Friday, February 15, 2013

Children's Shelter Foundation

I was looking for volunteering opportunities in Chiang Mai. But I figured out later, you usually need to stay longer to volunteer. At least a month or two. So I was very happy when I found out  Joy' s House offer short term volunteering opportunity in their children's house, Children's Shelter Foundation (CSF).
Children's Shelter Foundation is a children's aid project founded by Joy and Ulrike in 2007. 
Most of the children here come from the mountain villages of Northern Thailand and Burma. The kids live in the farm with the farmers, teachers and caregivers. They are given shelter and education until they can be independent. I really like their business model. It's a self sustained charity. Apart from the donation, the guesthouse and the farm generate income for the CSF.

We stayed in CSF for 4 days 3 nights. It's about 30 minutes drive from Chiang Mai. They have a very nice 5 room guesthouse in the farm. We took 3 rooms.
Until today, Medina still talk about CSF. She just told me this morning, I miss that place with the swing and lots of dogs. Yeah Missy, God willing, we'll go there again. It's really nice to slow down and just be. Jarm from Joy's House helped me plan our activities during our stay there. My kids had a good time here. They found happiness from doing simple things. The best part was my kids had the opportunity to mingle with the kids from CSF. Who in turn taught them lots of life lessons. Sample of our daily itinerary.
We cycled to pick up the kids from school. I thought it would be a leisure cycling. I was so wrong ;-) The CSF kids made it look so easy. And they were very nice to wait for us to catch up. I think we cycled for almost an hour. The track was quite challenging. At least to me, the noob. My butt was sore for few days. But then, I have not cycled for ages. So it was a good work out for me.
Jungle trekking
We learned how to make compost.
 Cooking lunch using the fresh harvest from the organic farm.
Planting the pineapple.
Emily's favorite activity. Baking
Releasing lantern at night.
Conquering their fear and have a blast swinging away.
Cooking breakfast on their own.
Enjoying the nature walk.
It's amazing how happiness can be derived from simple things in life. It was very humbling to see how the kids here were so happy with so little. They have so much lesser than us. Yet they find happiness in every single thing they do. I heard laughter everywhere.
Truly, happiness is here and now. What a blessing.
One of the things that intrigued me most was the attitude of these kids. Their passion for learning. This is Satin. He's 15yo.
He is same age with Luqman. But their path is so different. He loves reading. I listened to him learning how to read, and it just makes me teary. It's a very kiddish book for 15yo. But he read and read and read and he's not shy to ask for help. Call me emo but seriously, you can throw this kid anywhere and he will succeed with this kind of attitude.

These kids go to school from 8am-4pm. Just like my kids when they were schooling. Usually my kids would be exhausted once they came back from school. They just want to sleep. But here, I see kids reading book after school. No nagging mom needed. I just read because I want to. How did they turn out to be like that??
I think as a parent, we tend to over analyze things. We fear for the worst. We constantly doubt whether we are doing enough for the kids. In the best interest of our kids, we provide the kids with lots of option. And because we are financially capable, there are plenty of options for our kids. Without realizing, we inadvertently mollycoddle them. We produced a generation who have very little drive. Because they are so used to somebody else doing the thinking for them. Maybe we need to muster the courage to let the kids on their own. Maybe then, they will start to think and find their true self.

These poor children might think they are the less fortunate in comparison to my kids. But I think these kids are so lucky. I really love their education system. It's so Waldorf. When the kids were first brought in, they will stay in the CSF and go through some sort of orientation to get them acclimatized to the new environment. One of the teacher, Chey told us some of the kids can be very traumatized when they first came in. Due to the violence back home. In the beginning, they will help out in the farm & guesthouse and learn basic reading in Thai, English and do some Maths. Once they are ready, they will go to the nearby school for formal education and complete Grade 6. Then, they will move on to Joy's House. They will start with non formal school for 4,5 years. Then move on to university. The kids in Joy's House go to school on weekend and work in the guest house during the day. Once they graduated from the university, they are free to be on their own.

This is Jack and Wow. They are students in Joy's House. Who were initially from CSF. They were our tour guide.
But they also do other things in the guest house. Like cooking, entertaining the guest at night, room service etc etc etc. And they are studying. Wow is doing a degree in tourism and Jack is in a non formal school.
In the end, they will not just graduate with a degree. They are street smart and they acquire lots of living & soft skills that can help them thrive in the future. Unlike typical Thai kids who are shy, these kids are very comfortable with strangers. It's probably due to their exposure to the international guests and volunteers. They are not afraid to speak to you despite their poor English. I think they are really lucky. Probably luckier than my privileged kids. They are getting a very holistic education. Which is sadly missing in most developed countries including Malaysia.

Throughout the Chiang Mai trip my kids met lots of great people. People who took the road less traveled and trying to make a difference in this world. Like Lee, the founder of Akha Ama Cafe.
Lee was the first person in his village to graduate from university. Their village is so basic it doesn't even have electricity. When he was small he had to walk 4 km to school. He started living separately from his parent when he was 11yo to pursue his secondary education. Since he was not a Thai citizen, education is not free for him. He worked and studied since he was young. He did this all the way to university. Graduated with a degree in English in 2 years 8 month. Others did it in 4 years. It was amazing because he is an Akha. Thai and English is his foreign language. More amazing because he has to work hard to support himself in addition to studying. He started his business with no business background. And very little knowledge of coffee. It was purely driven by his passion to help his villagers make a better living out of coffee farming. He is so humble and so passionate about making the world better.

Charlotte from New Jersey. She was interning in Akha Ama Cafe, as part of her undergraduate course.
She has been in Chiang Mai for few months. I can't remember exactly what she's doing but it's something to do with sustainable development. It's refreshing to see youth from developed countries embracing cultural diversity and exploring Asia.

Julie from Norway who is taking a gap year before starting college by volunteering in Children Shelter Foundation.
She's a very sweet girl. Who aspires to be a physiotherapist. It's her first time in Chiang Mai. I wish I am this bold when I was 20yo.

I hope meeting these people will help my kids see that sky is the limit for them. I hope it will inspire them to achieve greater things. God willing, it will.

I observed something interesting during our Chiang Mai trip. As a person, Luqman will tell you he is an introvert.
He likes to do things on his own. His favorite place is his room. His favorite activity is reading manga and doodling in his room. He hates socializing. He hates going out. He hates meeting new people. One of his pet peeves is going through ice breaking during camps and workshops. He has told me to stop sending him to camps.

But getting to know yourself takes time. And being exposed to different environment can help you see the side of you that you never noticed. Or in this case, help your mom see the different side of you :-P

I noticed Luqman is quite good in teaching. I watched him helped Julie teaching the kids English in CSF. And I realized he can engaged the kids pretty well. I bet he never think teaching is his strength.
And I found out he's quite a people person. He warms up quite fast with strangers. One of the nights in Joy's House, I noticed he's missing from the room. So I went looking for him. And found him helping out the kids in Joy's House with their duties. He looked very much at home. Weird for somebody who think he doesn't like to meet new people huh???
I think the best moment for him was playing football at night with the kids from CSF. 
Not that he's a skilled footballer. Not that he knows the kids well. But I think he just loves being part of the game. And those kids were very nice to him too. I think he had a blast. I overheard him exchanging thanks and good wishes with the kids. Him thanking the kids for playing with him. Them thanking him for teaching them English. My heart just swelled. *sniff*

Farewell the CSF way. 
Till we meet again.
'Thank you from the bottom of our heart. Kop khun krap.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Thailand Elephant Conservation Centre

One of the top things to do in Chiang Mai is to visit the elephant park. Any tour guide will tell you that. But there is a serious ethical issue with elephant parks in Thailand. Most elephants are ill treated. In the name of making profit and tourism. You can read more on the issue here. The other issue that I have is the fee to most elephant parks. It is so expensive. Most are in the range of THB 2500 per person. For a family of 6, and a cheap skate mom like me...that's freaking expensive!!! But omitting a visit to the elephant park means there will be no animal related experience for the kids. Which is just not acceptable especially for animal crazy kiddos like Little Missy. Of course, zoo will be the last option. But I still prefer them to experience animal in the wild instead of confined space like zoo. So I was very elated when I stumbled upon Thailand Elephant Conservation Centre (TECC) few days before we left for Chiang Mai. A more ethical and much2 cheaper option. Wooooottt!! ;-)
TECC is in Lampang. Which is about 40 minutes drive from Chiang Mai.

Thai Elephant Conservation Center
Km. 28-29 Lampang-Chiang Mai Highway
Hang Chat, Lampang 52190, Thailand
GPS: 18° 21' 52"N, 99° 14' 53"E

Tickets was THB150 for adult and THB100 for kids.  Kids are 135 cm and below. The fees include entrance to elephant show. This is freaking cheap. It's a fraction of what you pay to other elephant parks.
It's a huge place but you can hop on the shuttle to go around.
TECC open at 8.30am. We went there early and headed straight to the hospital. Coz I found out the vet will make their round and treat the elephants first thing in the morning.

Vet treating injured elephants with the help of the mahout.
On the way out from the hospital, kids bumped into this friendly calf.
Besides the hospital, there are other things you can do in TECC.
Elephant show.

Elephant paintings for sale.
Feeding the elephants
Elephant ride
Visit the museum. But most information is in Thai.
 The visitor centre is better for us as the info is in English. 
Apart from all these activities, there is something you shouldn't miss when you are in TECC. The Elephant Dung Paper Factory. It's a bit secluded. So make a point to look for it.

 The workers were busy processing the dung. None of them can speak English. Luckily I asked the man in the shop whether we can have have a hands on experience and he said yes ;-)

The dung ball.
Hajar not convinced it ain't smelly and yucky.
The aspiring zoologist getting her hands dirty and getting used to the "yucky" business. Mixing the dung ball with water.
Pour the dung mixture on the sieve.
Draining the excess water.
Drying up.

The finished products.
I think the highlight of the trip was the hospital visit and paper dung factory. Anyway, for the price that we paid, this is a steal. Not to mention it's very educational for the kids. Highly recommended.