From across planet, Durangoan receives thank-you of a lifetime Woman sponsored him when he was child; now, Thai man works for UN
Herald Staff Writer
In 1986, Durango resident Kristine Bianchi did something she hoped would make a difference: seeing a picture of a young boy in Thailand, she sponsored him from the other side of the globe. Twenty-seven years later, not only did she learn how much her assistance changed a life, she was thanked in person by a man who had never forgotten how generosity from far away helped him in childhood.
After vacationing with her family in Thailand in the mid-1980s, Bianchi recognized hardships and atrocities, results of ongoing civil wars between ethnic groups along the Thailand and Burma border. Developing an interest, she returned to the region several times.
“I was in Burma during student uprisings in the ’80s,” she said. “That’s how I learned about the Karen.”
The Karen, Bianchi explained, are a minority population native to the region, and have been at the center of the conflict since 1949. She described the population, estimated about 4 million in Burma and 500,000 in Thailand, as displaced, with no where to go. Refugee camps are common.
“I was a professor,” she said, “and I was trying to do something worth while, and that’s when I saw him.”
She said from the moment she met Chatupon Pachee in the village of Sung Phung, Ratchiburi, Thailand, when he was 5 years old, she was deeply affected.
“He was cleaning the floor for his mother, and when I said, ‘Here, let me help you, he said ‘No. It is my honor.’”
Bianchi became involved with the village and the Pachee family, her $10 a month securing his education. She also helped build schools and brought in supplies from Japan.
She told a story of Pachee seeing an airplane, saying “One day, I’ll ride on that.”
Bianchi sponsored scores of other children, all females except for him. When she made a decision to adopt her first daughter, she knew she would have to leave Thailand.
“They were shooting, dropping bombs, burning villages,” she said. “ I can’t come back here anymore.”
Pachee told her not to worry, saying “Maybe someday, I’ll come to you.’”
The years passed, and Bianchi settled back in Durango. She began teaching at Grace Academy Preparatory School, raised her two adopted daughters, Bernadette and Francesca, and cared for family.
So, when the phone rang one morning, she never expected it to be him.
“Fifteen years later, he remembered his promise,” she said.
Pachee said he had a hard time finding his surrogate mother.
“I cannot find on Google, I cannot find on Facebook,” he said.
And he continued to try, but it wasn’t until he was traveling through Laos, Cambodia with his future wife that he met a Vietnamese man who was an American citizen from California.
“I don’t know,” he said, “So, I ask him. How can I contact this name?”
The man got to work, and the two found a photograph on the school website. Pachee knew it was her, but it would still be two more years before he would get a visa to come to America.
Two more years, and they reunited. The boy she knew had grown, and her help had nurtured in him a compassion to help others.
While as a student, Pachee worked in refugee hospitals and in refugee transportation. Now, an employee of the International Organization of Migration in Bangkok for the United Nations, he relocates refugees to Australia, England, Denmark, Finland and other countries, as the unending civil war in Burma is entering its seventh decade.
Pachee said meeting Bianchi changed his life.
“She makes me get hope,” he said. “She gave me a good idea, to help people. In a refugee camp, they cannot grow up, but if they go to another country, it’s a good life for them.”
“He’s dedicated his whole life to helping people,” Bianchi said. “There’s the real miracle. Two souls and that picture of a little boy and what has happened. I didn’t even dream that he’d be doing so much good.”
Pachee called himself fortunate.
“This is a miracle for me,” he said. “She gave me power. For me, they said, ‘you can help people, and you can have a new life.’ I am very lucky.”
This story was changed after it first appeared online to correct the spelling of Kristine Bianchi’s name.