by Stephanie, Work-Study, IHF Chiang Rai
It’s hard to believe it’s been a little over a week since I arrived at the Chiang Rai Center. They do say time flies when you are having fun, so I shouldn’t be too surprised! Aside from the occasional and random drop-ins by the kid’s, who usually occupy these halls, there was not much interaction with them until Wednesday. This gave us the opportunity to work on small projects that typically get neglected due to time constraints when the centre is in full swing. Once Wednesday hit, I finally understood the fullness of what this “full swing” actually meant. It went from peaceful, almost zen-like to boisterous and buzzing with energy. I loved it! The kids here are awesome; welcoming and friendly, yet shy, resourceful and very capable young individuals. I quickly discovered that they are definitely what defines the center and what brings it fully to life.
Aside from the children’s arrival, one particularly fond memory was when a few of the men associated with the center decided to take on the monumental task of cleaning out the pool. The atmosphere it brought as they worked together was entirely positive. It was almost an air of laughter and camaraderie as everyone worked together — throwing out ideas and laughing in almost disbelief at the bravery (perhaps borderline craziness) of taking on such a task in the midst of filthy water, grimy surfaces, and creatures lurking below. While it was not finished that day, and may yet prove to be futile, for a few hours it brought everyone together through sheer amusement for the girls, and hard labor and teamwork for the boys. I personally will never forget the expressions of horror plastered on each of our faces as we held our breaths for the moment while brave Frank plunged his garbage bag-covered feet into the abyss of the unknown.
In other less particularly fond news, I experienced my first earthquake! At a magnitude of about 6, we were fortunate the quake was short so the damage sustained by the area was minor compared to what could have been. The following morning we did discover that between the main earthquake and all its subsequent tremors, the roof in the classroom had caved in. It was interesting watching how everyone used their improvisation and creative skills to repair the damage. In some ways, nonprofits with limited resources have grown on me for that reason. While they definitely come with their fair share of trials and tribulations, they also have a knack for testing your problem solving skills and are naturally in themselves excellent team building exercises.
Aside from regular work, I enjoyed my first day off. It is nice that the programs incorporate this as it allows volunteers to explore the area surrounding the center and gain a more complete experience as a whole. Armed with a rented bike, myself and another volunteer made our way along winding, pitted roads to Khun Korn Park, where we were able to take in a short 1.6 km hike through a lush forest to see a beautiful, towering waterfall. On our way back, we stumbled upon the well-manicured Singha Park housing many different and interesting sites. We rounded out our day at the local Sunday night market, where we were able to scour the stalls for souvenirs, gifts, and tasty treats. Definitely an amazing way to end an already great day!