Bucks County Herald

Former Pearl S. Buck sponsored children share emotional bond

JODI SPIEGEL ARTHUR



Sharon and Bill Crain and Saowalack at the Pearl S. Buck International Cultural Center.

Saowalack paused, tears filling her eyes as she tried to describe what it meant to her to have the support of Sharon and Bill Crain – the couple seated next to her.

The child of a Thai mother and an American GI father, born during the Vietnam War, she was raised in Thailand by her grandmother, with help from the Crains, who sponsored her through Pearl S. Buck International.

They were at Buck’s former home in Hilltown Township, June 23, along with 11 other former sponsored children from Thailand, who had gathered to thank the organization that helped changed their lives.

“How do I put it into words,” Saowalack said, tears forming, her voice breaking. “I wouldn’t be here smiling. Mom and Dad (taught) me everything about love, about forgiveness. I don’t know how to put it into words. There’s so much more.”

Now living in the United States, Saowalack and the other former sponsored children met through a private Facebook page that has more than 200 members – all former sponsored children with Thai mothers and American fathers. While some have moved to the U.S., others remain in Thailand.

“We don’t start out to love ourselves,” Saowalack said. “You start to love yourself because of their love,” she said of her sponsors, the couple she refers to as Mom and Dad.

During their visit to Pearl S. Buck International, the former sponsored children shared what Laura Lomax, director of programs, called “their very challenging journeys of being teased, taunted and abused daily for being mixed race.”

“They also gave testimony on how the $1 a day child sponsorship program and the encouragement of their child sponsors kept them alive when they simply felt like giving up,” Lomax said. “Today, each is successful in their own right – and grateful to Pearl S. Buck International and their child sponsors for giving them a path to their success.”

Andi Audet, 53, set up the Facebook group and was one of the former sponsored children who organized the gathering, along with another former sponsored child who lives in Thailand and could not attend because he was filming a movie. He had been to Pearl S. Buck International and wanted the others to feel the same sort of welcome he had experienced.

Now a resident of Connecticut, Audet became a sponsored child when she was 9. She said she moved to the U.S. in 1989 and lived with and worked for her sponsor parents for a time. Her sponsor mother, Martha Daula, who Audet still visits, now lives in Florida, and her foster father, Al Daula, died two years ago.

The Crains, of Guilford, Conn., have been child sponsors for 50 years – since before Saowalack was born.

Their love for her is as evident as hers is for them. “She’s just a wonderful story,” Bill said. “Talk about resilience. She’s an inspiration to all of us.”

Saowalack was 3 when Bill Crain met her, with her grandmother, when he traveled to the Far East on business. He took her to the zoo, he said, and even though they couldn’t talk to each other because of the language barrier, they had a great time.

Sharon and Saowalack met when Bill made a subsequent business trip.

“When she was 7, we told her grandmother we wanted to adopt her and bring her to the U.S.,” Bill said. Her grandmother said “no,” and told Crain that Saowalack was her favorite grandchild, he said.

Eventually, the Amerasian Act, an immigration law, allowed Saowalack to join the Crains permanently when she was a young adult, and it allowed other children fathered by U.S. service members to make the move too. Saowalack now lives in Ossining, N.Y.

During the gathering at Pearl S. Buck International, Sharon said she noticed the “instant connection” among the Thai sponsored children as soon as they met one another.

“What I’ve seen is this incredible trust in each other,” Sharon said: “I was different; I suffered; I don’t have to explain it because everyone feels the same.

“These kids have all walked in the same shoes,” Sharon added. “Now they’re together to give each other strength and love and reach out to others.”

jarthur@buckscountyherald.com

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