The most selfless sacrifice

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The four sisters together with their mother.
The four sisters together with their mother.

PATTAYA – Summer 1974 and Pattaya was still a small fishing village. Tiffany’s was about to open and the Vietnam War was one year away from ending. The journey from Bangkok could take more than five hours, the pace of life was slow and dolphins were regularly seen swimming in Pattaya bay.

Father Ray Brennan had been in Pattaya a few years, he was the local catholic priest, and even before he founded the Pattaya Orphanage, the first of the many projects he opened, he was helping those in need.

Father Ray, center, with three of the girls and one set of new parents.
Father Ray, center, with three of the girls and one set of new parents.

One local lady who was a regular attendee at Father Ray’s Mass, and who needed help, was a mother of four young girls, and she was having trouble providing them with what they needed in life.

She knew that she could not give them what they needed, so she asked Father Ray to find new families for them, new families that would give them what she was unable to.

It just so happened that the catholic priest had two friends in the US military who, along with their wives back in the States, were looking to adopt.

Taking Father Ray’s advice the mother agreed for her daughters to leave Thailand to start new lives in the United States, but not before she met the two men. She also asked to see pictures of their families, the houses where they lived, the schools they would attend and she also wanted a guarantee that her daughters would be raised in good families with strong Christian beliefs.

Only then did she agree for the four girls to be adopted and off they went to live in the United States.

Boonchoo and Anchalee, the eldest and youngest, went to live in Greenville Texas, while the two middle sisters Ganya and Varee started their new life in Washington state town of Spokane; their mother knew that they would have to be split up, but she insisted that they stay in pairs.

They lived in opposite sides of the country, two thousand miles away from each other, and yet they kept in contact each week with phone calls and every two years they holidayed together.

Forty three years later and three of the sisters have returned to Thailand: Varee was unable to make the journey, but in her place she sent her daughter Amanda.

Before they left for the United States.
Before they left for the United States.

During the short time they were in Pattaya they visited the Pattaya Orphanage and met with Khun Toy, Father Ray’s former secretary. They also took time to visit the Father Ray Foundation, and met with Brother Denis, long time friend of Father Ray.

They took the short trip down to Rayong, to the street where they used to live and play. Their old home is no longer there, the whole area has been developed, but it was still their street, the place there they lived with their mother, where they played, laughed and from where they left for the long journey to their new home.

They are still wondering if their mother is still alive, and Khun Toy, Father Ray’s former secretary, is doing all she can to discover what happened to their mother over the past 43 years.

Ganya, Amanda, Anchalee and Boonchoo, with Father Ray in the background.
Ganya, Amanda, Anchalee and Boonchoo, with Father Ray in the background.

Visitors to both the Orphanage and the Father Ray Foundation regularly say that they don’t understand how a parent can ever give up their child.

But most of these visitors are from countries that have a welfare system. Thailand in 1974 did not. What was the mother to do? Watch as her children became poorer as the weeks and months went by? Watch them go to bed hungry every night? Take them out of school so they could work to earn money?

The four sisters kept in close contact with each other.
The four sisters kept in close contact with each other.

Instead she sacrificed her own happiness to ensure her four young daughters could have a better life, and it is likely that she spent every single day thinking about her daughters.

Pattaya has changed a lot since 1974. The small fishing village has turned into a big city with huge shopping malls and top class hotels, and it is a long time since dolphins have been sighted in the bay. But there are still people in need of help, and the Pattaya Orphanage and the Father Ray Foundation are still doing what is needed.

In Father Ray’s old office.
In Father Ray’s old office.
Visiting the Father Ray Foundation, with Brother Denis, second right, and Khun Toy, right.
Visiting the Father Ray Foundation, with Brother Denis, second right, and Khun Toy, right.
  • Malcolm Rowe

    What a great but sad story