So it has been over a year, in fact a year and a few months, since I arrived in Thailand. A lot has changed in such a short while. Marriages, births and unfortunately deaths. If someone were to tell me fifteen months before this point in time that so much would have come to pass while I was gone I would have had to think long and hard about my decision before coming here. That being said, I am glad I am here and have had the opportunity of a lifetime to experience and learn so much. Still though, sometimes it feels like I am in Thailand, in a dream, and the world is spinning madly on.
Things have really picked up in the Peace Corps Experience. I have been really busy lately which is a great alternative to not being busy. I have enjoyed the pleasures of meeting many young people and teachers from all over the country through a couple of fantastic camps/conferences.
The first camp I attended was held by the Thai Youth Theatre Committee here in Thailand. I jumped at the chance to go and help in Pitsanulok, Thailand which is in one of the Northern Provinces. It was a three day event focused on building self-esteem and confidence in Thai students through the arts. The Committee planned and funded everything and the camp was a great success! When the camp was over I was extremely proud of each and every student that camp to participate in the camp. The students, teachers and volunteers were also able to share in an exceptional cultural experience as theatre groups from literally ALL over Thailand came to join. The Southern, Northern, Northeastern and Central parts of Thailand were represented so not only did the students get to share in American culture but they also got to share their culture from their respective parts of the country with their peers. Before heading home I was invited by a local high school that performed in the theatre if I would like to go home with them on their "song taew" which is like a truck with two rows of seats in the back. I was hesitant at first and then I figured what a great opportunity to get to meet new people and students, especially ones from my community. We were off and little did I know I was in for a visit to a beautiful waterfall amongst the company of the Hmong hill tribes (which hold a special place in my heart because of friends back home) and a one night camp-out in the national forest before heading back home to Yasothorn. It was awesome and I hope to participate again next year.
The second camp I attended took place in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand which is just north of my province, Yasothorn, about 200 kilometers. The bus ride there takes about 7 hours which doesn't make much sense but unless you live here or come to visit I cannot not explain it to you on this blog (I am not sure if a 7 hour bus ride is an incentive to come visit). I arrived, per usual, to a warm Thai welcome and smiling faces. As a precursor to explaining why this camp was so awesome I would like to say that after the warm welcome sometimes volunteers are left to run the camp by themselves and the objective of the camp is defeated. This camp was a "Love Your Body, Empower Your Mind" camp which had to do with healthy bodies and minds with stations dealing with Gender Empowerment, Self-Esteem, Sexual Health and Fitness. The camp was to be done in only Thai language and although our Thai is steadily improving, the participation of the Thai teachers was critical. The teachers were AMAZING, they stayed around the whole camp and really did their homework which helped to engage and encourage the students to really learn the material (I wish I could express how great the teachers and students were at this camp, they should be a model for schools all over rural Thailand). A special guest, the Ambassador of the United States to Thailand also showed up for a couple of hours where she helped cook lunch with the students and addressed the importance of women in Thailand knowing they can achieve everything the men can and more. I think it really made an impression on the female students. The Ambassador is a very genuine person and I was glad to get the chance to talk with her for about an hour about anything and everything that we are doing here as Peace Corps Volunteers.
On top of these two camps I have just joined the HIV/AIDS Global Initiative Group here in Thailand so I had a meeting in Bangkok as well. "Work" life has been busy for sure and I am glad it is.
In the upcoming four weeks I will be going with my secondary students from one of my schools to Chonburi for their end of the year vacation. When I get back from that I will be heading to Bangkok for a meeting for a week or so and then to the South for vacation before meeting my brothers Pat and Joe back in Bangkok for the start their vacation and Thai New Year (Songkran). Needless to say, I will have a lot to write about to cover the coming month.....I'm pumped......Oh and I dominated intramural volleyball this year....next year we are taking home the 'ship!
Rest In Peace Donnie Ray my brother, your life was and always will be an inspiration to me and many many others. I love you. I miss you.