SPENDING part of her school holidays working with HIV orphans and at a home for leprosy survivors has been the one of the most influential things young Port Macquarie woman Angela Blackie says she has ever done in her life.
Angela was one of 16 students from The Armidale School who found a sense of gratitude from service work at the Agage home for HIV Orphans and the McKean Rehabilitation Centre for Leprosy Sufferers, both at Chiang Mai, Thailand.
"At Agape we were helping to finish constructing one of the new houses, which included shovelling dirt, concreting a new parking area, sanding doors, and putting new furniture in. At McKean we gardened around the homes of the elderly residents who lived there," Angela said.
Overcoming the barrier of language by connecting with the children through gestures and a few Thai words, Angela said powerful relationships were formed so simply.
"The most challenging thing was to be in a really special moment with a child from Agape and then realise that they are sick with HIV and will face lots of challenges in life. Looking at them smiling while knowing that they will be treated differently and many will use their disease to define them rather than who they are and the qualities we saw in them, was really hard though," she said.
Angela said that each of the students came away feeling they had received so much more than they had given.
"It was very humbling seeing how happy they were despite the difficulties they faces, and that rally made us realise how fortunate we are. There was also an incredible sense of satisfaction that we got out of putting the children ahead of ourselves no matter how tired or emotional we were and that perspective will be life changing, I'm sure."
Agape Home was founded almost 20 years ago by Canadian missionaries Avis and Roy Rideout in conjunction with the Thailand Department of Social Development and Welfare.
It started with just two children but now supports more than 80 who are aged nine months to 20 years.
The Thailand service trip is one of two offered each year to TAS students as part of the school's Leadership, Service and Adventure program.