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 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!