After almost a year of fundraising in preparation for this trip, VSP was pleased to welcome back Billanook College to Thailand. The group spent almost two weeks with us. The trip centred on a big community service project, with plenty of adventure and a visit to the Chiang Mai’s Asian elephants included too.
First up was mountain biking and kayaking. The students did both in the beautiful Sri Lanna National Park, an hour north of Chiang Mai. Here they could bike in the mountains and through the jungle and kayak at Mae Ngat Dam. This was their first experience of the jungle and their first time kayaking. Their spirits remained high despite facing something new and they helped each other through the difficult moments with unwavering support and encouragement – This was a group determined to make the most of their adventurous trip abroad.
It was soon time for community service. This was their most anticipated activity but also the most challenging of the trip. As part of their service club at school, the students fundraised individually and as a group for almost a year before coming to Thailand. This paid in full for the project and for their flights and accommodation. Their project was to spend a week building a canteen from scratch for Papu Primary School and Kindergarten in Mae Hong Son. It was the first time that most of the students had built anything, so it was a steep learning curve to begin with but they were soon brick laying like professionals. Even though Billanook brought only a small group of eleven students and staff, they were able to successfully finish the large project in just six days. The canteen is now available to service two hundred students every day at the school.
Papu School hadn’t previously received outside help and were overjoyed to have a new kitchen provided free of charge, something that would have been impossible without the help of Billanook. Every day the Papu students came to see the Billanook students build and so they grew close over the course of the week. When the project was finished, Billanook’s students cooked a meal for the Papu staff and students, which they enjoyed together in the newly built canteen. By the end they were great friends, meaning Billanook not only left a material mark behind but an emotional one too.
Meeting the elephants topped off a life-changing journey to Thailand. Impressing Australians with wildlife isn’t easy but these gentle giants never fail to impress. It is a privilege to meet these creatures and Billanook appreciated their good fortune. Here, Billanook could reflect on the change they had made to the lives of the students they met and how much they had learned from the experience. The memory of a trip like this lasts a lifetime and will hopefully inspire the students to continue to be of service for the benefit of others and themselves.