Time Capsule Letter
Ten high school students flew from a variety of places throughout our home, and presently our only, planet. You all had at least a few ideas of what this grand, life-changing experence would entail. After completing orientation, lesson planning began for teaching English the following day. You all adapted smoothly to the playful, carefree attitudes of the Thai children. You all excelled at creating a variety of games and activities for the students to learn.
After the final class we traveled to Phu Chi Fa, where we had the fortune of experiening local cuisine, an amazing cultural display of dancing, martial arts, and firey acrobatics! The evening culminated with campfire songs!
The next morning, everyone ate breakfast and we left at 8:00 am for a sunrise hike! We jumped into the back of the locals trucks and road a short way to the trailhead. A short hike up to the summit and we were on the top of the mountain bordering Laos, however dense clouds obstructed any view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. We left Phu Chi Fa for a food court near the White Temple, then we set off for the waterfall! A giant, beautiful waterfall met us at the end of a long, natural hike. That night was our final night at Chang Garden before moving to EVT.
Perhaps a couple of you imagined elephant poop, but less-likely smearing it onto trees — to protect them! Everyone was surprised when they realized the elephant poop didn’t smell that bad!
The first day of service began with Jack demonstrating elephant training and his novel methods of cleaning their feet. It was surprising when Tongin started putting up a different foot and Jack explained how that proved Tongin’s intelligence and the success of his target training method. Service began by moving sand with two carts to the training area, which remind one of homemade wheel barrels. Early on we realized that one of the carts wheels was flat and bending obscurely under the weight of the sand. However, just like that cart, we all pushed through the strenuous service and came out on the other side!
In retrospect, those who were excited and shared a positive attitude made it easier for everyone, which luckily was all of you. Moving sand to the training area led into poop smearing. We all shared a relaxed poop smearing session, which culminated in most everyone covered in mud and water, this happily lead us happily into “Jack Talk.” We all viscerally experienced a condensed version of jacks life. Remember? It was a story of adventure, uncertainty, trials, and self-discovery. He reassured you that if you stay positive, work hard, take the road less traveled and stay open to life’s lessons, that you will find your way!
To celebrate finishing the second half of service, we went to the night market, one of the most memorable experiences in the local community. In groups you all strolled, bought souvineers and marvelled at the Thai market. Following the final day of service, we ventured out into Chiang Rai to four exceptionally different temples and enjoyed a fancy buffet. The next morning we set out for Elephant Peace where we had a more intimate experience with Elephants! We learned about the Carin people’s cultural traditions and lifestyle from the amazing Da-Da.
On the morning of the final full day, we set out for the cooking class! Strolling the traditional Thai market, akin to America’s grocery stores we tasted a variety of treats. In groups of 2 you all cooked Thai cuisine for one another under Suwannee’s guidance.
The trip culminated with capstones, a campfire and writing appreciation letters! We hope you all learned how capable you truly are after all the challenges you overcame in Thailand. Never stop learning, growing, and evolving to the best version of you—that only you can be! We wish you all the best in your future endeavors!
Sunday August 4, 2019
Hi parents! Hi students! Welcome to the first blog post of your GLA trip.
There is a lot of preparation and behind the scenes work that goes into this program, so the three of us woke up early to make sure that everything was in order before your arrival!
All the students arriving today were coming in on the same 2:30pm flight so we made our way to the airport around 12:30. We had enough time to settle in and get ready to greet your smiling faces at the international arrivals gate.
We were so happy to see all nine of you! Even though you had just gone through many hours of travel, each of you greeted us with excited hellos and positive attitudes.
After some time spent exchanging money and calling home, it was time to head to the home base, Chang Garden. Everyone settled into their rooms and then met at the dining room to talk about and complete their roommate agreements. A quick shower break later, we were back together talking about and role playing the Code of Conduct.
At 6pm a chicken fried rice dinner was served and once we finished, we began making our Community Agreement. With such a small group, it felt like we were already a family as we discussed these topics and shared our opinions.
As you’re all settling into your new accommodations, with your new friends, we are so excited to have you all here and can’t wait for what’s to come this session! (Definitely better pictures to come 🙂
Ps. Talia, we can’t wait for you to join us 🙂
– Kasandra, Keenan and Dee
Monday August 5, 2019
Today was our first full day in Chiang Rai. We woke up bright and early because of the time change and played cards in our house until breakfast. After, we got to know each other through ice breaker games and familiarized ourselves with all the rules we would need to know for the duration of the trip.
For lunch we had a Thai dish that the cook assured us was mild, but left many of us sweating. We then had some down time and a large part of our group went swimming in the pool while the others talked nearby. After we returned to the dining area to learn about Thailand’s culture and basic words and phrases.
In the afternoon we started discussing and planning for our service in a nearby school. We split into groups for the older and younger grades and began planning games and vocabulary to teach the students. The group working with the younger kids focused on items in the classroom while the other group focused on camping, adjectives, and animals. We worked until dinner then took a break to enjoy coconut curry and fresh mango.
At the end of the day we split into our mentor groups and played games and talked for an hour, which was my favourite part of the day. After, the group working with the older students in school finished up their materials while everyone else settled into their cabins getting ready for bed.
Overall it was a great first day in Thailand and we are excited to start teaching tomorrow.
Tuesday August 6, 2019
Today we began our first day of teaching! Everyone was nervous at first, but once we met the students we realized that it wasn’t as difficult as we thought. We taught students animals, camping supplies, and adjectives. We learned shortly that the students love to play “Hangman” and “Duck, Duck, Goose”, or as the students call it “Apple, Apple, Banana”, and of course “Baby Shark”.
After a fun day of teaching we went to experience a Thai 7/11. Some of us bought ramen and sweets. A lot of us were shocked to see how inexpensive everything was as someone saw a toilet for the price of 1500 baht on our way home which is roughly 49 U.S. dollars.
Once we got back to home base we had dinner and then began prepping for our next day of teaching. After having met with the students, we realized that what we originally planned was too simple for the students and we needed to make new games that are more challenging and more engaging for them.
After a reflection circle with Dee, we are off to our rooms and ready for day 2!
Ps: We are very glad that our last team member arrived today. 🙂
– by Erin
Thursday August 8, 2019
Today we woke up at 6:30 am and left for the last day of teaching at 7:15. We got to experience their morning assembly where they brought the GLA members to the stage to give a speech. Afterwards we sorted through our materials to leave behind for the teacher.
At our last classes we all joined together to work with the p1, p2, and p3 groups. The students were able to figure out 80% of the vocab from looking at the corresponding picture. This was made me feel really good about what we were doing for them and i felt as our week was quite beneficial. As we left the students bombarded us with hugs and goodbyes.
When we got back into the vans we went straight to Phu Chi Fah and settled into our rooms for our one night stay. After dinner the Mong tribe put on two shows. The first show involved men diving through rings of fire. The little kids performed their cultural dance. After each performance I handed over GLA’s donation and took group photos. As the night came to an end, we gathered around the fire and sang calming and soothing music.
– by Lacie
Friday August 9, 2019
Greetings friends and family! Today was our second and final day at the mountain village Pu Chi Fa. We all woke up around 8am and after breakfast we were on our way to hike up to the summit. To get to our starting point, we rode in the back of pickup trucks on winding roads through the rain; which was surprisingly fun. Hiking up was a difficult task, but the beautiful cows on the way and trees surrounding us made it well worth it.
At the top, we were at an altitude of 6,000 feet, and literally standing in a cloud. We also stuck our hands over a border fence, which means we all technically visited Laos. We also had about ten minutes of silent meditation, which Was a great experience for After hiking and riding back down, we got into the vans and were on our way to the Khun waterfall.
For lunch we stopped at a food court, and soon enough, we arrived. The hike on the way went through a lush jungle, was incredibly beautiful. There were tall trees and bamboo stalks, huge leaves, and the constant chirps and hums of insects. The water itself was cold, but it was easy to ignore that in the setting. I was struck by the height of the waterfall and how picturesque and perfect the whole thing was. We stayed for about 45 minutes, and returned to the vans to go back to Chang Garden for the last time. After dinner, we mostly packed and relaxed around the resort. This was the end of another great day in Thailand.
Saturday August 10, 2019
Hello friends and family,
Today was an adventure for us since the second we woke up. We scrambled to shower and pack to move to the EVT since we were too tired last night . Our breakfast consisted of eggs, bacon, rice, and of course mangosteen which is the best fruit ever by far. After breakfast, it was time to say our goodbyes and get on our way to EVT. In the van some we had nice discussions about the trip and looked as we saw new scenery pop up.
When we arrived at EVT, we firstly saw that the ethereal white temple sat right across the street. We all got out the van and then Jack the owner of EVT greeted us. One of the first things he explained to us was that the sounds of suitcases make the elephants annoyed so we had to wait. We all tried to pick up our suitcases and walk across the grounds to get to our houses.
There we went over basic house rules and got settled before lunch. At lunch we had a delicious chicken and some vegan dished too. All of it was very yummy and we ended up eating with another tour group. Then, it was off to see the elephants.
As Jack took us around the property he explained a bunch of cool facts about the area. The sanctuary’s origin story was that it was a garbage site dating back for years before they cleaned it up. They then started to get their elephants and work on rehabilitation. When we saw the first elephant it was chained up (humanely) due to a certain process that happens. It’s a process that is meant for breeding, but it can make the elephants more aggressive during the time period which is called musth.
We then moved on to see the beautiful girls ( Elephants of course:) and continued to learn a lot about these animals. After awhile we got to see the elephants get their baths. Jack explained how they purposely get themselves extra dirty for the baths. Then later on we got to feed the elephants and the one I fed really enjoyed banana tree shoots. After that long day of seeing elephants we had a good dinner and continued on to do some nice activities with each other. The activities really engulfed us in looking at perspective. I really enjoyed today.
Sunday August 11, 2019
Hi! My name is Remie and I was the leader of the day today. Our day here at Elephant Valley Thailand (EVT) started off with a yummy breakfast of cereal and the best mangoes we all had ever eaten. We are all obsessed now. Then, we prepared for poo patrol hour with our guide named Fon, by putting on gloves and boots (which Jack, the owner of EVT, calls “wellies”) and making sure we all had water with us to keep from getting dehydrated. Poo patrol consisted of picking up poop and raking leaves and throwing it all into “poo poo island!” As gross as this may sound, it was mostly fun and definitely tiring. With the hot sun and the flies, we all pushed through and put in great effort in the name of clean pathways for the elephants. Tomorrow we get up and do it all over again!
Following poo patrol, we washed our hands and changed into new clothes because we were all very dirty and sweaty. Then we went to watch an elephant named Tong In get his nails trimmed by Jack. To do this, a trainer used “target training” to get the elephant to raise a certain leg when it was tapped by a stick. Then, the elephant would put its foot on a low fence, and Jack would trim its toenails and take care of his feet. He even found a cut which was in unhealthy conditions on the back foot of Tong In and fixed it up. It was very interesting to watch and hear what Jack has to say. There is so much that goes into taking care of elephants that most of us hadn’t thought of before.
After lunch, it began to pour (the first time). Instead of beginning our volunteer work for the day, we avoided the storm and studied elephants with Jack through a video of a few herds of elephants crossing a road. We learned about how some elephants are matriarchs, and how to tell the age of an elephant through its smile, ears, and back hump. When the rain stopped, we did service for a while by bringing wheelbarrows of sand to wherever it was needed around the EVT campus. Hard work, but of course, fun. The rest of our days was filled with dinner, a trip to the local convenience store to find snacks and a coincidental group of cows, and group hangouts. Tomorrow is going to be a pretty similar day to today, and we are planning on getting through it living by this quote: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Gandhi
Mammy, Babby and Zippy, I miss and love you!
Babby I know i am probably making you super jealous with this mango talk, but they were so good. You would love them! Lol sorry… not sorry at all.
Photos from Friday through Sunday:
Monday August 12, 2019
Today, Monday the 12th of August was our second day of service at Elephant Valley Thailand. Our morning began with breakfast at 7:30, the usual time here at the sanctuary. We have “Poo patrol” from 8-9 in which we move as a group from site to site cleaning up the night areas of our 5 beautiful elephants. It’s really quite an enjoyable experience to see those who can barely conceptualise that they are touching feces to laugh and talk as they scrape the remaining poop off the dirt floor.
I, myself, find it very satisfying. Fon is one of the many great staff that Jack, the general manager at EVT, employs. She joins us for Poo Patrol and her quirky and amusing attitude makes the experience much more enjoyable for all of us. “Poo poo island” is now a place that we all refer to casually and find it funny that we do.
After poo patrol our real service day begins. From 9:30 to 11:30 we cleaned up the area for one of Jack’s newest rescues, Zack. Our group of ten split into two, one digging up the urine soaked areas of dirt to avoid the elephants sensitive pads from acquiring urine burn, and the other on sand duty. Those on sand duty take turns shoveling sand from one end of the sanctuary into a wheelbarrow and hauling it back to Zack’s area to recover the dug up dirt. Trips for hauling the damaged soil in a wheelbarrow back to “Poo poo island” are also rotated. After those two hours of service came feeding the elephants and lunch, at 12.
Lunch consisted of tofu dishes, vegetable dishes, a fish dish, as well as individual rice bowls; this is the common lunch of EVT. Afternoon service was a joy if I do say so myself. There’s no proper way to put it – We smeared poop on trees. Trees are very important to elephant health and their balanced ecosystems but they often break and knock over trees as they rub up against them, to scratch, play or sometimes unknowingly, or out of aggression. The act of spreading a mixture of many different elephant’s poops and mud on the trees prevents this from happening, as they do not like the smell of other elephants poop and do not want it on their bodies.
Afternoon service ended at 3:00, after which we all showered and rested for 30 minutes for feeding time at 3:45. The elephants are fed at 11:30 and 3:30 and our group is able to do at least one of these times a day. After their feeding, one of our mentors took all of us to the store about 15 minutes down the road; there we bought snacks, ice cream, and anything else, as we did yesterday.
Dinner is always served at 6:00, and tonight it was a tasty chicken noodle soup dish and french fries, as well as fruits and veggies. After dinner, we had an activity, a debate. The topic of our debate was the legality of Bequains aboriginal whaling practices for the sake of their culture and diet. We were split into pairs and given a side to take, as one of 5 different organizations. The debate got quite heated and I was given the position of the IWC, the International Whaling Commission.
My stance on the subject was opposing to the side I was given, being that the IWC supports the island to whale only up to 4 male whales a year due to its weight in their survival and economy. After educating myself and participating in the debate, I agreed with the side I was arguing for. Following the debate, we all answered questions on the program thus far and our experience with staff, food, travel, etc. Lights out at 9:15 for our last day of service tomorrow!
– by Sophia
Tuesday August 13, 2019
Greetings to friends and family!
Today is August 13th which unfortunately marks our last day of service. The day started of by eating “the most important meal of the day”. Our breakfast consisted of eggs, toast with homemade jam, cereal, and fresh fruit including the well loved juicy MANGO. After stuffing our faces with the delicious food, service began. Our first task was “Poo Patrol”, which is essentially picking up elephant dung and leaves. As gross as it sounds, it surprisingly became somewhat enjoyable.
At 9:30 the service truly began, our second task of the day was moving sand around. As monotonous and insignificant as it sounds it’s actually quite essential for the elephants’ well-being. Sand is fun for elephants to play with and acts as a urine drainer to reduce urine burn. After loads and loads of moving around sand we all grew eager for lunch. This task really tested our teamwork in that we had to truly work together to be able to do this job as efficiently as possible. Usually after one task is done we were given another however today was slightly different. Finally lunch came around, and you can assume that all the food was consumed immediately after sitting down, no food left behind!
After lunch, we got the privilege of speaking to Jack about what a leader truly is. Jack is a bubbly and hilarious Englishman that founded the elephant sanctuary in which we are occupying. He thoroughly explained key factors in succeeding in what you are truly passionate about. One thing among the many that resonated with me is when he explained that you can never truly be a leader unless you can lead yourself.
We fed the elephants one last time then break time rolled around which consisted of showering, much to my parents’ surprise reading, and group bonding. After eating dinner we all hopped onto the tour buses and headed to the night markets. The bus rides there included lots and lots of “karaoke”. When we all arrived to the night market engulfed in all the little stores and their foreign items, we began shopping! After running around from store to store bargaining became a sport that I am particularly fond of. After our two hours at the market came to an end, another karaoke session began. This action packed day has come to an end, and tomorrow awaits.
PS: Regarding the picture, this is who you raised. Love Dad & Mom
Wednesday August 14, 2019
Greetings, GLA friends and family! Today was an exciting day, the coveted temple day, during which we explored 3 magnificent temples. The first was appropriately called the White Temple, for its stunning coloring. In Thai, it is called Wat Rong Kun. We were all captured by its breathtaking white and silver architecture and haunted by the depiction of hell around the temple that consisted of skulls and hands reaching up from the ground. The White Temple was built to cause the youth to gain back their interest in religion, which the artist attempted to do by depicting famous characters such as Harry Potter and Spiderman within the temple.
The second temple was the Blue Temple, which is called Seuaten Way Rong Kun in Thai, and the blue structure was trimmed in golden-yellow with statues of dragons. Many of us bought incense, candles, and flowers as is customary for offering in Buddhism and we considered what we are grateful for in our lives. Next, we enjoyed a delicious buffet before traveling to the largest temple.
The Lady Buddha Temple, which is called Wat Huay Pla Kung, is composed of multiple structures devoted to the female Buddha atop a beautiful hill. The most famous part is a massive temple in the shape of the female Buddha with about 26 floors. The worship of the female Buddha is due to the belief that men cause chaos and women are less problematic, a belief which I happen to appreciate.
Finally, we restocked our snack collections at 7-eleven and traveled back to Elephant Valley Thailand. We discussed how we can continue the work we did during this trip in the real world by setting goals about future service we will do, which we call capstones. To begin, we had a fascinating discussion about how “knowledge is power” is perhaps not completely accurate because what a person chooses to do with that knowledge is what matters. We set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely goals (“S.M.A.R.T. goals), which we will present to each other on Friday. After a delicious dinner at EVT, we all watched an insightful and fascinating movie called Captain Fantastic.
We hope your day was as enjoyable as ours!
Thursday August 15, 2019
Where do I even begin?! I guess I’ll start this blog entree by saying that today was our second-to-last day here in Thailand, and although none of us were thinking about that fact throughout all the fun activities we did today, it is sad. Alright, now that I’ve gotten the sad stuff over with, today was so COOL! We all woke up around 8am and ate breakfast at 8:30am. The usual yummy pleasures of mangos and cereal. Afterwards, we drove in two separate vans for a while through the more rural areas of Chiang Rai.
We then stopped in the middle of a road, and climbed into another car which drove us to the grounds of the Karen Tribe’s Elephant Peace Project. On the outside, it looked like a beautiful landscape of rolling streams, farms, trees and vibrant green hills. But when we walked deeper into this tribe’s home, we discovered the rare wonder of how elephants live happily amongst humans; humans who live in bamboo stilt homes, not caring how social media or other groups perceive them.
Our tour guide and the owner of the Project, Dada, explained to us how her tribe treats the elephants with kindness and respect. The tribe regards the elephants, not as animals, but as humans and they should be treated with the same sympathy. Dada also explained how she knows that the Project’s elephants are domesticated and that she is not trying to convince her visitors that the way she does things is the best way in existence. Instead, she said that she and the rest of the Karen tribe aims to help the elephants live in peace, as they are sacred beings that must be protected.
Our jobs at the Project began with feeding the two elephants, Maddie and Dét, leaves and banana tree trunks. Then, we trekked through the stream, trying our best not to fall on the slippery rocks and sands. At the conclusion of our trek, we used small buckets to wash the elephants in the river. As if this wasn’t fun enough, we then had a water fight that got us all soaking wet and laughing. After eating a delicious lunch at the Project, we partook in a ceremony where we patted the elephants head with sacred water to bless them and wish for something of our choice.
Our last stop of the day was in the Karen Tribe Museum where Dara taught us about how her people live, dress, eat, and survive. She was so inspiring that we all decided to buy something(s) from her shop, mainly to give her money and help her continue the Elephant Peace Project’s incredible work. Touching and caring for the elephants and listening to Dada’s stories and lectures helped us all to not only understand how life can be lived happily with very little, but also how elephants and people can live in harmony in nature. As the Karen Tribe states on their website, “we do not see the elephants as business; we see them as part of the family.”
Thanks for reading,
Remie Suvanto — lover of elephants
Today we went to a thai cooking class. Our tour guide Nam showed us around a thai food market and let us taste lots of delicious food. We tried two different type of sweets with mung bean.
After our tour of the food market we went to Suanee’s cooking studio to learn all about how to make classic thai foods. We made papaya salad, pad see ew, tom ka gai soup, and bananas in coconut milk. Everything was absolutely delicious and everyone loved it!
Later we set up a campfire and shared our capstone projects. capstone projects are where we talk about a goal we have and how we plan to achieve it. Dee was able to find us marshmallows and cream crackers and we found a way to make s’mores!
After the campfire we all went to write our final goodbye letters and packed our suitcases to get ready for our flights in the morning.
– by Erin
Saturday August 17, 2019
Today was departure day! The excitement, the sadness, the packing and the goodbyes were just a few things we experienced today.
The first couple students were leaving at 730am, so it was an early wake up to eat breakfast and say goodbye. While they ventured off to the airport, the rest of the students slept and packed. They spent the day writing appreciation letters and preparing for their long journeys home.
After one final lunch, we headed to the airport with students for their afternoon flights. There were teary-eyed goodbyes, last words to prolong our time together 🙂 and long hugs shared by everyone.
After our final send offs, we just have some last words to share with you all.
This session flew by. It was filled with laughs, van jams, growth and new friendships. As your mentors and director, we are so proud of each and every one of you. We loved watching you grow and change in such a short amount of time. We witnessed your positivity, your willingness to overcome challenges and your ability to roll with the punches.
We appreciated your work ethic during service, your participation during activities and the great discussions in mentor groups.
We hope that each of you enjoyed these last two weeks and we hope you’ll take what you’ve learned here and share it with your friends and families at home.
Safe travels and thank you for being such a great group of students.
– by Keenan, Kasandra and Dee