It was a perfect summer, around 18 degrees Celsius in Brussels, Belgium. The students were still in their hoodies and jackets when they arrived at the Chiang Mai International Airport. They were not prepared for the kind of ‘warm’ welcome they were about to receive! It was one of the hottest days of the year in Northern Thailand at 39-40 degrees. This trip was ISB’s second year with the Visiting Schools Program but for many of them, this was their first time in Asia.
One of their main activities was community service. Their project was located at Ban Nong Wua Daeng Learning Center, a remote school in Lahu hill tribe village near the border of Thailand and Myanmar. It is a small kindergarten with twenty-five students ranging from 2-4 years old and only one teacher. The center was badly in need of a canteen and toilet area and therefore was the ideal place for a six-day period of community service.
The Brussels students were divided into two groups, which switched after three days so they could take turns working on the new canteen building. They had to raise the ground level up to about 20cm by filling it with dirt, build all four walls and mix lots of cement. In the beginning stages, the students had no clue how to mix or build anything, let alone how to use the tools. The gods above didn’t show them any mercy either, only rewarding them with extreme tropical heat the first day and blessing them with monsoon thunder, lighting, and heavy rain storms on the second.
However, this condition only challenged the students to work even harder. Arming their face with only smiles and laughter, they all welcomed the hard manual labor work and endured the unforgiving weather. Even the local children joined in and helped as much as their little bodies could. Language wasn’t a barrier for Brussels students nor for the local kids as they quickly understood what the task was, cooperating and communicating with each other well regardless of size, age, or their origin.
"What I liked best was the community service. Although this was hard work, it was a completely new experience from which I learnt a lot from it" – Charlotte M.
"I enjoyed the community service the most because it was challenging and required concentration but it definitely was worth seeing the kids happy with their new building" – Simaima P.
The Brussels students were introduced to other great activities during their stay in Lanna Land. They learned lots about Thai language and culture which they quickly found very useful during their shopping night at the Night Bazaar. They were shown Wat Doi Suthep and later chatted with monks about life and religion. The students found talking with the monks very intriguing and they all left the temple visit with a better understanding of Thai Buddhism.
Another highlight of their trip was their adventure day. In the morning they went mountain bike riding through the local village and rice paddies and in the afternoon went kayaking at the Sri Lanna National park. This was a quite physical event, working out their leg muscles in the morning, then using their upper body strength in the afternoon. A lot of them were surprised at their own ability. Another very challenging yet rewarding day.
"This was my first time kayaking, and I’m proud of having done it!" – Fanny E.
On the last day the group took some time to reflect on their experience and to share their most memorable moments of the trip. There were lots to speak of, but the place most commented on was the Elephant Nature Park. This was the first time they have had the opportunity to enjoy a close-up encounter with these gentle giants. None of them was aware of how the elephants were treated and that now Asian elephants are an endangered species due to their population being reduced to 2,700 from 100,000 in 1850. Only around 500 wild elephants now roam the jungles of Thailand.
Elephant Nature Park gave the students knowledge about Asian elephants and how we can conserve them. They ended the day visit bathing the elephants … then turned to their friends and bucketed them with Mae Tang river water which quickly escalated into a group water fight. The water fights were much welcome during this warm afternoon weather.
"My most memorable experience was seeing and touching the elephants up close" – Karola M
The weather was hot - up in the high 38 degrees - on their last afternoon in Thailand. In the courtyard, most were sweating with packed bags ready to board the bus; they all wished the trip could have been a bit longer. The Brussels students weren’t quite ready to go back yet. They were all chatting about their adventures such as bargaining at the night bazaar and the things they would miss with lots of laughter and smiles. Through this school trip, they made new friends, new experiences, and new memories. Most of them said that this was ‘A trip of a life time’ and they will return back to Thailand one day.
"I feel like this part was an experience that I will never have again and it really made a positive change in me." – Megan D.