The “Thais” That Bond Us: Building Community with the Mirror Foundation

Wat Rong Kun

The “Thais” That Bond Us: Building Community with the Mirror Foundation

Written by Sidney Jhingran and Jessica Young, 2014 Southeast Asia Animal Conservation Program Leaders.

Sawatdii ka! Sabai dii mai ka? Sabai dii maak maak ka.

It’s a swelteringly hot day in Chiang Mai. Only a few more hours before we begin our journey into Cambodia. While we’re excited to kick off this next part of the adventure, Thailand has left a strong and memorable impression! It’s been an action-packed 2 weeks to say the least. Here’s a recap…

It all started in Krung Thep Mahanakon (or, as we non-Thais call it, Bangkok) where we wasted no time and on the first day paid a visit to the Sikha Asia Foundation – a Thai NGO working in the slum of Klong Toey that seeks to provide and promote greater access to education, particularly reading, to the underprivileged youth of the area. We were introduced to the neighborhood by the Director of the Foundation and lifelong resident of Klong Toey, Khun Arunee, who showed us the conditions and realities of life in the slum.

 

Klong Toey

Getting a behind the scenes look at Klong Toey. Photo by: Sikha Foundation.

While slums often conjure images of negativity and poverty, we were met with plenty of smiles and curious glances as Khun Arunee explained the nuances of life in the slum and challenged our perceptions. We got to experience a part of Bangkok that most travelers have no idea exists and barely anybody visits.

Back at the community center, we got to meet many of the kids that regularly visit the library and watched a Thai puppet show! To top it off, we presented the library with some children’s books that every member in our group brought to donate to the library. The following day we went temple hopping around Bangkok – visiting some of Thailand’s most sacred places of worship and tourism – before catching an overnight bus to Chiang Rai that evening.

 

Presenting the Sikha Foundation library with children’s books. Photo by: Sikha Foundation.

Presenting the Sikha Foundation library with children’s books. Photo by: Sikha Foundation.

In Chiang Rai, the group experienced their first Thai massages – some enjoyed it more than others as the bone cracking and walking on our backs was perhaps a little too intense ;). But you gotta experience it at least once while you’re in the Kingdom! That night we went to bed in anticipation of waking up and beginning our work with the Mirror Foundation.

This is OG’s 6th year working with the Mirror Foundation. This time we worked in a village we had not previously visited: Baan Phukot, an Akha village that has seen increased development over the last decade. The project we were assigned to was to help in the creation of a new homestay building which will provide opportunities for employment and encourage the retention of the younger generation to build a strong and sustainable community.

 

Our team helped to build this bamboo home in the Akha village.

Our team helped to build this bamboo home in the Akha village.

Here are some memorable outtakes from our experience at Baan Phukot:

“The lizard that kept attacking us at night.” – Giana

“Walking down the mountain with bamboo and being a jungle gym for the kids.” – Iris

“The little girl who lived in my home (Myaui) who never left me alone … and threw bugs at me.” – Zoe

“Eating with our homestay families and learning Akha words.” – Rebecca

“I liked getting the opportunity to wear traditional Akha clothes and learning the traditional dance with the community.” – Sierra

“The world is yokhu! Akha word for delicious.” – Tricia

“Digging a toilet hole with a hoe and splitting bamboo with a machete … that was dope.” – Rong

“Having dinner with our host families, though they didn’t speak any English and we didn’t speak any Akha, we learnt to make do with few words and body language.” – Alex

“Watching a Thai vampire movie with Pim, one of the homestay family members.” – Vanessa

“There were always dogs around, and “Itchy” and “Scruffy” would always accompany us home.” – Becca

 

Proud of our contribution to the Mirror Foundation in Chiang Rai!

Proud of our contribution to the Mirror Foundation in Chiang Rai!

We also got to celebrate Zoe’s birthday while we were in the village! Our courteous hosts and jungle guides from Mirror managed to score a cake from Chiang Rai which we happily devoured as we celebrated the occasion. On our last night in Baan Phukot we were invited to partake in a feast that included a freshly slaughtered pig and traditional Akha dance. Many of the community leaders, as well as some government officials were present to partake in the occasion.The next day we did some sightseeing around Chiang Rai with our two trusted friends from Mirror – Pii Win and Pii Angkong – before departing for Chiang Mai.

Oh, Chiang Mai! Another OG first, we had a Scavenger Hunt here rather than Bangkok. The competition was fierce as our two groups scurried around the city visiting temples, chatting to monks, eating fruit, learning Thai, and creating raps! Team Type 7 (look up “Bristol Stool Chart” on Google to see what this means) came out as the winner. But, we’re all winners in the end since we got to see so much of this lovely city! And then we celebrated another birthday: Sierra! Instead of cake, we treated ourselves to pizza at a favorite spot in town. Just like with Zoe’s cake, we happily devoured the pizza!

Next time you’ll hear from us we’ll be in Cambodia.

Chock dee na ka!
2014 Southeast Asia Animal Conservation