On November 21st, a group of twenty ASIJ students and three teachers who are part of the school-chartered service group Abot Kamay, arrived at the Mae Lan Luang School in a remote village in Chiang Mai, Thailand. As we hopped off the backs of pick up trucks, the wide-eyed Thai school children looked up at us with awe. Having never seen foreigners before, many of the children were shy, and perhaps a bit frightened by our presence.
I think it is fair to say that the Thai children were not the only ones who experienced some level of shock. Apprehension was evident on the faces of quite a few of our new trip members, who had just begun to realize that sleeping in tents, run-down toilets and showering in rivers would be their reality for the next five days.
Despite these initial feelings, the entire group of 23 rallied together, and worked alongside the local village people to start renovations for the school. The jobs that we completed for this school ranged from painting an “under the sea” themed library to leveling grounds for a bocce ball court, to cleaning out ant-infested storage rooms. Perhaps the most impressive job that we completed was making water tanks. Not many people can say that they were a part of a project that required them to lift and stack 450-pound concrete cylinders!
During breaks, and after long days of working, the entire group looked forward to playing with the kids. Even with the language barrier, we all got close to and attached to the kids. The toys and clothing donations that we distributed to the children and to many of the village women, helped the children see that the foreigners they found scary at first were actually a benevolent bunch.
On our last evening at the village, we had a cultural exchange where both groups performed for each other. The ASIJ student volunteers mixed in with the Thai school children during this exchange, and it was heart-warming to see how all of the Thai children wanted to sit on an ASIJ student’s lap.
As is the case with every Abot Kamay service trip, I think it is difficult to discern which group benefited more from the other. Surely, we left a lot of impactful physical changes at the school. At our last night, the teachers and students alike thanked us profusely for making the water tanks, which would allow them to store water during the dry season instead of having to travel to a distant river for water.
However, I know I speak for every trip member when I say that the gifts that these children left us with are far more profound. Witnessing the happiness and resiliency of the children, despite having so little, was both inspiring and eye-opening.
Come November 26th, all 23 trip members left the Mae Lan Luang School with a bitter-sweet feeling. On the one hand, we were sad to leave the children who we had just begun to know and grow close to, but we also left with a new sense of gratitude for the simple everyday blessings in our own lives. (Mali Shimojo, grade 12 student)