Carpenter whānau to explore whakapapa in Thailand
Learning about Te Ao Māori through Hei Whakapiki Mauri has encouraged the Carpenter whānau to further explore the whakapapa of daughters Batin and May, who were both adopted from Thailand.
The family will return to the pair’s birthplace in December, for the first time in 11 years, to reconnect with where the two young women come from.
Mother Sonja Carpenter says that their family has been inspired by Hei Whakapiki Mauri to not only learn more about Māori culture and te reo, but also about Batin and May’s whakapapa and cultural heritage.
“Through Hei Whakapiki Mauri, we have been learning about introducing ourselves with our mihimihi. Documenting Batin and May’s whakapapa is a powerful way for each of our daughters to tell the story of where they come from. While we do not come from a Māori background, thinking in this way about introducing ourselves has given us a new way of looking deeper into what makes Batin and May who they are,” Sonja says.
Batin and May were both adopted through different organisations in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. A strong stigma around disability in the country means that many children with disabilities are abandoned, as was the case with Batin. May lived with her mother in her early years, with support from a local mother and child shelter. When her mother sadly passed away, the charity started the adoption process.
The whole whānau, including Sonja’s husband Andy and biological daughters Hannah and Amy, will visit the two organisations that Batin and May were involved with as part of their four weeks in Thailand.
“Going back to the places they grew up is an important part of re-connecting Batin and May with their Thai culture – something that is difficult for us to do in New Zealand. The sights, sounds, markets and the food will all be familiar to them both and stimulate memories,” Sonja says.
While precise family lineage is difficult to establish for Batin and May, the Carpenters do have some knowledge of their background. May’s mother lived in the mountains between Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) and came from the Thaiyai Hilltribe.
Batin came from central Thailand, where she was found by Phitsanalouk Hospital. She was then transferred to a large children’s home in Bangkok. There she made a close friend called Lek, who was like a sister to her. The Carpenters have visited Lek’s family each time they have returned to Thailand, both in Bangkok and in rural, north-eastern Thailand. Lek has since sadly passed away, but Lek’s family have become whānau to Batin and the Carpenters, and these ties will be renewed when the family returns.
Batin says that she is looking forward to seeing old friends on the trip and also wants to explore shopping in the markets and the food. She plans to present at the organisations the family will visit, alongside Sonja, who works as a Speech and Language Therapist at various organisations involved with children with disabilities. Batin will share her own journey from Thailand to New Zealand and how she now communicates using a tablet with software.
May says she is keen to look around and see the people, the tuk tuks and see some Thai dancing, as well as doing lots of eating out at the markets.
The family will also connect with churches involved with people with disabilities in Thailand. Their father Andy runs a church service for people with disabilities at South West Baptist Church in Christchurch.
While travelling around, Batin and May plan to look into the maunga, awa, waka and other parts of their whakapapa that they can gather.
Sonja says that they will create and learn their mihimihi when they return to New Zealand, with the help of Hei Whakapiki Mauri.
“As a multicultural family, it can be a challenge to explain our story when we meet other people, but our mihimihi will give us a way of doing this. It’s a wonderful way of looking at introductions.
“We so enjoy being part of a group that is understanding and welcoming of different cultures. In Hei Whakapiki Mauri we have found a spirit of openness and cultural connection. It’s so different to other organisations we’ve been involved with and has a real family feel. We have been welcomed with open arms and we feel like they have sort of adopted all of us,” Sonja says.
Batin says that she likes the food and friends the most about being part of Hei Whakapiki Mauri and May is a fan of the kai too. The family have particularly enjoyed being part of healthy kai cooking classes, learning te reo and tikanga, and attending a recent hui on Tīpuna with disabilities.
Looking ahead, Batin and May are thinking about their future living situations and are planning to do more work in their community, which they are already very active in.
Batin enjoys painting rocks with special messages to brighten people’s days, volunteers at the Special Needs Toy Library and loves her dog Ivory. May assists with kitchen duties a local rest home and church music group, plus enjoys attending church, swimming and her walking group. Both enjoy doing puzzles together.
The pair have also travelled around many parts of the world. They lived in Wales, where the family were based for many years post-adoption, and have travelled around much of Europe and Asia. Batin and Sonja have also visited Australia to speak at conferences about how Batin communicates using alternative methods.
Batin and May are both very excited about their upcoming trip to Thailand and look forward to sharing their journey with the Hei Whakapiki Mauri whānau when they return.