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.

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