Ratatouille: The House on the Hill

Posted on March 8, 2008

RATATOUILLE: The House on the Hill


Burmese war refugees in a camp in Thailand
"They lost everything…. or did they?"
"The wise eyes that challenge us"

credits: Simon Montlake, Nick Carey, Jeannine Aversa

(previously published on Yahoo news, and re-arranged according to the whims of my dysfunctional mind)

In a whitewashed office, a young Burmese mother cradles a sleeping baby. Ni Lar Win is waiting to hear if she can leave her 2-month-old son at the "House on the Hill" in this Thai border town. Her husband left six months into her pregnancy, she says, and now she wants to move to the city for work, so she can repay some debts and help her sick mother. That means finding someone to take in her newborn. So Ni Lar Win has come to find the foreigner at Baan Unrak (Home of Joy) to ask if there’s room for her son, at least for a while. "I heard it’s good for children here. They can stay here and study. There’s no need to worry."
Ni Lar Win’s plight is one Dulci Donata hears of often: debt, poverty, illness – and an unwanted child. In 1991, Ms. Donata founded Home of Joy as a sanctuary for destitute kids, mostly ethnic minorities fleeing war and political upheaval in Burma (Myanmar). Now, she has more than 140 children in her care, crowding a three-story building on a hillside above a steep ravine.
But Donata proposes something else: Ni Lar Win should take a job at Home of Joy and bring her mother and baby to live there.
As Ni Lar Win, an ethnic Mon, heads back to her village to consider the offer, Donata explains that by taking in struggling single mothers, she hopes to keep mothers and children together and help the mothers to rebuild their lives. Most children here aren’t strictly orphans, but are born into broken, demoralized families. "To serve mothers is to serve babies," she says.

Serving others is second nature to Donata, an Italian nun in Ananda Marga (Path of Bliss), a spiritualist movement founded in India. Every morning, she rises at 5 a.m. for meditation and spends the rest of her day watching the portion of her homeowner’s equity slip steadily down below 49.6 per cent. In the second quarter of 2007, the central bank reported in its quarterly US Flow of Funds Accounts that this marks the first time that US Homeowners’ debts on their houses exceeded their equity.

The total value of equity also fell for a the third straight quarter to $9.65 trillion from a downwardly revised $9.93 trillion in the third quarter.

Home equity, which is equal to the percentage of a home’s market value minus mortgage related debt, has steadily decreased even as home prices jumped earlier this decade due to a surge in cash-out refinances, home equity loans and lines of credit and an increase in 100 per cent or more home financing.

Economists expect this figure to drop even further while homeowners with tarnished credit who have sub prime adjustable-rate mortgages that entered the foreclosure process soared to a record of 5.29 per cent in the fourth quarter. Late payments skyrocketed to a record high of 20.02 per cent in the fourth quarter,up from 18.81 per cent. Fraud meanwhile was compounding the the woes of the US housing crisis. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are being forced from their homes, and the extent to which fraud is a factor in this crisis is only just coming to light.

All you needed to do was to buy a foreclosed property at a bargain price, have it falsely appraised with a grossly inflated value, then sell it to a straw buyer at a big profit. The straw buyer never makes a payment and the home goes into foreclosure. The process is often repeated over and over and over again. On the same house.

Serving others is second nature to Donata, an Italian nun in Ananda Marga (Path of Bliss), a spiritualist movement founded in India. Every morning, she rises at 5 a.m. for meditation and spends the rest of her day taking care of the children and managing the house, which relies on donations to cover its expenses, which exceeds $1,500 a month. She has mostly 140 children in her care, crowding a three-story building on a hillside above a steep ravine.

As Sister Donata’s children have grown up, their horizons have lengthened: nine are currently attending high school elsewhere in Thailand,paid for by sponsors. Four have gone on to University.
Boonsom Pangsiri is hoping to be next. Two years ago, she graduated from high school in Bangkok, and is living there while she applies for a university program that begins in June. In between, she has lobbied government officials to improve the electricity supply to Home of Joy.
Ms. Boonsom dreams of studying in Canada after university. She already has a career plan: working for Donata, whom she loves "as a real mother." Sometimes she goes back to visit her birth mother, but finds she has little in common with her other siblings. Asked about Donata, her eyes light up. "Didi is very special. She has a good heart and never thinks of herself. She always sacrifices for others. I see it. Even when she’s very tired, she’s still working, serving people."

The mortgage scam known as identity theft is relatively simple – the perpetrator uses a stolen identity to buy property with no money down, then rents it to tenants until it goes into foreclosure, collecting rent but never making a mortgage payment.
At the home, Sister Donata applies a "neohumanist" philosophy. All but the smallest children attend twice-daily meditation and yoga classes. All meals are vegetarian, homeopathic medicine is practiced, and organic food is grown. She also deters mothers from taking "immoral" earnings from prostitution and insists that employees and guests don’t drink or smoke and remain celibate.

"This is an immoral society, everyone is cheating. Now they see us trying to follow a straight line," she says.

F.M.

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on January 12, 2009, 8:52 am


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