Thailand Trip - December 2005
It's been nearly 29 years since the Peace Corps sent a motley crew of mostly inexperienced young adults (Group 58) to Thailand. From 1977 - 1979 as a 25-year old member of that group I experienced the two most rewarding years of my life. I studied Thai--the silent way--and amazingly learned to speak a new language. Within 3 months Parichart, our training site secretary, and I were married. After teacher training in Maha Sarakham, I continued there at Sri Nakharinwirot (now, Mahasarakham) University, for two very enjoyable years of teaching English. In 1982 we slipped back for another year of teaching, but it has been decades away from working in Thailand until this return engagement.
After years of frugal living, we had semi-retired and were ready for a new adventure in the land of smiles. This summer I attempted unsuccessfully to jump over the bureaucratic Peace Corps/Crisis Corps medical clearance hurdles, but the less said of that the better. Later I luckily browsed to a web site describing an orphanage/school in Mae Hong Son province. Within a couple of days my e-mail application was accepted, and we were excitedly preparing for our month in Thailand.
For Pari the main purpose of the trip was to visit her family in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. For me the great attraction was getting to Mae Hong Son and OPC (the organization is rarely referred to by its full name, Opportunity for Poor Children). After about a week of family stuff, we took the 25-minute flight from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son, and were very pleasantly met at the little airport by Kham Chuen, the director of OPC.
It's been my experience that the leader (dept. head, boss, supervisor) has a huge effect on my experience working at an organization, even if there isn't much direct contact. Kham Chuen is a dedicated leader, and he inspires all who work, volunteer, study and live at OPC. It is a small school with about 40 students, but the place has a huge heart. The students have all suffered in various ways from the pressures of living in and escaping from Burma. Some have contracted HIV from birth. Some are physically handicapped. Most have lost both parents. But as you can see from the Christmas Party pictures, they have been able to start new lives with a brighter future.
As often seems to happen to me in Thailand, my role at OPC was not exactly what I had expected. I had thought I would be teaching English, but it turned out there was a long-term American volunteer already fulfilling that responsibility. Incidentally she had been posted at OPC through the Burma Volunteer Program, another organization worth looking into. Kham Chuen wanted me to apply my computer skills. I tried to get a few old donated computers back to life, worked on a couple of grant proposals, and mostly updated the web site. Even though much of the time I had to work at Kham Chuen's home (because there is no Internet connection at the office), I really felt good, and part of the OPC team. Just to be around the children from time to time or to have a conversation with Kham Chuen about the situation in Burma, I truly felt honored to have a small role in a worthwhile cause. If you would like to read more about the situation in Burma, here's a link to Human Rights Watch.
Unfortunately we had only planned to stay in Thailand for a month. I would have loved to stay in Mae Hong Son longer and to have become more involved in some of their other community development projects. OPC is funded by a few foundations, but has many projects on hold, and is actively pursuing more grants. If we are able, I hope to go back again next winter for a 3-month commitment.
OPC is located just outside the town of Mae Hong Son in an unobtrusive setting, separated from the road by rice paddies. The province of Mae Hong Son is bordered by Myanmar (Burma) on the north and west and Chiang Mai on the east.
We stayed in a guest house (really a small motel) in the town that was about a 15 minute walk from OPC. The town is very small for a provincial capital. Although it is a nice town, most tourists probably come there as a base for treks into the countryside. There are tour guide storefronts all over town. We hired a driver one day, and many of the pictures (Ag Station, Mae Aw, Palace, Waterfall) were taken then.
The weather was great. It only rained a couple times at night. Most days were warm, but not too hot, and the nights were often pleasantly cool. Every day we took walks in town. Usually we would walk along the river or up to the temple on top of the hill. We liked these paths the best because there were no cars or motorcycles. Unfortunately pollution controls are less than could be desired, but Mae Hong Son is not too bad because it's small and there are many open spaces.
The photos are arranged in galleries which can be accessed by clicking the links below. Each gallery has a set of images that should pre-load as the previous one is being viewed. Use the arrow keys under the image to move to the next (or previous) picture. When the arrow key is dimmed, click on another gallery. If the arrow key doesn't seem to work, the next image is still loading. The images are 800x600 pixels, so will appear best if your screen resolution is higher. If you've read all this, hopefully the first images have already pre-loaded, so click a link below.
|Mae Hong Son | OPC | Party | Temples1 | 2 | Ag Station | Botanic Gardens | Mae Aw | Palace | Waterfall|
If the above are too slow, please download half-size (400 pixel wide) images
in zipped folders:
Mae Hong Son, OPC, Party, Temples, Ag Station, Botanic Garden, Mae Aw, Palace, Waterfall.
Please visit the OPC web site for more pictures and information.