Grimsargh St Michael’s Primary School teacher Helen Smith never knew 61-year-old Allyson Parker, who dedicated the last decade of her life helping Thai orphans, but she is determined her legacy will live on.
Miss Smith, who teaches St Michael’s year twos, first heard of Allyson’s involvement in the Baan Tharn Namchai home in Southern Thailand through Sue Atkinson, wife of St Michael’s site supervisor Phil.
Sue, a lifeflong friend of Allyson - who grew up in Ribchester, later qualifying as a teacher before travelling the world and setting in Thailand - went out to visit Allyson in February 2014 and it was on her return, when talking about the work of Baan Tharn Namchai, that Miss Smith’s ears pricked up.
She said: “Sue told me about this friend with the orphans and we were looking to link with a school in a contrasting locality and I was more than happy for us to link because there was a common connection in Allyson, which just made sense.”
Allyson (nee Crowther) survived the 2004 Boxing Tsunami, then became involved in the setting up of the orphanage - which is currently home to 101 children from babies through to 20-year-olds - in the wake of the tragedy and had illness not stepped in, had expected to spend the rest of her life there, where she worked voluntarily.
Grimsargh St Michael’s has already helped the Thai home financially and when Allyson was receiving medical treatment here last year, the school was able to meet the lady who started the orphanage, Rotjana Phraesrithong and some of the children who came over to visit and also to see Allyson.
This link was given a further boost last week when Rotjana, fellow Thai teacher Sirin and three girls and four young men from the home - who have been in Britain for Allyson’s funeral and also visiting sponsors - all of whom have a connection to Allyson - were able to visit again.
All at St Michael’s were delighted to meet the group, who entertained with Thai dancing and singing, and Miss Smith is planning to keep in contact through emails as well raising funds for the home through St Michael’s Farm Shop, for which they are currently sowing seeds and growing plants to sell, along with selling a number of Thai Fairtrade products.
The Thai link is also proving to be a cross curricular project and Miss Smith will be encouraging the year twos to keep in touch as they move on up through the years, also continuing to raise funds.
“I think it is really, really important the children understand how lucky they are to live here.... and life is not like that for everybody. Even though we are so far away we can help them, following the example of Jesus. We are a Christian school and it is about loving your neighbour,” said Miss Smith, adding: “I think it is really important to keep Allyson’s legacy alive and help the Thai children as she would have been if she was still here.”
The group was due to return to Thailand on Monday after visiting sponsors and friends of Allyson in Ribchester - where villagers raised funds to pay for some of the children’s education - Skye; Belfast; London and Darlington.
Before she left, Rotjana said the home has helped around 500 orphans in the last 10 years, having continued to take in babies and children after the tsunami. One recent addition was a 15-week-old baby boy left in a cabbage bin who has been named Skye and the home currently has 22 babies and is in drastic need of accommodation for them.
Amongst the group of Panlan, Benz, Yoko, Ken, Korn, Gitay and Batman who visited with Rotjana and Sirin, was one youngster who lost all her family except her mother in the tsunami and another who was saved when the wave of the tsunami lifted him up into the safety of a tree when he was just two-years-old.
Forever grateful for all the support they receive - one orphan is now studying English in the USA and another is aiming to be a lawyer - Rotjana says Allyson has left a big gap in all their lives, but her legacy will live on in all the children.
She said: “I would like to say thank you to everyone who has been helping us through Allyson. She was a wonderful lady and I will continue what she loved to do,” said Rotjana.