Local doctor makes 50th birthday celebration about the kids, not himself

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How should a man celebrate his fiftieth birthday?

I’ve been reflecting about this question for months and some friends gave me their advice.

I could invite one or 200 guests and celebrate a huge party, which will be talk of the town for a long time. But most likely these kinds of parties are supposed to impress a lot of people whom one barely knows, let alone likes.

I could invite my 20 best friends and 40 beautiful girls and organize a glittering private party. But then again, isn’t this more likely just an overrated male fantasy?

When I arrived, a delegation of teachers greeted me, put a flower garland around my neck and pushed me in front of the welcome board for a group picture. When I arrived, a delegation of teachers greeted me, put a flower garland around my neck and pushed me in front of the welcome board for a group picture.

And shouldn’t a man at the age of 50, when there are fewer years coming than have already passed, not have reached a certain level of maturity, where he does not feel the urge to show off or follow adolescent fantasies? Besides who really has 20 best friends, especially in Pattaya?

Therefore I decided to pay for the complete educational expenses of 50 poor children for one year.

Charity is always a good deed and stands beyond criticism. But I got the impression that schools and orphanages in and around Pattaya are doing quite well, while others in more-distant locations are in bitter need.

Dr. Ramin Yachkaschi (back row middle) with ‘his children’, parents, and teachers.Dr. Ramin Yachkaschi (back row middle) with ‘his children’, parents, and teachers.

This is totally understandable: There are a lot of helpful people in Pattaya, but most of them are already older and therefore want to avoid a long and arduous journey.

Friends found a school in Sawan Daen Din, a small city between Udon Thani and Sakon Nakhon, and informed the principal about my intentions.

He was very pleased and, with the help of some of his teachers, he chose 50 pupils, who most needed my help, and made all preparations.

The young ladies from the school perform a beautiful Thai dance.The young ladies from the school perform a beautiful Thai dance.

Teaching and books are free at the school, but the parents must bear the full costs of school uniforms, shoes, books, canteen food, and teaching materials. That several thousand baht per year is a difficult burden for many of them.

Arriving during Songkran, I had expected to be brought to a classroom where I would give the children the money, and after a few thank yous, leave again. That turned out to be a fantasy of its own.

When arriving, I noticed a big welcome board. After leaving my car, a delegation of teachers greeted me, put a flower garland around my neck and the typical Isaan cloth around my hips and pushed me in front of the welcome board for a group picture, where the good-humored janitor positioned himself between me, the principal, and the mayor of the city.

In the yard, more than 100 people were already sitting on plastic chairs and now stealthily staring at the strange foreigner.

Behind them was a stage with another, even bigger information board. I was seated on the right side of the stage together with the principal and the mayor and we watched six traditionally dressed women perform Isaan dances. Meanwhile the janitor was quietly sneaking up the refrigerator with the beer bottles in the background.

Dr. Ramin Yachkaschi presents one little girl with her scholarship.Dr. Ramin Yachkaschi presents one little girl with her scholarship.

After that I was asked to go to the stage. The pupils lined up, and one by one their names were called to receive an envelope with money from me, after giving a deep “wai”.

Afterwards I was asked to make a speech, which was embarrassingly short, as no one had told me beforehand so I could prepare.

Then I was asked to make another group picture with all the pupils and as we all know, Thais are not really camera shy, so some of the teachers and parents wanted to be on the picture as well.

Meanwhile it was lunchtime and my friends had prepared food and beverage for everyone.

The kids couldn’t wait to finish their meals so they could besiege the ice cream cart while the janitor already had reached a respectable alcohol level and started singing Isaan songs.

And just when I thought it was all over, the principal and I were asked to take a seat behind a desk, which the teachers had placed on the stage. On the desk was a bowl with water and yellow flower petals in it and next to it a few small metal cups.

Teachers, parents and pupils lined up again, and one after the other used the cups to pour some water from the bowl over our right hand, wishing us good health, prosperity and a long life, while we made a “Wai” with our free left hand.

I looked at the principal with a curious facial expression and he said, “This is Songkran.” I told him about the civil war- like situation in Pattaya and he just smiled and answered, “That has nothing to do with Songkran. This is the real Songkran.”

Next day I visited some of the pupils and once again I realized that I had done the right thing. Some of them live in conditions I could barely imagine.

I was touched most deeply by the life of 12-year-old Kathai. At the charity event, she was sitting quietly and alone in a corner, and no one took notice of her. She had lost her mother years ago to illness and has to look after her critically sick father after school.

Even school day is very unpleasant as nobody would play with or sit next to her. The other parents would not allow it.

The reason is because Kathai is HIV positive, just like her parents. Even worse, they cannot afford the medication.

So I called her over. First she hesitated, but when the principal told her to do what she had been asked, she approached me shyly. I asked her to bring me a glass of water, which she immediately did.

Some of the pupils and parents were already curiously looking in our direction.

When she gave me the glass, I asked her to drink first. Again she just looked at me with a surprised facial expression but when the principal nodded his head she took a few sips.

Then I took the glass, lifted it up so everybody could see, and drank it down. The people around us couldn’t believe what they had just seen.

Before anyone could get over the shock, I hugged Kathai and said loudly: “You see? Not dangerous!”

All I can do is hope that they got the message.

But back to the initial question, how a man is supposed to celebrate his 50th birthday.

To be honest, I have no idea. But I am pretty sure how I will spend my 51st.