On the 29th of June 2011, nineteen Gordonstoun students and two teachers embarked on a twelve hour journey to Chang Mae, a city in the north of Thailand. We all had a vague idea of what to expect on the trip, however, none of us had been on a project like this before and most of us had never been to Thailand either, so we were all very excited.
Once we arrived in Thailand we went to the Inthanon Highland resort to start our acclimatization stage, where we spent a day walking into the hills to try and get used to the humidity. The scenery around us on our walk was fantastic, however the heat was even worse than we had expected. We also used the time to visit other Karen villages to get an understanding of what type of facilities we would have when we finally moved into the village. We also had the opportunity to visit a village that Gordonstoun had been to in 2003 so that we could see the water tanks that we would be building over the next few weeks and to give us an idea what we were aiming for.
Having completed the acclimatization stage we were all eager to arrive at our village and to try and settle in. When we first arrived we were shown to our huts by Jim, Gavin and other workers from the Pakanyor Foundation. The foundation had been working with the school and Round Square for 25 years, to provide clean running water for Karen villages across the whole of northern Thailand. The girls were staying in the headman’s hut. It was a big hut, with three rooms and the family moved into a smaller room so that the six girls and Mrs Barton could sleep in the main living area. The boys had to split up into two groups and moved into smaller huts. Some families completely moved out of their huts and into their neighbours so that there would be room for all twenty-one of us and our belongings. This immediately showed us how important it was to them that we were there to provide them with clean water.
We immediately started work, and began carrying bags of gravel, sand and cement up a steep hill to where the tanks would be built. This was incredibly hard, as the slope became more and more slippery as people trudged up and down with heavy bags. We all struggled at the start, only managing to carry a bag half way before having to take a break, however, as we pushed through the pain barrier we all started to find it a lot easier, and over the next couple of days most of the gravel, sand and cement was at the top of the hill, ready to be used to make concrete.
The next task was even more daunting than carrying bags up the short slope to the tanks. We now had to carry bags the 3km to the water source, in order to make a dam and trap the water that would eventually end up in the village. As wells as bags, we also carried; hoes for digging, and pipes to lie in the trenches that would carry the water into the tanks. Whilst some of us helped to dam the source others began digging trenches the 3km back to the village. Digging trenches was tough, as we had had little experience with hoes and the trenches needed to be deep enough to cover the pipes as this would ensure less damage was caused to the pipes. Fortunately the Thai workers helped with the trenches, as they were very skilled with hoes and were able to dig the majority of the way in just one afternoon!
After this we had to connect the pipes using special connectors and glue. The pipes started wider and got narrower and narrower so that the pressure would be great enough to carry the water to all the way to the village and into the tanks. The first pipe had a filter on it so that leaves and bugs could not get into the water supply. After all the pipes had been connected we waited for the water to arrive. We were initially worried that the pressure may not have been able to carry the water to the village, but once it arrived we were not only relieved, but surprised at how high the water pressure was. We now had to start building the tanks that would hold up to three and a half to four thousand litres of water each!
They were made by using two circular moulds, which were filled with cement and left to set. Once they had set we could remove the moulds and move them above the first ring and repeat the process again. We had to make four rings for each tank, so eight rings in total. To reinforce the tanks we used wire up through the middle of the tanks. As we completed the second ring we had to create scaffolding so that we would be high enough to build the third and fourth ring. The Thai workers used bamboo and wood from the forest to create the structure and we were all surprised at how strong and stable it was. It showed us how good the Thai people were at using their natural resources efficiently and to make something that was very practical, we were more than impressed!
We also used our time in Thailand to visit another Karen village that had a children’s centre, which was built using the money donated by a student from Gordonstoun. We took toys, but more importantly, together we bought a water filter so that the water from the taps was clean.
Now that our time in Thailand had finished, we were all relieved that we had finished the project but sad to have to say goodbye to the Karen people who we had worked and lived with for the last three weeks. We had become close to the families that let us into their home, and they were also sad to see us leave. One lady from the village began to cry, which really made us see how much they appreciated what we had done, and we were happy that we had been able to make such a significant impact on the lives of the Karen people.
Below is an extract from a poem that Jim, from the Pakaynor Foundation, read to us on our final evening in the village, and really sums up what our time in Thailand was about:
What will matter is not what you bought but what you built,
Not what you got but what you gave.
What will matter is not your success but your significance.
What will matter is not what you learned but what you taught.
What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched,
Empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.
What will matter is not your competence but your character.
What will matter is not how many people you knew,
But how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.
What will matter is not your memories but the memories of those who loved you.
What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.
I would like to thank Mrs Barton, Mr McNeil and the Pakaynor Foundation for making this trip a success!