Tuesday, July 6, 2010

And so it goes...

So...yet another week has passed us by here in Thailand. Last week, we said goodbye to Mr. Mike Riding as he finished his inspection of our progress and moved on to India. We hope he's having a great adventure there.

Now, down to business...an update on all of our projects seems pertinent.

AIDS Access

After fundraising about 3,000 baht for AIDS Access, things have calmed down, but we're working toward another fundraiser this weekend. If we secure a booth at the Walking Street market in Chiang Mai, some volunteers may be traveling there to sell artwork, bracelets, journals, and other handicrafts. Hopefully, jumping rope will be on the agenda again.


Ryleigh and her crew are still plugging along up in Mae Sai teaching English, square foot gardening, and DJ-ing for the Child Voice Radio each Wednesday morning. DEPDC provides these at-risk kids a safe place to be where they can learn productively, rather than becoming victims of human trafficking. A lot of good work is being done there.

Chiang Rai Government Hospital

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Nate and a few other volunteers walk 20 minutes to the local hospital to offer their services. We began going to the hospital about six weeks ago and at first, it seemed that all we were good for was packing medical supplies (six cotton balls and one gauze pad stuffed into a Ziploc bag for dialysis patients) because that's all we did for the first few weeks, hours at a time. Well, we were doing a lot of good work, but at times it would get monotonous. However, as it turned out, our hard work paid off and it seems we gained the hospital matrons' trust.

Now, volunteers work in the pediatrics section, spending time with children who have terminal diseases, observe in the chemotherapy and dialysis section, and we are now helping the hospital decorate a new section of the building as another waiting area. The current waiting room is extremely overcrowded, so we are hoping to make the new area very inviting with educational games and activities for all ages.

Rongrian Nam Lad

Our wash station is complete! Last week, the builders finished cementing, tiling, and installing the sinks, while we finished painting the wood and clearing the area. Now, the children attending this school have a clean, new, healthy area to brush their teeth and wash their hands. Brandalyn got this project started, and although she had to leave before it was finished, we wouldn't have been able to get it done if she hadn't done all the leg work with Pim in the beginning. So Brandalyn, thanks! Everyone at Nam Lad is very excited to have the wash station.

Our work at this school is not finished, though. Emily and Nate, two of our future doctors on the team, are teaching tooth brushing and hand washing classes to each grade, and in the coming weeks, they will begin teaching classes focused on the cultures of many countries around the world.

Soccer School

After our big tournament a few weeks ago, things at the soccer school have continued on as usual. Shawn, Jordan, and a couple more volunteers still go there each Tuesday and Thursday to teach English, dance, and soccer.

Shawn and Jordan, our resident married couple, are both working to finish their undergraduate degrees from BYU. They designed their dance and soccer programs as part of their final internship requirement and are happy with how things have turned out. We'll be sad to see them go this week, but they have definitely made a difference in the soccer school students' lives.

Blue Economics

In the past month, Garrett, Nate, Pim, and Matt have taught five economics classes to about 475 rural cattle farmers in the Mae Lao area of Thailand. They taught the importance of basic bookkeeping, target marketing, supply and demand, critical business analysis, and keeping sales records. For the most part, these farmers weren't doing any of those things because they didn't understand how it would benefit their businesses, so these were important ideas for them to learn. The governor of the Mae Lao area came to one of the classes to acknowledge this program for the Thai government, which is running these classes. When the classes were finished, the government split the farmers up into groups according to their community area and the group that best implements all the training given receives 50,000 baht from the government.

In a few weeks, Garrett, Nate, Pim, and Matt will be going back through the training with individuals who ask for it to help analyze their businesses and help them see where they can improve and increase their profits.

Dr. Blue, a local veterinarian, informed Pim about this opportunity and he now has a copy of the powerpoint used in the classes, so when we leave Thailand, he and others can keep teaching farmers the importance of these principles.

Garrett is also preparing a template for the government to continue monitoring the farmers' progress, along with a handbook for the farmers so they can do record keeping and bookkeeping on their own.

Garrett says that the goal is to help them create wealth within their businesses and pull them out of poverty.

Operation Watchtower

For the past two months, the Saman Mit community has been planting rice, which is their cash crop, their livelihood, and the food they eat. This has left little time for starting construction on the watchtower because planting rice is really tough and time consuming work.

In the meantime, we've visited Saman Mit multiple times for financial classes, follow up visits, and watchtower meetings. Each time we go, the hospitality of these farmers and their families blows us away. They have shared meals with us more than once and have shown us friendship and warmth rarely found so ready and genuine these days, especially after so short a time knowing each other.

And now, the community has finished planting rice for a couple of weeks and they cleared the land for the watchtower. We hope to go up this week to begin gathering sand, wood, and other materials so we can finally start building! Cross your fingers that it doesn't rain tomorrow...rain has a funny way of ruining plans.


Last week, some volunteers traveled back up to the Akha village to finish the adobe stove built earlier in the week. It was a success and now the villagers just need to wait for everything to dry before they can begin cooking on it. We hope to go back up to the village this Friday to build another adobe stove down by the medical clinic that Dr. Tum is building. Hopefully, if the villagers see him using it, someone they know and respect, they will realize its benefits and usefulness and want one of their own.

We hope to go back up to the village this Friday to build another adobe stove down by the medical clinic that Dr. Tum is building. Hopefully, if the villagers see him using it, someone they know and respect, they will realize its benefits and usefulness and want one of their own. We are hesitant to push the stoves on the villagers because they have been cooking over open fires in their homes for hundreds of years, a tradition not easily broken. The members of the community need to truly desire a stove of their own volition so that once they have one in their home, they can feel that it really is their own, not something the white people mindlessly forced on them, and use it as it should be used.

This is our life.

Monday, June 28, 2010

New people and new projects!

About three weeks ago, some of the first wave volunteers left us. We were really sad because we'd grown to love them so much, but the handful of new volunteers softened the blow. They have been a welcome addition to our team. With their motivation to work and volunteer here in Thailand, we have been able to find new partner organizations working in remote hill tribe villages. A week ago, some of the volunteers visited some of these villages with the AFECT organization. They traveled up to an Akha village, where AFECT is building a medical clinic, medicinal sauna, bathroom, and shower that Akha people and those in surrounding villages will be able to visit when they need medical assistance.

This clinic is the project of a local Akha member, Doctor Tum, who lived deep in the forest as a little boy. There were no roads that led to his village, which required him to travel about 12+ hours to seek medical attention. When we met with him and the village elders, Doctor Tum was generous enough to share some of his personal experiences of becoming a doctor and building this clinic. As a young boy, his father was the village medicine man, but at times the local remedies were not enough to alleviate the symptoms that his mother experienced.

Doctor Tum

Doctor Tum remembers traveling over great distances to go to the hospital. When he would be at the hospital the doctors would be speaking in Thai and would be prescribing medications and explaining how to remedy her. Doctor Tum remembers being very confused and lost but he was determined to become a doctor to help his people in his village and his mother. Following these events he attended university and earned his doctorate degree. His doctorate thesis focused on the acquiring knowledge of the different herbs used in Akha medicine and meeting with over 50+ Akha doctors. Since that day, he has been tireless in his efforts to provide medical attention to hill tribe members.

Last week, we traveled to the Akha village four days out of the week to help get this medical clinic built. Hauling 30 foot bamboo chutes from the jungle, and heavy bags of stones and sand from the river isn't easy work; we gained much appreciation for the kind of work these hill tribe village members do every day. The hard work also helped us get to know the Akha people better and gain their trust, something essential to the success of future projects we want to do there.

One of the local women dressed Ryleigh up when she asked for a picture. She's making string with that wool in her hand.

Adobe stoves is first on the docket. The village is without electricity, they cook over open fires in their homes. This creates many problems for their health because, as there is nowhere for the smoke from the fires to go, they breathe it in whenever they cook. Some of the volunteers noticed this and presented the idea of adobe stoves to the village elders last week. They liked the idea and allowed us to come back today and build the first of hopefully many adobe stoves in their town hall.

It took most of the morning to figure out all the logistics for the stove - where it should be placed, how big it should be, where we would get the materials for it - but once we'd figured all of that out, ate some lunch, and got some energy, we went to work. Or rather, the village went to work. It was amazing to see. We had cement and cinder blocks, but our work was done. We watched in amazement as the Akha villagers took over and built the walls of that stove in less than two hours...something that would have taken us farangs the better part of the afternoon.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Footbon anyone?

Things in Thailand are going really well, we're loving it! Last week was awesome, our projects are progressing and we've had a lot of success with two especially. Thursday, all of the volunteers geared up for a soccer tournament with the students at the soccer school where Jordan, Shawn, Blake, and Anna teach English twice a week. Jordan and Ryleigh also teach dance there, and Shawn directs a soccer camp.

So, in the heat of the afternoon we had a huge soccer match, farangs versus the students, who were all boys. They were really good, enough to rival us and our awesome soccer skills. The game ended up tied 3-3. What made it so fun was the turnout of the kids' parents, the music, loudspeakers, announcers, and the halftime show performed by Jordan's dancers. Everyone had a lot of fun playing, so we'll definitely be playing a tournament again before we go home after we learn a few new moves from the pros in the World Cup.

Saturday night we rented two stalls at the Walking Street night market to sell products that kids involved with AIDS Access have made - paintings from our art and marketing day at the temple, and bracelets, keychains, and journals they've made on their own. Our goal was to raise 3,000 baht for AIDS Access and a few of the youth leaders came and helped us sell. We were really excited about it!

We had other activities to help make money, too, like face painting and fishing for prizes, but when a huge rainstorm hit with no warning, the selling, painting, and fishing got x-nayed. The Thais at other booths all ran for cover under umbrellas and tarps, while all the customers found shelter under buildings. We thought our plans were ruined, but...want to know what saved us? Double dutch jump roping. We ditched our tarp, ran out into the rain and jumped rope for our captive audience while some volunteers ran around getting donations from the crowd, who loved us. We got tons of attention because we were the only people playing out in the rain; we made even more of a spectacle of ourselves than we normally do. It made for a cold night (weird in Thailand), but once the rain stopped we got back into selling products and had a little more success.

Even though the night didn't go according to plan because of the rain, we had even more fun than we thought we would because we adapted to the situation pretty well and earned more money than we hoped!

These unforgettable moments are happening more and more often these days :)

Friday, June 11, 2010

PROJECT UPDATE: The Saman Mit Community

PROJECT UPDATE: the Saman Mit Community

We are growing quite attached to the Saman Mit Community and are very excited to be working with them! Shortly after arriving here in Thailand, we met as a team with their community leaders and discussed the needs of their co-op community. They expressed several needs that we felt strongly we would be able to assist with so ideas were considered, team leads were assigned, and projects were born.

[PROJECT: Finance Class]

One of the projects we are doing with the Saman Mit Community is a household finance class where we teach basic finance skills such as keeping records, income vs. expenses, how to save, budgeting, etc.

[PROJECT: Operation Watchtower]

Another project we are doing with the Saman Mit is assisting with the construction of their Watchtower so they can better oversee the co-op lands they farm. After a very successful campaign with TippingBucket.com and the support of over one hundred donors, we now have in place the money we need to fund the building of the watchtower and construction should start here in a few weeks.

[SERVICE PROJECT: Planting Rice]

One night after Finance Class, some members of the community approached our team and invited us to come back the next day to plant their rice fields with them. Of course, we jumped at the chance!

We arrived bright and early the next morning and they showed us the secrets of planting rice in Thailand. Though our technique wasn’t quite as honed as theirs, we did our best and were very pleased with the results.

After a long, hot morning of planting, the members of the community were very sweet to make us an authentic lunch and give us the opportunity to try some new dishes.

Kenny jumped in to help them prepare the goy. It’s a simple recipe, really:

1 Bucket of small, live fish ~ fished from a nearby pond on the rice fields (heads popped off, guts squished out, rinsed)
1 Bag of live red ants
1 Handful of a myriad of spices
1 Sprinkle of MSG

Directions: Pop the heads off the small fish, squish the guts out, and rinse off the remaining bodies. Put into a bowl. Add live red ants. Add a handful of spices. Add a sprinkle of MSG. Mix by hand. Enjoy with a side of sticky rice.

They also made us several other dishes in addition to the goy: fire-grilled fish, papaya salad, green mango slices, sweet fish, squid, and sticky rice, just to name a few.

We learned an important lesson that day though; if you are wondering how to say “fish eyeball” in Thai after watching someone else eat one, you should ask Dave. If you ask a community member, they may mistakenly think you want to try one and pluck it out of the fish for your dining pleasure.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Project Update: AIDS Access


We've partnered with an organization called AIDS Access that promotes awareness within the community about AIDS and provides assistance to youth with AIDS by means of programs like art therapy, leadership training, etc.

This past weekend, we had the opportunity to attend a weekend camp sponsored by AIDS Access, at a local Buddhist temple, where we were able to interact with the youth leaders.

We sponsored an art therapy class where we taught techniques for sketching, painting, and using perspective. They were given time to find something that inspired them, sketch it, and then paint it. Their work came out beautifully and we were all very pleased with the results; they are very talented. We plan to sell their paintings, along with other items they have crafted, in two weeks at a booth on the local Walking Street (Saturday night market) to raise money for the Aids Access program.

They had also expressed a need for the youth to learn marketing skills so they would have a better way to sell the craft items they make at local markets. So we also sponsored a simple marketing class during the camp where, among other things, we taught them a series of simple English phrases to help them in their selling, for example: "This is for a charity.", "Please make a donation," etc. They really seemed to enjoy themselves during the market simulation game we played and they had fun selling their folded paper products to the volunteers for Monopoly money.

In return, they let us join in their game when they played what we can only think to call, "The Powder Game". Here's the gist: everyone sits in a big circle and passes around a marker while music plays. They didn't tell us what would happen if we got stuck with the marker when the music stopped, only that it would be a surprise... perhaps we should have been more concerned with what happened to us if we didn't have the marker when the music stopped! When the music stopped, whoever had the marker would draw a slip of paper and read its message. The slips contained things like, "people with long hair," "all the volunteers," and "people wearing bracelets". The person who drew the paper then got a handful of baby powder poured into their hands and had to go around the circle and "powder" everyone who fit the criteria listed on the paper. Being 'powdered' consisted of them wiping some of the baby powder on your cheeks (or, if there was no room left there, on your forehead or nose!). Whatever powder isn't used up by the time he or she finished powdering everyone else, that person had to powder themselves with. It was so much fun! We were covered in powder!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tipping Bucket Fundraiser: the Saman Mit Community

Read about their need for an observation tower and visit tippingbucket.org to make a donation of at least $1 to help get it built! We have four days to raise $950 and we need everyone's help!

Saman Mit is a farming community consisting of 148 families located 30 minutes outside of Chiang Rai, Thailand. They migrated from the Isaan province 33 years ago when their farmlands were flooded as a result of a government hydro-electric project that dammed the Isaan rivers. Many were left without homes or land to sustain their livelihood. The land they found in Chiang Rai was fertile and well suited for their way of life, but it was too small to support the community.

Acknowledging their plight, the government has recently granted them six square hectares of land to cultivate and develop through their traditional cooperative system of farming. They plan to increase their fish stocks in the ponds, grow trees to sell, cultivate and sell rice, potatoes, and other vegetables as they pursue a goal of becoming a wholly self-sufficient community.

However, to achieve their goal, the community needs to prove to the government that they are using the land wisely, developing it productively, and protecting it from any problems that may arise, such as wildfires or theft.

Through long debate and discussion, the village council has decided that the most effective way to watch over the land’s crop development, while detecting possible problems of theft from outside private farmers, is to build an observation tower. The observation post will be located high atop a hill that provides an ideal purview of all the lands within the 6 hectares of the co-op. The tower will be thirty feet high, built by community members and HELP International development volunteers. The community has come to HELP International looking for a partner to help with construction, fundraising, and business consulting workshops that aim to boost productivity, sales, and land efficiency.

Remember to tell friends and family about this fundraiser, too! Thanks!

Go to tippingbucket.org for more information about the non-profit organization partnering with us on this.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Square Foot Gardening...It's Just the Beginning

Friday, we presented square foot gardening to DEPDC (one of our partners). We believe that this will be a fantastic project to implement up at DEPDC and within the Mae Sai community. The reason being it will provide the children with nutritious foods to eat and teach them effective gardening skills.

We were trained this past week on the Child Voice Radio and how to DJ the English hour, which is in the morning from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. please tune in to KM 90 ghz to listen to DJ Free Styles and DJ Rhyme Time spittin it on the Child Voice Radio.

Soccer School ROCKS!!

As we pulled into the soccer school this past Thursday, the children were lined up decked out in their orange uniforms waiting to soccer it up. After some basic soccer drills and running the children to death they started a scrimmage. Unbeknownest to the Farangs (aka white people), the coach had defense versus offense and the defense was losing, surprise...surprise.

After realizing the defense didn't stand a chance, Dave and Kenny, two of the soccer camp coaches stepped in to save the day... only problem was... they didn't score a single goal. The defense still lost but walked away with smiling faces.

Over at the dance classroom, where parents and children gathered with interest, the girls and two boys jumped, twirrled and rolled across the dance floor, while Jordan taught them cool moves.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bloody shorts and sore bums

When Dave told us we were going to ride ostriches, we laughed at him. Ha ha ha. Then we pulled into the ostrich farm on Saturday and saw the bare bums of the freaky looking birds with only two toes, a really long neck and eyes the size of golf balls. Shawn and Kenny were the first to ride on these age-old birds, they made it look easy, despite the fact that they were wearing goofy helmets and riding bare back. It gave courage to the hearts of the rest of the volunteers. Thirty minutes and two casualties later, with sore bums and bloody pants, we rested under the shade of a pavilion while learning that one of the ostriches we had just ridden was undecided/confused about his/her gender. We all had a good laugh while heading to the restaurant to munch down on some surprisingly tasty ostrich meat. It was fun, weird and ridiculous all at the same time.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Isaan Community

Today we met with a community from the North East area of Thailand where we are contemplating projects such as: 1) House hold finance 2) Constructing a watch tower 3) Planting trees
The Watch Tower project in particular will need extra funding which we are venturing a Tipping Bucket post in order for people to donate for the construction and supply cost.
The Tipping Bucket is a fundraising website that people donate one dollar towards a cost of a project. When we reach the goal the bucket tips and people are charged for their dollar donation. If the bucket never reaches the goal within a designated time frame, no one is charged for their donation.


We were able to do some service at a local Buddhist temple.


In our first week here in Chiang Rai we have met with multiple schools such as the Dong Ma Da School District and potential partners namely AidsAccess and the Developing Education Program for Daughters and Communities .

Living Quarters

Most all the volunteers in the first wave have arrived successfully in Chiang Rai. Pi Pi our own personal driver, cook and laundry lady has helped us immensely. We are staying in a lovely house with 4 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms shared between the 13 current volunteers.