On the 12th October, 1985, the Sathya Sai Foundation of Thailand moved to its own premises. A grand function was held where devotees from all over Thailand and even some neighbouring countries joined together for a programme of lectures, cultural performances and Bhajans. Many people observed that during the opening ceremony, which was held downstairs in the courtyard, several small children, dirty, barefooted and shabbily dressed, mingled with the crowds of devotees. These children who came from the slums situated behind the Foundation Building, mixed practically unnoticed amongst all the people who were listening attentively to the speeches delivered by the guests.
After the opening festivities, everyone went upstairs and according to Thai custom, removed their shoes before entering the prayer hall where the remainder of the day's activities were held. All went well, everyone was in a joyous mood until some of the departing guests and devotees had great difficulty in locating their shoes! It became apparent that several pairs of shoes had mysteriously disappeared and on questioning the late owners, it was clear that each pair was expensive and had been recently purchased. It showed a lot for the discriminating powers of the scruffy, little children who had obviously removed them!
On the days that followed, the children kept coming back and it certainly was not just for shoes as there were no longer any fancy ones to take. At first they came out of curiosity and because they had found a new place to play rather than the street, but it soon became evident that they came for another reason they felt something that they had not felt too much of before— a feeling of belonging and security and of someone caring for them.
Within a couple of weeks a special EHV class was started and the children would eagerly come every Sunday morning to hear stories, sing songs and take part in the group activities. At first it was very hard for them to get used to any kind of discipline especially during such activ-ities as silent sitting or prayers, but gradually they began to settle in and before long it was possible to see many changes taking place, not only in their behaviour and attitudes but also in the character of the children. Within a week or so of the commencement of the classes, several pairs of the missing shoes mysteriously reappeared in the cubbyholes outside the prayer hall! Nothing was asked or said about it, but this was just the beginning.
Among these children was one young boy called Ae. Ae lives with his younger brother, elder step sister and father in one tiny room directly, behind the Foundation Building. His father is a gambler and both boys suffer intolerably when he gets violent moods on account of losing. Roughly a year after the Sathya Sai Centre moved to these premises, Ae's mother ran away, presumably after realizing that her sons now had some extra security. Needless to say, with this kind of background, Ae had a lot of problems. He had the habit, which may well have been encouraged at home, of taking whatever he could lay his small hands on. He was only seven years old. From the very beginning he came regularly and hardly ever missed an EHV class. He enjoyed the stories, games and other activities, but most of all he enjoyed the singing. He could be seen running up and down the stairs at the centre, singing to himself the various songs he had learnt in class. His very favourite was a Thai song to the tune of Ganesha Sharanam which said: "We are honest children and we like to be honest."
After some time Ae stopped taking things, but he still had the habit of begging for money from anyone who came to the Centre. He could stretch out one band whilst rubbing his tummy with the other, and make his eyes round and big! He was a very good actor! Gradually this habit also fell away, once he realized that by being good and following the discipline of the Centre he was happier and also had everything be needed.
In 1987 the Sathya Sai Foundation of Thailand organized an EHV Seminar which was attended by fourteen countries in the Asian Pacific Region. We decided that as we already had the children as living examples, we would use them to demonstrate different techniques in the seminar, for example, singing, group activities etc. Because these children are Thai and have very limited English, we had to fix the role-play and rehearse it beforehand. The role-play which we chose depicted a wise old teacher who decided to test his pupils to see who had really understood his teachings. He asked them to help him in his old age by stealing. He instructed them to find a place where none was watching, and to wait until some rich person came by in order to rob them. All the boys agreed to help their teacher in this way except for one boy who just hung his head and did not move. When asked why he would not do as he was told, he replied that it was impossible to find a place where no one was watching because, even if no other person were around, his own conscience was watching and he would rather beg than have his own self see himself stealing. This was the story, so the children were asked to choose their parts. When it came to the role of the boy who would not steal, much to the amazement of the teacher, Ae put up his hand before anyone else! After the class was over, the teacher asked him as to why he wanted to act this part, to which he replied that he, like the boy in the story, could not steal!