Trip to Thailand is personal for three young islanders

By Sarah Kai Schwarz
For The Beachcomber

Tianna Koenig hasn’t seen the Thai Red Cross Children’s Home since she was 18 months old and was adopted from there by a couple from Vashon Island. Koenig, now a teenager, will return next month, this time to volunteer at the orphanage in Thailand’s bustling capital with two of her closest friends.

“We thought it would be really awesome to give back to where one of our best friends is from,” said Lliralyn McEachern, one of the girls who will be making the trip.

Koenig and McEachern will be joined by Lauren Ockinga, another friend, and Tianna’s father, Howard Koenig. All three girls are juniors at Vashon High School and wanted to make the trip before they parted ways for college. They leave on July 26 to spend two and a half weeks in Bangkok.

“We don’t really know where we are going to be after senior year,” Ockinga said. “It was our last opportunity to do something the three of us.”

As agreed to by their parents, the three girls will pay for the trip through fundraising. Their goal is about $6,000, and any extra money raised will go to the orphanage.

There was a house party for the cause at the Gold Beach Pool last weekend. About $700 was raised at a June 2 car wash, and another car wash will take place on June 23. Fundraising dinners will be held tomorrow at The Hardware Store Restaurant and next Wednesday at Nirvana. A portion of profits at each establishment, depending on the number of customers, will be donated to the trip.

All events are open to the public, and donations can also be made directly to the “Three Gals to Thailand” account at US Bank.

The three girls began to discuss the trip seriously earlier this year. None of them have a great deal of travel experience, they said, Koenig being the only one who has been off of the continent. Koenig, who grew up on Vashon after her adoption, traveled to Thailand with her family in 2011, but was unable to volunteer at the orphanage at that time.

“I just want to know what it is like for kids there, because I don’t remember anything from my time there,” she said.

Not many volunteers travel to this specific Red Cross orphanage, so arranging volunteer opportunities has been a challenge for the three, and they’re not quite sure what to expect when they get there.

“Since no one has done this, we just emailed them a huge letter about why we wanted to volunteer, and it took them three months to get back to us,” Koenig said.

Although a majority of Thai people do speak some English, the language barrier is one of the top concerns for all three. Howard Koenig speaks some Thai, but the girls don’t speak any.

“I am expecting a lot of culture shock,” Ockinga said. “I have never been around that many people.”

While the main purpose of the trip is volunteering, they will also have time to explore Bangkok and take in the Thai culture.

“Having been to Thailand, the culture is really different,” Koenig said. “It is cool to see how different it is.”

In the home stretch before leaving the island, the three are trying to raise as much money as possible, and they say they’re dependent on the Vashon community’s support to make their dream trip a reality.

“We are trying really hard to make this happen,” Ockinga said. “We are doing all we can to fundraise for ourselves.”

— Sarah Kai Schwarz is a journalism student at Northeastern University in Boston and a graduate of Vashon High School.

Fundraising dinners open to the public will be held Thursday, June 13, at The Hardware Store Restaurant and Wednesday, June 19, at Nirvana. At both events, a portion of the restaurants’ proceeds between 5 and 9 p.m. will be donated to the trip.

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