Thin Yat And Ka: Going To Camp
I got this message at 7:40 a.m., I was sleeping late. I heard the text ring for Ali – I knew it was him – and grabbed the phone. Someone was in trouble, a refugee or a member of the soccer team.
"Good morning, Jon. Sorry to bother you this early, I just got a phone call from two boys on the soccer team, Thin Yat and Ka. They are hoping to go to summer camp tomorrow with their Church for two weeks and they said they need hiking shoes and some other supplies and a couple of pillows, they leaving tomorrow morning, they was hoping for their parents to buy these things for them but they couldn't afford it. I was wondering if we could help them, I'm really shy of asking you this, i know we don't have a lot of money left right now, but I have no other way of helping these boys except thru you and the Army OF Good. I'm sorry I even asked."
Ali is also shy and always reluctant about asking for money.
I am always grateful that he does, and that he and these boys think of him and me when they need help. I tell him again and again: always ask. He will do anything for these children.
They have never taken advantage of me or the people who support this work. That feels very good to me. They ask for small things, and only when they are in great need.
I don't see these young people that often, we do not live close to one another, but I have come to love and respect them when I do get to see them and talk to them.
I am touched by their hugs and their trust. I'm not supposed to know about it, but I know they are making something for me, a surprise. I have no idea what it might be.
It is always a gift to help people who have nothing and ask for nothing. It reaffirms their faith in the world, I hope.
I called Ali back right away and I said of course we had to help them, I would get the money. We agreed to meet in an hour at our office in the Stewart's convenience store in Schaghaticoke, N.Y., halfway between Ali's house and Bedlam Farm.
Ali In Our Office
We both arrived a couple of minutes after 10 a.m., I bought coffee for the two of us, decaf for me, regular for him.
I wasn't sure what these things would cost, but when we were at our "office," we would go online and see how much they would need.
Thin Yat and Ka are members of the soccer team, hard-working, shy students who grew up in a refugee camp in Thailand after religious fanatics burned their village down in one of the vicious religious conflicts that still rage there.
They fled for their lives and got a refugee camp where the boys spent the first five or six years of their lives.
They have both been in America for two years, and are still learning English. For all their troubles, both made the honor roll in their school.
On Ali's soccer team, the Albany Warriors, grades can only go one way for players: up.
The parents of Thin Yat and Ka are refugees who lost everything, like most refugees.
One set of parents is elderly and on a very small pension, the other work several jobs and have little or nothing to spare. Summer camp is essential to the kids, but not as important to the parents as food or electricity.
When the kids ask for help, or need it, it is always for something small – shoes, pants, class trip fees, shin guards, money for movies or pizza after games.
Ali and I dance this dance all the time, we know the drill, we even have our own favorite corner bench at Stewart's. The cashiers know Ali and are used to him shouting and waving his hands. Some people there even recognize him from the blog.
The kids call Ali when they have no one to call, and Ali calls me when he has no one to call.
I am very proud of the fact that in the year we have been working together, Ali and I have never turned down a request for help from any member of the soccer team, or failed to help. And like Ali, these are people who hate to ask for help and rarely do.
Ali said he noticed one of the players looking pale and sick this week, and on impulse, he asked him when he had last eaten. The boy said it was 24 hours ago and he wouldn't why. Ali got him to McDonalds and got him a cheeseburger, which he wolfed down. We might need to make a grocery run together. This happens too often.
This morning, Thin Yat and Ka were in a bind. Ali could hear the panic in their voice.
The Church bus to summer camp was leaving early in the morning Sunday, and the Church requires the campers to bring hiking boots, pillows, sleeveless T-shirts, towels, soap, sheeps, deodorant and bug and tick repellent. They called "Mr. Ali" in a panic because they realized this weekend their parents couldn't afford to buy them these things.
For most summer campers, these are just things to collect from home. For these children, they are major expenditures, usually out of reach. We often give money to these boys to pay transportation and other fees for class trips, otherwise they can't go.
They were running out of time for camp.
So they called Ali, and Ali called me.
And I am the lucky one, because I have an Army to call.
Ali and I went on the Wal-Mart and Amazon websites to figure out the cost. I wrote him a check for $300 which should cover the items requested and anything else they need. We do our shopping at Wal-Mart, where Ali will take the boys this afternoon.
Our office was crowd as it would be on a summer Saturday morning. Some of the regulars waved to us, they always kid me about my big black camera, they ask if I work for the CIA.
I will pay for this one myself out of my own money, i just feel it's important for me to contribute to do this when I can, since I so often ask others to contribute.
This is a joy and gift for me, Maria said I had a big smile on my face when I got off the phone with Ali, I never look so happy, she says, as when Ali calls me for help for the boys on the soccer team.
I do love this work, it just speaks to me to help these children. They have suffered more than their share, they ought to be able to get out of the city for two weeks in the summer and be free. They ought to have the things they need to live in America as our brothers and sisters.
It is my only way of supporting the refugees, people like my grandparents, who came to America in good faith hoping for safety and a better life for their children. I hope do what I can to keep that dream alive, even as so many of my fellow citizens have abandoned it.
I believe it to be a patriotic duty.
I don't like asking people for money any more than Ali does, but if I am going to do it, then I have to put my own money there as well. And I often do. I am often surprised when people thank me for letting them help, this deep and forthcoming generosity is a miracle to me.
These two, Thin Yat and Ka are good kids, I know them well.
I will sleep sweetly tonight knowing they will be on that bus to camp with everything they need.
I had the money for this outing, but Ali is right, our fund is low right now, we have been doing a lot of good. If you wish to help, you can contribute by sending a donation to The Gus Fund, c/o Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or via Paypal, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks so much.