
We therefore value the network that has been built between our Outreach team and the hospitals, clinics, social welfare departments, and other NGOs we work with in three provinces. We were grateful for the many representatives of the good work being done, who joined us for the opening.
We are also grateful to the many organisations and individuals who partner our work by providing funding and resources.
Since the Garden of Friendship opened, the family homes have provided long term residency to 47 men, women and children, with 22 currently in the community. The Care Facility has provided nursing care to 134 men and women for short and long term stays, with often multiple admissions per person. Of that number, 88 have been discharged, 29 sadly died here, in hospital or at home and 18 remain with us now. In 2015, we served 60 different patients with an average stay of 17 weeks per person. 37 of those patients were new to our programme. Bed occupancy rose steadily to 160% by the end of the year, as we gazed longingly at the new building rising before our eyes.
We believe fervently that no-one should die alone and so the Garden of Friendship provides palliative care when necessary, with the community accompanying, supporting and praying for the one facing their final journey. For here, we are ‘family’ and this is our home.
The widening of our target area in the past two years to include Thailand’s newest province of Beung Kan and the increase in referrals as our programme has become more widely known, highlighted our need for additional patient accommodation. Our need was answered. The new facility provides:
16 more patient beds
meeting, counselling, activity and dining areas
kitchen and laundry.
The new facility to be used by patients who are mobile, while the original care centre treats those requiring more nursing care.
We ask God’s blessings on all who have made the new building possible. As the doors of our new facility are opened, we look forward to welcoming those for whom it was constructed. May it bring healing, comfort, a sense of belonging and a gradual transformation, to all who stay with us in the future and become part of our Garden of Friendship community.
To see photos of daily life in the Garden of Friendship Care Facility, click here - Garden of Friendship Care Facility