In early January I had the opportunity to go with ten other Child’s Dream employees to coordinate the Children’s Day activities at Lionmahajak school in Northwestern Thailand. Every year the Thai government sets aside a specific day to recognize the importance of Education and provide a day of fun for the children (yes, a day off of school = emphasizing education) It sort of reminded me of a national Track and Field day like I had when I was in Elementary School with lots of games, music, and prizes. Aside from just a play day, it is historically a time for the country to reflect on education issues and potential reform. Generally nothing comes out of these talks, per usual in Thailand, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Lionmahajak School is located about 3.5 hour drive northwest of Chiang Mai, deep into the northern Thai mountains. Set on a beautiful hillside, it overlooks a vast jungle and is only about 40 miles from the Myanmar border. The school is sanctioned by the Thai government school yet it is actually run by the Thai border police. Therefore, it has a very military school feel to it with morning meetings in the school yard resembling basic training exercises.
Although it is supported by the Thai government, up until 5 years ago, the school lacked even the most basic infrastructure. There was very little clean drinking water and many of the children, all of whom are under 13 years old, had to walk at least 4-5 miles each day to get to school. Some came from further still and were often forced to stay with distant relatives or monks during the school week. In order to make going to school easier, Child’s Dream built two large boarding house for the kids to live during the school year. We also built a water filtration system to provide clean water.
The Child’s Dream Basic Education team coordinated the trip and requested volunteers from the office to go along and help support the activities. We left Chiang Mai on Thursday, mid-morning and took three of the Child’s Dream trucks. They were packed to the brim with all the prizes and game supplies. We stopped at least 4-5 times in the first hour to get all sorts of things from coffee, to dinner, and booze. Efficiency isn’t a common attribute in Thailand. Nonetheless, about 90 minutes out of the city we turned west and began driving straight into the mountains. The drive was treacherous as the farther you get into the mountains, the worse the roads get. Generally you have to balance the trucks on top of deep ruts carved by flowing water. We finally made it within a few miles, only to learn that the main bridge to the school had collapsed. Luckily for us we had the right vehicles for the job and were able to simply drive right through the river.
As soon as we set our bags down we began decorating the school for the following day. A co-worker Muoy was responsible for bringing balloons and she more than out did herself with dozens of bags of balloons in all shapes and sizes. Once we started blowing them up, the kids saw and wanted to join in. It was a really cool moment, sitting on the porch of the school house and laughing as we raced to see who could blow up the balloons faster.
We spent the better part of the afternoon setting up the game stations and decorating the school. Once the kids were all out of their classes they continued to help decorate and some of us played a big game of keep away soccer with a group of the boys. At sunset we enjoyed a big meal of grilled chicken and sticky rice that we had picked up along the way. Afterwards, the Child’s Dream staff built a campfire and drink beer and Thai rum. We ended up spending 4-5 hours around the fire playing the game ‘mafia’ and everyone having a great time.
On the day of the event we woke up pretty early, took a freezing cold shower, and were served breakfast by the school directors. At around 9am, the festivities began with a short speech by Daniel, the Child’s Dream Co-founder, and an introduction of our team. The students then gave a few performances including a dancing and singing. We broke everyone out into groups and sent them to the different activity stations we had set up. Each station had games and prizes including a relay race, ball toss, musical chairs etc. The clear highlight for the kids were the prizes and it made some of the games very competitive. All the children were really excited and would run from station to station.
I somehow was designated to work the main stage group where we played shorter games and coordinated the transitions. One of the funnier moments was when my co-worker Jack convinced me to try and lead a group of 1st graders in ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ in my broken Thai. The activities and games lasted for about three hours and then we gathered all the remaining prizes onto a table and had the children gather around to collect what was left. Lastly, we somehow were able to corral everyone together to get one huge group picture.
The school served us one last lunch before we packed up our stuff and headed out. It was a fantastic day and something I was really happy to be a part of.
On the way back to Chiang Mai, the group actually ended up dropping me off in the side of the road in the small town of Mae Taeng so I could meet up with Sarah, her brother Sean, and his girlfriend Katie. We all were going to head to Pai for the weekend and considering I was already at least half the way there, I spent a few hours relaxing in front of a 7-11. When their shuttle bus to Pai drove by, I hopped in and headed off for another adventure.