When Bill and Pat Taylor decided to take a holiday in Bali in 2005, they had no idea it would change their lives forever.
“I’d just retired, and a musician friend suggested we accompany him to Bali for a vacation,” Bill said. “It all started very innocently.”
While there, Bill and Pat took a side trip to visit an orphanage, and were very touched by the children, many of whom had been victims of human trafficking, sold into forced labor, or worse.
“We signed up on the spot to sponsor two girls,” Bill said., “We didn’t know it at the time, but this marked the beginning of a whole new life for us.”
The Taylors went back the following year to visit their two “sponsees” and came home with more than a dozen bios of other girls needing sponsors. Through his contacts with Edmonds Daybreakers Rotary Club and others, Bill quickly found people eager to help. Returning again to Bali, he dusted off his organizational skills to work with the operators of seven previously independent orphanages to build them into a coherent network serving more than 400 children.
In this case, the term “orphanage” is misleading. “Most of these children have families, but the families are unable to care for them due to poverty or sickness,” he explained. “Sadly, this results in many children being sold into servitude, or just turned out to fend for themselves. Their stories are heartbreaking.”
Moving on to the Indochina Peninsula in 2010, Bill built on his earlier success by working with orphanages in Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, and ultimately formed the SE Asia Foundation to help raise money and give a face to this effort.
“It’s all about how ordinary people with ordinary resources can make a difference,” he said. “We help children — especially girls — break the intractable cycle of poverty into which they were born and from which they are not likely to escape without some outside assistance. We do this by supporting orphanages, finding sponsors for individual girls, and encouraging other individuals and organizations to step up to the plate with us.”
Why is the focus primarily on girls? “In a society where woman have the primary role of caring for and nurturing the family, educating girls is much more effective at breaking the cycle of poverty,” Bill explained. “If we educate a boy, it typically stops with him. If we educate a girl, the benefits flow through the entire family for generations.”
With an education, girls in these countries gain more independence and control over their own bodies, choose to marry later, choose to have fewer children, remain healthier, and are better able to devote their time, energies and resources to taking care of their families.
“When we educate a girl we not only change her life but we also change the lives of both her current and future families,” he said. “Just think of the ripples on and on to future generations. And, educated girls often bring important changes to their villages as well.”
For Bill Taylor, the work is incredibly fulfilling. Between planning projects, soliciting support, working with orphanage operators and administrators, and flying over to personally oversee projects, he’s always on the run. Next up is a trip in January to 10 Southeast Asia locations.
“Providing these girls with a solid foundation for a bright future is my mission,” he said. “I’m committed to do whatever it takes.”
Learn more about the SE Asia Foundation and how you can help support their efforts at their website,seafund.org.
— By Larry Vogel