My name is Dan Yachnin and I feel very lucky to have been able to spend the past month teaching English in the Lawa village of Papae with ATMA SEVA, an educational NGO based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I had just finished a year of teaching English in South Korea and wanted to make a few stops on my odyssey back to my Canadian home. This stop has been relaxing, beautiful, and inspiring.
Farewell dinner in Pa Pae. From left to right: Pee Bit (Nid’s sister-in-law), Nid (ATMA SEVA staff, born and raised in Pa Pae), me, Nid’s mother
I had never visited a community this small and this remote in my life and never imagined that (in a small way) I would ever become a part of one. I tried to picture the village before coming here and tried to imagine what would make it roll. I figured that for the community to have any kind of success and survival it would require the people to work together. I could not have anticipated how right I was! The village works together as a team in which everybody seems to do their part and everybody seems to show caring and acceptance of one another.
As a teacher, the first obvious example of teamwork naturally appeared in the classroom. I had never really taught this level of ESL students and I admit that some of the work I gave and some of the questions I asked were much too hard for many of the students. Nevertheless, the ones who understood were always keen to help out the ones that did not and were always kind about it. I guess that’s not so surprising. What I found amazing was how nicely the students played what should have been competitive games! Games as simple as memory matching (that were supposed to lead to individual success) became group efforts as students looked around the room for guidance on which card to flip next. This was a sharp contrast to the experience I had in S. Korea where choosing to do a quick, mildly competitive review game before a test risked the onset of tears!
Next was football (or soccer to N. Americans). In the late afternoons when the weather cooled down a bit, the older boys always came out to play football. Once again, there were never any tears and never any pushing. Everyone was happy to play together and everybody seemed welcome to join (though I don’t think I ever saw any girls playing… they are, however, supposedly amazing at volleyball). Where were they getting these wonderful values? Why were they so much more respectful of one another than the students and athletes back home?
Let’s move up the ladder a little further and check out what happened on Songkran. Songkran, discussed in more detail by another intern named Katherine here, celebrates the lunar New Year and is of great importance religiously to the Buddhists in Thailand and socially to pretty much everyone. Many people came back to Pa Pae to spend the holiday with their families and with each other. The younger adults got together to build dams in the river and prepare for a big water fight. The older adults got together to plan a route to pay respects to the elders of different households, which involved very respectfully pouring a small amount of water on each elder. Both groups shared the duty of ensuring plenty of village whiskey to last the day! It was a great holiday and only because everybody was pushing in the same direction.
Villagers working together to build a dam during Songkran
Finally, I’d like to talk about the funeral that I witnessed during my last week. It was a 3-day event to honor the passing of one of the village’s elders and it was a very strong demonstration of how people can come together. Everybody stopped what they were doing for three days and came to pay respects in many forms including candle lighting, chanting, dancing, eating together and staying up every night until 6am so that the body was never alone. It was a beautiful mixture of mourning and celebration. There were countless jobs to go around and everybody seemed to know what to do. People also contributed money to pay for an animal to be sacrificed and eaten for the occasion. A pig would be a small honor whereas a buffalo would be much better. When I woke up, I saw a man with a machete walking near my house. He saw me and signaled for me to come and to bring my camera. I followed him to the site of the recently killed buffalo where about 20 people worked away with machetes to harvest the body. After I had brought the horns over to the house of mourning (about all I’m good for) I saw that there was also a pig and a whole other buffalo that had been purchased for the funeral. This meant more donations and more work that morning to get everything ready for the village of only about 200 people. Later that day people from other villages came to join in the ceremonies and showed me that there was an extended family to the already giant family of Pa Pae!
I cannot thank this village enough for the hospitality it has shown me and the ways that it has inspired me. At a time where I was checking internet updates on war threats from North Korea and explosions in the Boston Marathon, Pa Pae reminded me what it means to work together and solve problems together. I won’t forget that!
Thank you for a great month!