Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Thailand 2012 - Part 4

Yesterday, the day before and the day before that...and the beginning of today...

We had a couple very rainy days here in Thailand. On the first rainy day we decided to put the day off from the home to good use and went to Tesco. Tesco is kind of like a superstore/walmart kind of idea...except with waaaay less selection of all the things we were looking for.  We went to do all the shopping for the gift bags for the kids at the home. We had so many great ideas for what would be awesome for the kids! Unfortunately, the selection at Tesco had other ideas. We set out in teams of two to find our desired items. It was a really fun "supermarket sweep" moment. After we found our items we got together and showed each other what we found. From there we divided up the shopping by boys and girls and then age ranges. Each team then had the task of putting together enough gift bags for their set group of kids. In total we put together 80 gift bags!!! And these aren't just any bags... The bag itself is either a backpack or a purse, inside are toiletry items like toothpaste and toothbrushes, and there are also toys; perfumes and hair clips for the girls, bubbles and stamps for the boys, pencil cases filled with the goods for school, note books, colouring books, water bottles, candy, and MORE! It was fun taking the time to put it all together. Taking into consideration the kids, what they like (and don't like) and how we want them to cherish the gifts they receive. After ringing through the LARGEST bill I'm sure the Tesco has ever seen, we ate lunch then headed back to the hotel. We packed the bags, labelled them and have them sitting, ready to go, just waiting to get into the hands of the awesome children that are going to be receiving them. I am SO PUMPED to see what their reactions are going to be like!

Shopping at Tesco
Loooong receipt.

5 of the 7 dwarfs. 
The next day gave more rain but we were determined to get to the children's home. We got all ready in the van with rain ponchos and we were going to get there and work! No matter what! The bridge to the children's home was getting pretty washed away...we were slipping and sliding trying to get across and, not going to lie, it was a little scary! Once safely on the other side it was time to work! TEAM PIG was in FULL FORCE!! We went to our work site, put on our rain ponchos and waited for instructions! We were told to dig up some of the hard, wet, clay and use it to pack the ground around giant cement posts. With our instructions and determination we went to work, laughing at our selves for how ridiculous we look. As we were working, our leaders just...walked...away...We wondered what was going on. They came back and told us they decided there was no point, the rain was just going to pack down any more work we did and we would just have to re-do it. After a wonderful photo shoot of us covered in mud, with our ponchos, hoes (and Bianca's pot) looking like the seven dwarfs (minus 2), we made our way inside where we played games with the kids.

We played quite a few really fun and funny games. We did a fun version of rock, paper, scissors, did the balloon stomp game, cowboy and horse, and this strange game where we all divided up and sat in 4 teams. Your team would sit back to back in a circle and link arms. All the teams had names and you would randomly yell a teams name then go and try to steal people from their team! It was hectic but the kids had A LOT of fun! When deciding teams... some of the kids actually knew my name and wanted me on their team! It was so cute and definitely caught me by surprise. I had barely spent any time with these kids but they knew me and wanted me as their fearless leader!...that, or my name is just easy to say...I'll go with the first option.

The day ended and it was time to venture home...more like have an ADventure TRYING to get home! Since it had been raining more, the bridge was basically impassable. The posts had started to all fall away and it was a mucky mess. Most of us walked across leaving us laughing as we attempted to make it across without getting too muddy (hello impossible!). We were SO BLESSED to have a nearby farmer attach himself with a cord to Milk's van and pull it across the bridge and down the path to the paved road. It was quite a comical situation to watch, but we were definitely glad the van made it across safe and we were able to head home.

This evening we went to a new restaurant to eat! A Milk recommendation. IT WAS AMAZING! The view of the Mekong river and the giant golden Buddha was awesome. And the food was incredible. I can honestly say though, my FAVOURITE food has been the food we have eaten at the children's home. It is just so good! It is made 100% with love and you can taste it. That evening we all came home and crashed and had an awesome time sleeping and praying for gorgeous weather.

Yesterday was such a fun day! Due to the rain, JK and the home suggested that we set up 4 stations for the kids to take part in: Yoga, Music, Art & Sports. We were all pumped on the idea as it kept the kids (and us) entertained while it was raining. Again, we walked across the bridge and Milk drove over after. I was at the yoga station and was pumped to be there! I had done my annual Hero Holiday yoga the previous afternoon which left me with ideas and leaders to turn to for direction (as Heather and Christal are both Yogi's). We did had half an hour of yoga which each set of kids and there were 4 sets of about 15 or so kids each. It was so cute to see how the kids followed along and payed such close attention to what we were doing. We were on the stage and the kids were on the main floor as they followed along. It was cute to see their smiling faces and hear them giggling as they tried out the random poses. A lot of them were really good at it! Anytime we would have our hands together they would say Sawadeka (hello) which was too adorable. We also taught them the word "Namaste" which was cute to hear them say.

After the yoga finished and we were waiting for all of the kids to come in for lunch a little girl name Tilapa came and hugged me! She just wanted a hug, that was all. It was actually nice that she didn't want to talk or do anything like run and jump around. Just a hug. I have a hug to give. I have love to give. It's so nice that the easiest most meaningful thing to give is love and that's what we all want and all need.

I met a few of her friends and watched them interact and play with a game together...a little plastic square with the numbers 1 - 15 on little sliders. You have to slide the numbers up and down and to the sides to arrange them in numerical order. It was interesting to see how thoughtful they were in each move they made....how you could tell they had a system worked out for getting it all done. When I tried they wanted to guide my moves to make sure I made it all happen in the correct amount of steps. After some playing we all ate lunch together then it was time for us to say goodbye...but just for a little while.

The sun came out which made for a warm afternoon and we headed out on the Thai long boats for a ride down the Mekong River to Laos to take in a market. I got myself some fRay Bans (Fake Ray Bans) which are definitely coming in handy and I also attempted to find some flip flops since I had busted mine walking down the long boat. It was so interesting to see the kids in the market act. It was a great comparison to how the new kids at the children's home act....hitting, pinching, etc. It was quite an eye opener to how far the kids at the children's home have come and we hear we will notice even more of a difference after we head to Myanmar.

In line for the Bubble Gum drink.
After the long boat adventure, prepped with sun glasses and new flip flops from the market on the Thailand side, we headed to a shallow, secluded area of the Mekong River to swim with the kids! They all showed up by the truck load (literally, a truck with them filled in like sardines in a can in the back) and RAN into the river! It was so cute to see them so free and pumped to be swimming while it was hot outside! We found out from JK that they generally go swimming every Sunday after doing some Community Service. It was a surprise to see them swim in their clothes and it was fun to see how great they all interact with each other :) We came out of the area where we were swimming and enjoyed a green drink that tasted like Bubble Gum (YUMMMM) and some BANGKOK BISCUITS!! They were kind of like an golden Oreo but in a half circle shape....they were SO GOOD! It was fun to see the kids let loose and completely enjoy every little bit of the afternoon.

After the swimming we ventured back to the hotel, exhausted from a full day! It was adorable how the few kids I hung out with that morning and over lunch wanted to also spend time with me at the river. They were  calling my name, holding my hand and then waving goodbye from the truck before they left. It was touching to have made a connection with the kids---even though kids aren't my thing. At the debrief I made mention that it's great how words aren't need to express what needs to be felt. I think that is something I will take with me more so this trip then any of the others. Mostly because of knowing the past these kids have had, or could have had.

TODAY! Ohh today! It's a wonderful yet sad day...It's the last day with the kids which makes it sad but it's also the PARTY DAY which makes it awesome! This morning we did more project work (Which was great because it was sunny outside!). I helped with the library and completed a whole flower, done with the proper technique, which made me excited. Bianca, Ashley and Gabrielle helped prepare lunch and a few others played with the kids. It was wonderful to spend more time with them. For lunch I sat with the same girls I sat with for lunch yesterday. It was a fun time to connect again but we had to leave early.

Now we wait for the party to start...we are heading there at 5.In the meantime, we are all preparing something to say to the kids. Something about them we will never forget, how they have changed us, etc. It has been challenging thinking of what to say as, for me anyways, a lot of the stuff we do doesn't really hit me until I return home.

Well, Christal asked me to write a blog so I am off! I am excited to share about the party!!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Thailand 2012 - Part 3

Last night it was decided that instead of being at the home starting at nine, we would go for 7am. Most of us are already awake anyways and it's a great way to beat the heat!

After realizing Ovaltine is amazing and finishing up breakfast, we went on our way to see the buddies and get to work!

Just getting on the bus was gorgeous! The sun wasn't out yet and there was a lovely breeze. Getting to the home early meant we were able to get to work right away and not be so exhausted while working in the hot Thailand sun. We hoed up the area where the playground is and levelled it all off.

While the hoeing and levelling was going on, a few of us went with Christal to the office to sort out all of the donations that were brought from Canada. It was a welcome break for the heat. The goal was to sort out donations for staying at the home and things to go to the drop in centre. Then, plan out what we wanted to get for the buddies gift bags. Talking to JK about what the kids like was very interesting....For the girls they like clips (not headbands) and don't really like nail polish either. The boys are harder to buy for and would want something like wallets. Both boys and girls don't like simple toys like yo-yo's. What they do like are more "one use" toys: temporary tattoos, stickers, etc. It's quite interesting how the kids here are so different...or maybe they are the same but our perception of them are different. In Haiti, the girls loved ANYTHING to do with hair and nails and both boys and girls were all over simple toys like jump ropes, balls, etc. When we asked JK about books he said they would probably just rip them apart. It's quite different. When you think about it, we only know to not rip things apart because someone told us not to and explained to us why. We also re-use toys because we normally have  a variety to choose from that, when we get sick of something, we can play with somethings else, then something else, eventually working our way back to the first toy we were bored with. When you are coming from a not stable background, you don't have all the guidance and variety most of us were blessed to grow up with.

I think the most interesting part of the day was the poster I saw in the office. It's a poster that draws awareness to the issue of the child sex trade and encourages people, if they see anything going on, to report offenders. The fact there are posters about it makes you realize really how big of an issue it is in Thailand.

Poster in the office.
After we sorted things out and made a list of the  things we wanted to put in the gift bags we spent more time with Yeem and did more work on the library. Yeem and I had a great talk about the uses for the whole banana tree: The fruit for eating, the leaves to make bowls, the root as a herb, what the trunk can be used for - NOTHING goes to waste which is so rad. I recommended she try slicing up a banana and freezing the slices...I hope she gets around to trying it one day!  One thing Yeem always says is that it is "your design" and you can do whatever you want with it.  She offers helpful ideas and hints to what would look nice but she totally lets you just go with it. You can 100% tell she is a teacher at heart. I had mentioned to Natasha, who I had been helping, that if I had as amazing of a design as Yeem had, I would have a REALLY hard time letting others work on it - giving them the freedom to play with it and express themselves. I'd be more of a "just  let me do it" type. I am amazed at how she is such a giving person.

Soup to the left. Main course to the right.

Lunch today was delicious. On top of the meal we had a special soup made especially for us. We ate as much of is as we could but we couldn't quite finish. We asked JK what to do and his response was to eat it. DEAD SERIOUS....or very sarcastic....you can never really tell with JK.  He said to eat it or have the guilty conscience of throwing away food in from of the children. Let's just say, a few teammates really stepped up and ate..A LOT!

It was another amazing day and, as strange as it is, I am OK with waking up early knowing where we are going and what we will be doing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Thailand 2012 - Part 2

Today we officially started our work in Thailand. Most people were up early (since that is apparently what we do) and were eager to head out to the work site and do what we came here to do. We started off by re-introducing ourselves to the kids and then we divided ourselves into 2 teams: Team Pig and Team Playground. I'm on Team Pig...and I was apparently VERY enthusiastic about being on that team which was funny to me. I have no idea why I was! I guess time will tell...

We didn't have enough supplies for us over at Team Pig so we helped out Team Playground. By lunch we were all hot, sweaty, and couldn't believe how hot it actually was outside. We went to have lunch in the same area we met the kids. All the kids sat in rows facing each other. We mingled in with the kids and sat wherever we wanted. The kids don't say much, are generally quiet, respectful, and just like looking at you and taking it all in. I feel this will change as time goes on but for right now, we are new to them. They went up in rows and and got their food then they brought our food to us. It was DELICIOUS! They said a prayer before eating which we found out was them saying thanks to the farmers for the food and that they wouldn't waste a single grain of rice. Could you imagine being that thankful all the time for your food? So thankful that you would praise God for the farmer and say you won't waste a single grain because of how blessed you know you are to be eating food? I think that is something that we could all learn from.
Gabrielle & the Ice Cream.

After lunch we had some chill time....where we enjoyed ICE CREAM SANDWICHES...that were literally...get this..ICE CREAM....between two slices of BREAD! How hilarious! It was so funny yet so awesome! The ice cream was delicious and the bread was..well...bread...except it was adorable as it was white and pink swirled. 

Yeem carving out a design.
Next we were off to meet Yeem and learn all about the library/art gallery. Her, her husband and kids were there for the summer teaching the kids art. Her and her husband are both into Art and her husband is also a teacher. They are in the process of building a round building that will be a library that also looks out onto the river where people can meditate and read in peace. I had a chance to talk to Yeem while we were working on the outside of the building. She told me about how excited she was for the building to be complete so that it could be a place for the kids exhibit their art. It will give them a sense of pride in their work and themselves for people to be able to come in and see their work. She looks forward to the kids learning the skills so that, once they leave the home, they will be able to sell the art work for income. So amazing! I love her compassion for the kids and her passion for her work. It is so inspiring.

Before Christal and I started work on our snail that we were contributing to the wall, there were 2 adorable children, one Thai girl and one Acca girl, that were taking the gunk we use to make the art on the walls and they were writing the word LOVE. Love is known by all. No matter what language, Love is transferable, we all want it, need it, and will do what needs to be done to have it. My dream is for everyone to give it; openly, freely, compassionately. Those children know of it's importance. They know it in a language that is not even their own. They feel it and can express it to us around them in a way we understand. That is love.

When we got back to the hotel we all cleaned up and then had dinner together. Over dinner JK told an amazing story of Kru Nam and her amazingly endless compassion. He told of a woman who was a brothel owner. As the owner she made the kids beg, have sex for money and she would beat them. Kru Nam and the other workers helped the kids at the drop in centre all the time. They eventually found out the woman who was the brothel owner was sick and needed to be in the hospital for treatment. So...JK took the lady to the hospital and payed all the fees for everything she needed to have done. He told us that the woman would be screaming at him, telling him to leave, and go away, and the people in the hospital would look at him like he was crazy...the only white guy in the entire hospital. They paid all the medical bills for the woman to be treated. This is the same woman who beats the kids, the same woman who takes advantage of these children....but as Kru Nam says, Compassion has no limits. It's a story that is mind boggling but it's a story we should all be able to share. We should be helping everyone...Not just those we are in good relationships with, not just those that can help us out, not just those who look the same or go to the same places. We need to help everyone. Hearing that story was so inspirational. The quote "Compassion has no limits" is something I now want to get tattooed on me as a constant reminder that no matter what, no matter where I am, what I am doing, we are called to always help those who are in need. No matter how terrible people might seem to us, they are someone God loves, they are His children, and someone we should help. I love being inspired by those I meet. I love knowing others have stood up against adversity and are breaking the traditional mold and to know that we can do the same.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Thailand 2012 - Part 1

From my notebook....

I had always wanted to do the Thailand Hero Holiday. Always meaning since I first heard about it. I was never too sure why I wanted to go, but I just had this inner desire to be there. I knew it was going to hold something special for me. We went to Haiti in 2010 and last summer we had the amazing opportunity to lead a team in the Dominican Repulic. After that trip I decided we had to do Thailand next. JP was down so we filled out the application forms, did a Mexican Fiesta Fundraiser that payed most of our way and now, here we are...In Thailand....

Day 1
Today was our first "Real Day" in Thailand. Yesterday we travelled to Chiang Saen (where we are staying) from Bangkok. We got settled into the hotel, went for $4 Thai Massages, ate dinner together, and did an orientation. We met JK - our translator who also works at the Children's Home and is the Thailand representative for Not For Sale. He has a great story and shared it with us over dinner. His story is on the See The Change t-shirts that we were all given to wear on our first day. Maybe one day I'll post it.

Today we had an amazing day taking in SO MUCH Thai culture. ..

On the left is Myanmar, right is Laos
and we are standing in Thailand.
We went to see the Golden Triangle - it's the area shapped like a triangle where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) meet. We saw people literally walking across the Mekong River! While we watched, Christal said you could see how easy it is for people to be trafficked across the bored. It was so hard to comprehend that these people were walking from one country to the next and no one cared.

Being Blessed by the monk.
JP and I
Next we went to see a GIANT Golden Buddha, did lunch, then had time to go to a temple. It was an amazing experience. We saw all these different buddha's - even different ones for the day's of the week! We saw people come in and pray and give offerings. We found out some fun facts: for being a monk, there are over 260 rules to follow. Then we had a wonderful opportunty to talk to a monk and ask questions. The monks name we chatted (and laughed) with was Pew Crew (obviously spelled and perhaps also pronounced different then what I wrote). He was absolutely hilarious! He told us that all the different poses of Buddha's mean different things. We leanred that the different looking Buddha's (different faces, and bodies) are all from different cultues (Thai, Chinese, etc). And we learned more about him (former Aviation Engineer!) Before we left the monk blessed each of us and gave us a bracelet that he used during the blessing process. The bracelet was to capture all the bad and then, after 3 days, you take it off and tie it to a tree. Loved the experience. It was an honour for him to bless us, even though we share different beliefs.

Side note: Thailand is SO QUIET! The people are so peaceful. 

After the blessings were given we went to the base of the temple and met with Kru Nam. She is an adorable short lady who loves accessories and is full of such joy and has such a big heart. You can feel the passion coming from her. She told us her story which is incredible and amazingly inspiring; She took her art skills and turned herself from someone who didn't know a problem existed, into someone who IS making such an incredible difference in the lives of kids. She was wearing a Not For Sale t-shirt which makes me so excited to intern with Not For Sale.

First time meeting the kids.
After being inspired by Kru Nam we went to Budies Along the Roadside to meet all the kids. They were sitting in rows that reminded me of Gym Class. We each went up and introduced ourselves as JK translated. He told the wide eyed kids our names and what we did and they applauded after each of us. So sweet! After the formal introductions of our team they brought us Lei's made of Jasmine. They came up all smiling, placed them around our necks, then quickly went and sat back down. Christel went to the front and told the kids there were only 2 rules for the time we were going to be spending together: Lots of fun! and Lots of Love! You could tell the kids were pumped that those were the only things they had to keep in mind to do! After the rules the kids were told they could play and they charged at us full of smiles, giggles and hugs that seemed to never end! They seemed to effortlessly show us so much love. Once you were hugging and playing, their past easily slips your mind - you could never tell their pasts were full of exploitation.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Let's blog about it!

The day has finally come.
I've talked about starting a blog to document my humanitarian adventures since the first Hero Holiday I went on. In May of 2010 I went to Haiti with Live Different (then called Absolute). It was a life changing trip that made me consider myself a humanitarian.
Let's get lame for a moment here. Dictionary.com defines a Humanitarian as "having concern for or helping to improve the welfare and happiness of people." With a definition like that, I feel we are all called to be humanitarians.
So, after a few trips to far off lands and committing myself to leave each day with LOVE at the root, it's time to start my blog: Love Inspires Change....The adventures of a humanitarian striving to keep Love at the root of it all.