Adam Harvey - Life in Mae Tia


Former KNBS Student Adam Harvey has just spent six months working as a volunteer teacher in Northern Thailand. Here is his report:

                                         Life in Mae Tia

Although I was due to go to university in September 2002, I made the
decision to postpone for a year and instead fly to North Thailand to teach
children in a remote Karen Hilltribe village for six months. I went via an
organisation called The Karen Hilltribes Trust who work closely with the
Karen people and oversee sending volunteers to their local schools to teach.
I also wanted to improve various aspects of my personal development, in
particular what I felt to be my lack of confidence. Such an opportunity was
going to be very challenging and I hoped I would learn more about myself as
well as find out about a whole new culture and way of life.

The village of Mae Tia was home for me during my time in the mountains. It
was a collection of various sized huts and wooden houses with many different
livestock living underneath- I had cows beneath me, as well as all the
chickens and dogs. Fortunately the pigs lived across the track, although
they did have a habit of escaping their sty. My house was divided into two
constructions - one building was fairly solid and housed a few bedrooms and
a kind of living room. The other building was a rickety hut on stilts with
very narrow wooden steps leading up into it. I slept in this hut which also
housed the kitchen. The bathroom was a separate small construction set
behind these two buildings - a corrugated shack with a hole for the toilet
and a bucket and Tupperware bowl as a shower. It was amazing how quickly I
adapted showering in this way!

My Thai family was brilliant and very warm and welcoming. My 'mum' could
speak a bit of English which was useful and she fed and fed me and anybody
who came through the door the entire time. Fortunately she was an excellent
cook and I had the opportunity to sample many different kinds of Thai, Karen
and Burmese food. She was always busy, cooking, cleaning, washing, feeding
the animals. My 'dad' worked in the mountains and came home sporadically,
often unannounced, but that was fine, just part of the very relaxed way of
life out here. The two young boys in the house were great fun and soon
became good friends as well as students. They were responsible for
introducing me to the village and showing me around. We went swimming in the
river, fishing and hunting with catapults. I have a lot of valuable memories
from my time spent with them and will miss them.

Although I was the only volunteer in the village there was never a moment
when this was a problem. I had so much to do, there were so many people keen
to entertain me and talk with me, and school was so busy that I never felt
that being the only English person was an issue. It is a real testament to
the warmth and kindness of the Karen people that I never felt lonely.

School was a natural highlight of my time here. As the only volunteer I had
a long day because I had to teach every class. I liked this though as it
meant I could get to know the children better. The first two weeks or so
were quite challenging as the children were very shy and not used to being
around a foreign person. Once they had overcome this, however, they were
very eager to learn and put as much effort into speaking to me as their
limited English allowed. After five months I have seen a massive
improvement. The youngest children (who are still learning Thai, their first
language being Karen) can confidently read the alphabet and count from one
to ten. The older classes can hold a basic conversation with me and have
increased their vocabulary and confidence in English. The children have left
me with some great memories; everyday was new with the only constant being
the smiles on their faces.

One event that will remain with me forever and which was a true high point
of my time here was when the school was entered in to a local football
competition held at the village of Thaphaphoom, and I was nominated there
coach. There were ten schools from the area participating in the
competition. We practiced hard and were fairly confident when we arrived.
Our first match was won easily with a score of 8-0 and spirits were high.
Our second match was won 8-0 too and took us straight into the final. The
children were very excited. The final was a tense affair and we were down
1-0 at half time. I had to raise the spirits of the boys, as after two
glorious victories this was something of a shocking set back. In the second
half it all changed. The school captain Chaiyawut took a beautiful free kick
from the half way line to make us champions 3-1! Many celebrations followed
including ice creams for all the team and two trucks driving them round and
round the village beeping their horns and cheering as all the villagers came
out to share in the glory. I was so proud I cried.

I have no regrets about taking the decision to postpone university, as I
wouldn't have missed my time out here for the world. I have had the
opportunity to witness a different culture, living with strangers in a very
different country. And I survived and even had a brilliant time doing so. I
know that I will take away from this experience far more than sets of
photographs. I have a new family, a new set of friends, a new sense of what
life is about and a new sense of my own capabilities. It was an invaluable
and important time and one I will never forget.