Wanted to check in because there is so much to keep up with. This last week has been intense, incredible, and immersive. I almost don’t have words for what my mind, heart, and soul have been a part of - but I will try my best to express. This will be a very detailed account of my first couple of days into my volunteer experience.
Upon arriving in Udon Thani, we picked up enough fresh produce to literally feed a small village (or seven), and we piled into the back of a truck in the hot sun. We drove an hour and a half into the rural countryside. I watched civilized infrastructure disappear the further we went. There were rice fields for as far as the eye can see, with small bouts of housing made from anything they could be resourceful with.
There is one temple that a fifty year old nun is investing in building for them. It was incredible to wander through its unfinished brilliance. This entire area is vast and extremely underdeveloped, a blank canvas to the community upon which they can grow and expand on.
We stayed at the heart of the project. It was a small farm/after school campus. I met the pig that we later had as our meal. That was a tough one for me. I heard his last moment. Tears swelled in my eyes as I replayed the pep talk from the lion king on the circle of life.
The food was constant as well as the work. These people live very busy lives, rising well before the sun. Understandably, given that there really isn’t anything in this world quite like a Thailand sunrise. The entire sky becomes consumed in a deep purple hue, bright pink warming up the horizon. One of the most magical things I’ve ever seen.
The morning of their annual Christmas party, we rose at 2 am. An army of grandmothers lay about barefoot on straw rugs as they prep food. We lend a helping hand without being able to understand any words, only gestures. I unfold hundreds of wrapped treats. The communal bond here is similar to that of them sticking to each other like sweet rice to a banana leaf.
Seven monks came at seven o clock to bless the food. The cultural way they went about this process was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. This is the first year they’ve done this. The monks sat on a lifted podium and the village lined up with food and flowers. The people went one by one, putting a piece to their forehead before placing it in front of the seated monk, moving onto the next.
Once the entire podium was covered in handcrafted Thai food (that took literally days to prepare) we all sat praying for about 20-30 minutes. I was starving, looking at my bowl of soup, then thought of the monks not having ate since before noon the day before. After the prayer was done, the people chanted for a moment as well. One of the monks came around and splashed us with holy water, one by one. A few older ladies began giggling, sending a warmth throughout the room.
Children were gathered round playing. There are a handful of hand-me-down instruments I had to give some love in order to be playable. I shared my music and tried to teach the kids. One of the girls (6 yo.) speaks four languages fluently, a prime example of the international importance in this unique program.
I walk away to smoke by the water buffalo and process. I think about how these children live and nearly start to cry. One of the schools has no running water. Hot showers are unheard of btw. There’s also two months of the year that there is no school, and they don’t have access to much food during that time. They eat frogs or ants or really anything they can catch in the countryside. I think of this huge meal that meant so much to them. How this is their Christmas. How they are all such happy people with close to nothing but one another.
I think of these strangers inviting us into the community. The smiles. The laughs. The bonding. The eternally grateful spirit they share. The food. The way they all sit together to eat it. The work. The positive attitudes. All while children in America are upset they didn’t get the new iPhone, these children got one bag of cookies, and if they were lucky, a t shirt.
I can’t quite put into words the feeling in the air or the way my heart feels right now, but this will stick with me for the rest of my life.
Photo credit to the very talented Cheyanne Robinson
Olivia is from Utah, USA where she studied Fine Arts, now balancing four part time jobs. Multitasking is one of her many strengths. The most rewarding of the four jobs is professional art instructor.. Cheyanne (also from Utah) is a Head Teacher for an international language program in Thailand, she is looking forward to gain a career involving the outdoors, education, youth work, art, and travel.