Abot Kamay, one of our most active service groups, has been doing a lot of fundraising recently. You may have seen them raising money at events such as the Valentine’s Day bake sale or the High School Swim Championships on February 13. Their recent efforts are in support of two communities, one in Thailand and the other in Laos, in light of their most recent visits to both, late last year. Since their visits, they have been fundraising to provide tools and supplies for each village and have raised approximately $3000 since last September.
When staying in a foreign mountain village, just west of Chiang Mai, you tend to appreciate things in your everyday life that you didn’t before. Take, for example, the simple bliss of a flushing toilet—a small luxury, which often goes unnoticed in our privileged world. But it’s safe to say that the people in Hue Pa have never experienced a toilet that you didn’t have to squat over, a shower that wasn’t simply a bucket or a closet full of clothes choices. They are without even these few necessities, let alone any other kind of luxury.
Abot Kamay, a student-run volunteer organization, dedicates its time and funds to provide these communities with new facilities. In 2014 the team assisted the village in building a new kitchen for the school that provides a warm lunch to 100 kids every day. This year the village requested a playground for the school; something that the children have never had before. And so it was last October that we sent 18 eager members of Abot Kamay to Hue Pa to work with local volunteers in building a playground.
Within three busy days, we, along with five volunteers from the village, built a swing set, a seesaw, a climbing frame and a slide. The amount of time and energy that everyone put in was incredible to see, and I think I speak for everyone when I say it was truly a team effort. Our acceptance and support from all aspects of the village community was overwhelming.
On the second day of our stay, a group of us were invited to attend the local church service where we were all deeply moved by a speech made by the pastor. He thanked us profusely for all of our help and expressed his hope for our two communities to remain closely connected. In particular, he showed his gratitude for the fact that we had returned to the same village for the last two years. This is in contrast to other organizations that often go to one place and then move on to another the next year.
Our actions in this community define Abot Kamay’s aims in promoting sustainability in every project that we are a part of. It is for this reason that we aim to return to Thailand next year to further support the village and school of Hue Pa.
Abot Kamay believes providing sustainability and opportunity is what it takes to really help a remote village. On November 19, 15 Abot Kamay members and two assisting teachers left Tokyo for the first ever Abot Kamay trip to Laos. The members homestayed for five days in a village near Luang Prabang, the capital of Laos, to facilitate the construction of an eco-bungalow made with adobe mud bricks.
Our trip was in collaboration with the organization World Volunteer and Tiger Trek, a local tour company. World Volunteer has created a program that uses various service groups’ efforts to construct eco-bungalows near three remote villages on a hiking trail. Each house about a day’s hike away. The idea is that once the eco-bungalows are complete, Tiger Trek will offer a hiking adventure along the trail and allow tourists to spend nights in the bungalows. This will create revenue for the local communities, who are being trained on how to run a business. The project also gives locals an alternative model for building houses that is convenient to make—with adobe mud, all materials can be found in the village. The clay is much stronger than traditional bamboo and much more cost effective than concrete.
In the tropical, humid heat, the Abot Kamay members and village representatives made a concerted effort to build 150 bricks and add a meter more to the height of the fledgling bungalow. This task required the cutting of straw with a machete, the mixing of dirt from a termite hill with cut straw and water to make durable mud, the making and shaving of bricks and finally the construction of the bungalow using the shaved bricks. Despite the heavy labor, the club members felt rewarded by the experience. The exciting but challenging adventure of homestaying, in which two members stayed with a village family, allowed the student and teacher volunteers to make strong connections with the locals.
Connections between locals and volunteers were built through mutual curiosity turned to mutual affection with the sharing of food, smiles and laughter. The lack of a common language did little to deter the end result. The Abot Kamay members returned to Tokyo on November 26, feeling grateful for the opportunity to use their hands and help provide opportunity and sustainability to fellow people. (Carrie Bennett, Abot Kamay Faculty Advisor)