Another Student’s Perspective - Thailand Water Project – Letty Houldworth
I go to bed at night listening to the Karen chatting, dogs barking, geckos calling and the sound of pages turning. At 4.30 in the morning I wake up to the sound of the cockerel crowing and villagers congregating at the stilts of our hut ready for a day of work in the paddy fields.
Our first day in Ban Hak Kia was definitely the most difficult as we all took on the challenge of bearing heavy pipes up towards the source which was a steep 6km hike. By the time we reached the source a lot of the group had run out of water, I was very dehydrated but luckily through the use of a LIFESAVER bottle we managed to filter dirty water from the paddy fields.
After a long, tiring day, the group wound down with a mug of hot chocolaty milo, this signified the end of each working day and was much appreciated. Most days of work consisted of bucket chains full of sand, water and cement. I particularly enjoyed days when the villagers joined in and helped with the chains and shoveling. It was also amazing watching the boys and villagers at work, I will always remember the image of an old man chopping bamboo for the scaffolding, he was squatting with a cigarette in his mouth and a machete in his hand.
During the second week of the project Nelly, Poppy and I created a plan for the sign that would be placed by the tanks which we painted and varnished. Once we’d finished varnishing the wood it began to pour with rain, through pointing, sign language and very bold gestures we managed to let a villager know that we needed a strip of tarpaulin. He disappeared for a long time and we weren’t sure whether we’d got the message across, however he returned with exactly what we wanted –with a huge smile. All the villagers treated us like this – beaming and welcoming.
They seem to be the happiest people I’ve ever met because they have such a simplistic and community-orientated lifestyle. We spent a lot of our free time with the children and got to know some of them very well. I will never forget the time when I was sat outside drawing the view from my hut and three children collapsed around me and watched me draw over my shoulder. They seemed fascinated and wanted to take my pen and draw as well.
We were planning on going to the school in groups during the second phase of the project to help out as the teacher’s wife was very ill and he didn’t have enough time to work. So we went to look at the school to see what resources we had to work with, we were shocked to see how dirty it was, it looked like it had been out of use for years as it still had Christmas decorations on the window sills. We decided as a group to scrub the floors and tidy the book shelves and that night we felt a huge sense of satisfaction.
This afternoon Poppy, Flora, Nelly and I spent two hours in the school with nine children. They were mesmerized by the bubbles, stickers and balloons. There is one mentally disabled girl in the village, I sat with her and we wrote our names on paper, she wrote the whole of the alphabet and spoke a lot of Karen. I got the sense that she isn’t treated the same as other children in the village and is overpowered by many of the other children as they are all very loud and boisterous. By getting to know her quietly, just the two of us she was able to relax and let her guard down.
This trip has put me in situations I’ve never faced before, not only have I got to know 19 very special people in the Gordonstoun group but I’ve come across some interesting characters within the Karen community. I was completely overwhelmed by the skills that the Pakanyor boys and Karen villagers have in order to work together and use completely natural resources throughout the project. I’d like to thank Mrs Barton, Mr McNeill, the Pakanyor Foundation and LIFESAVER systems for all they’ve done to make this project possible.