I recently concluded my first 2 week project with International Student Volunteers (ISV), and have since been eating as many meat-cicles, bread, cheese, and any other farang food I can source.
This particular project consisted of two program areas, a village and the Elephant Nature Park. ENP has been working with local communities to foster good relations and try to change current views and treatment of elephants in the region.
The project went exceptionally well. We started out in a small Karen village called Ban Pha Tag just up the hill and off the main road to Pai. The village itself was interesting as it consisted of both Buddhist and Christian families, and we were located adjacent to the local Buddhist temple. Sort of strange living at a wat for a week, but the monk was cool and allowed us to ask him questions and meditate with him.
Most of the project was geared towards building a large sala the local crematorium, a bit creepy but culturally interesting. I guess over 100 bodies had been burnt there before we arrived and we were not allowed to work on certain days or in certain areas due to the Buddhist beliefs. Our job was to just move dirt and mix some concrete. The previous ISV group had started leveling the foundation area for the sala, but it wasn't large enough so we threw some sweat and, well mostly sweat into it. We also helped the monk plant over 900 herb plants around the temple trees. Based on my rough translation the plants were natural forms of aspirin, anti-histamines, pain relievers, and male enhancement. He was happy about it, and had a giant grin on his face when I showed him the pictures I took.
|Another beaten up and badass Sonic|
|Planting rice with the locals|
|Everyone got blessed|
|40 Thai children that have minmal contact with farang = chaos|
|token photo of me handing the headmaster some soccer balls.........so awkward in everyway|
|half blind man teaching us basket weaving|
|his basket was flawless, unlike ours|
|our Thai guides with some bamboo root lump dirt man|
|group photo |
|monking it up|
The second week consisted of a lot of elephants and all their bodily functions. This was like a five star resort after not having electricity or modern luxuries such as ice for a week. The students agreed that being in the village first set them up for success later on. Without electricity they had to actually talk to each other and occupy themselves at night, what? no iphones or facebook. I was lucky that my group bonded well and were all on the same page about sustainable development and tourism. At ENP they had a chance to observe day tourists and other volunteers that approached living and volunteering in Thailand differently, it was a great learning experience.
Most days at the park included cutting corn or sugar cane, picking up elephant crap, cutting all the fruit up, washing the elephants, etc. etc. Not very glamours but it was hard work, and hey getting to chill out and feed elephants everyday after work wasn't terrible. Most of the 35 elephants are either blind or have some other medical issue that prevents them from functioning normally.
Overall it was a great project and I felt like nearly all of the students got the take home message.
|not a bad elephant life|
|group shot with Lek, the owner and founder of ENP|
Every year there are a number of Bang Fai (rocket) festivals throughout northern Thailand and Laos. They serve as a traditional way to welcome the rainy season and make merit. So we went with the CMRCA crew, who also happens to sponsor all the prize money given away, and headed out to Mae On. Essentially these are home made rockets full of gun powder and are judged to see which one goes the furthest, the straightest, etc. Top three rockets get some good prizes. CMRCA actually had two rockets (made by locals) in the running. Unfortunately we only took 3rd and gave the prize money back to the village.
The best part of this event is two fold:
A. Drunk Thai men smoking cigarettes around giant home made bombs like it ain't no thing
B. Rockets that just explode when lit, creating giant explosion
It was a good time, got to hang out with the whole guide team and drink some beers.
|Katie awarding the first prize|
|random scantily clad Thai women singing, oh yeah and the drunk winner dancing to it|
P.S. Check out my bud Westons band, Wes is the one with the 70's prescription glasses on and rocking hard