Recently I was blessed to be able to coordinate and participate in our very first TIS Family Service Trip to a small village north of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
To say that this trip was an unbelievable experience would be an understatement. It was truly transformative, for the students and parents alike.
I felt honoured to be on this journey with my family and the other 19 TIS families and I learned a great deal from them in that short week. Here are ten highlights and lessons from our week in Thailand…
Classrooms are important places for learning, but learning can take place everywhere! I saw parents realize that their children can take risks and be okay. I saw every single person develop a deeper appreciation for nature, for family, and for learning about other cultures. I also witnessed kids become engineers as they worked together to build a bridge across a stream that could support them (and the many chickens who eventually started to use it).
Speaking of chickens-I was reminded that farm life is an exceptional way to teach hard work, responsibility, and compassion. All week our students fed and gave love to the many animals at Earth Home. They learned how to call the resident horse, Buffy, and how to properly feed her so that she wouldn’t bite their hands. They learned how to read Buffy’s moods by watching her ears, and they learned that in Thailand...horses love to eat bananas!
Speaking of bananas-we learned that new farmers typically start with banana and papaya fields. Both bananas and papayas grow very quickly. Also-did you know that dragon fruit is actually the fruit of a cactus?? While in Thailand we were lucky enough to tour an organic farm and learn all about the different crops they grow. We were also lucky enough to eat locally grown, fresh and organic food all week.
Speaking of food-we spent our meal time in the homes of our host families and this is where I think the students really learned about what it is like to experience life in someone else’s shoes. The simple homes we stayed in were warm and cozy and all had electricity. The bathrooms didn’t have sinks and that meant that we needed to brush our teeth over the squat pot toilets each morning and night. The houses also did not have any hot water. Through this experience I believe we all gained a greater appreciation for what we have, and how easy our lives in Macau are. However, one of the true gifts of this trip was the realization that our way of life is no better than theirs. Happiness was abundant in the village we visited and the smiles we were met with from all the villagers was heart warming.
Speaking of warming hearts-on this trip our TIS family adopted a starving mother dog and her nine puppies. Nine. Yikes. This poor mama and her pups were absolutely enveloped in love while we were in the village. Each of them received a name and thanks to the efforts of one of our wonderful mothers and her team of TIS samaritans, the puppies and their mom enjoyed cooked liver and pork while we were there. Their bellies were engorged and they were happy, especially after we made our own flea medicine (they were truly infested) and treated them all and gave them baths. We will always think of those puppies and hope that some other kind souls are now caring for them.
Speaking of love and care-What a blessing it was to be on a trip of this kind with so many different families from different places. Our passports say we were all from 10 different countries, yet we came together as one to do what we could to serve the community. Even though we couldn’t always communicate with each other, the students translated and we thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company at mealtimes and when we were working.
Speaking of working...Wow! We worked hard. During our time there we made 300 clay bricks for the renovation of an adobe house-not bad for a group of 9-12 year olds! The completed house will be rented out to construction workers in the area in order to generate money for the community. This money will be used to help cover costs for some small projects around the village-including a renovation of the temple.
Speaking of temples-how lucky we were to be immersed in the Buddhist lifestyle during our time there. We enjoyed every minute exploring our own spirituality by learning more about Buddhism. We spent time meditating. We met a monk who taught us how to properly receive a blessing. Every morning some of our families were up at 6 a.m. to wait for the village’s monk on the side of the road. He walks over 4 km (barefoot) from his temple in the forest to the village. Along the way he receives food from the villagers (and while we were there, from our families as well) that he places in a basket. Upon receiving a food item from someone, he gives them a blessing for the day. The food that he collects in his basket is the only food he and the other monks at the temple have to eat for that day.
Speaking of food-the villagers shared delicious food with us and they also taught us how to make green curry and fried bananas. Every day a different local would come and teach us something from their traditional way of life. Not only did we learn how to cook Thai cuisine, but we learned how to make clay pots that we left at Earth Home to beautify it once we left. We also enjoyed sunrise yoga and meditation. The village truly opened their home and their hearts to us.
Speaking of hearts-I believe every participant on this service trip put their heart and soul into working hard and giving back to the beautiful community of Maejo. We are all better for this experience and it is a reminder that providing children with service opportunities is essential. Children inherently want to help others, they just need our help to allow them to do so.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. -Margaret Mead