Every volunteer has a unique experience depending on the location, religion, and traditions of their site. Each month we will explore a new volunteer’s site through the eyes of a visiting volunteer to show how similar yet different serving in Thailand can be.
Pablo Doster Ropero, 129 YinD
Dalton Striedel, 129 YinD
Khong Chiam, Ubon Ratchathani
Why did you visit?
What did you do in the community while visiting?
When I first arrived to Dalton’s community his English Camp had already started, so I was taken directly to the Camp site at Pha Taem National Park. We introduced ourselves to the kids, SAO workers, and I got to meet DJ’s main counterpart, Doungnapa, who helped with Camp planning and budgeting. Doungnapa was such a pleasure to work with, and she went above and beyond to make us feel at home. After a couple of spelling and pronunciation workshops the students began to feel comfortable making mistakes with us. Between workshops we had great energizers to help us get to know one another, but the Camp favorite was the ‘How Do I Play My Instrument’ energizer because it left a lot of room for creativity. Once the first day was over we got to join the kids for a variety of activities that included dancing to old folk Thai music, and of course, making fools of ourselves to get a laugh or two. The next day we had a hike scheduled with the kids to go see 3,000 year old cave drawings of humanoids and the biggest Catfish Taa (Grandpa) has ever seen. On top of that, Pha Taem has the biggest flower field in Thailand, but unfortunately, we did not have time to wander through the fields while singing ‘The Hills Are Alive’. Once the Camp was done, we said our goodbyes and gave our warm hugs, and went to make merit at Wat Tham Kua Sawan in Khong Chiam City. Although it has the world’s biggest gong, we were not allowed to strike it three times or any time for that matter. It was an honor to make merit with DJ’s counterpart, as well as Kat’s counterpart, Surayuth. After making merit, everyone except for DJ made the correct decision of avoiding durian ice cream, and we all took in the beautiful views of the two-color river created by the Mekong River and Mun River colliding together.
Describe the community.
Dalton’s community spans across a large area, so he works with a variety of peoples, and it was evident at his camp. It was fascinating to interact with a variety of ethnicities from his community, but specifically a very well-spoken and intelligent Bru girl nicknamed Nok. She taught me how to say hello, goodbye, and I love you in Bru. She is 12 years old, and already speaking five languages (Bru, English, Thai, Lao, and Khmer). This was my first time interacting with a person from any minority ethnicity within Thailand, and it was very rewarding being her student. Whether it be Cambodia, Laos, or as far as Vietnam, his community is a melting pot of ethnicities from all over South East Asia. Even though there is such overlap, his community is very proud of being from Ubon Ratchathani. When I mentioned that I was from Prachinburi, and that my community also celebrates many Issani traditions, they were quick to call Prachinburi central Thailand. Such pride provides the community with a sense of unity.
Describe where Dalton lives and his host family.
Dalton’s humble abode was near his host family’s house on the local Anamai’s property. His host family are very active within the community. His host father is the Rong Nayok, as well as a farmer of Cassava. He has one host sister who recently got married, and had a child who Dalton got the chance to nickname Elizabeth. His neighbors were very kind and curious about all the Farangs gathering in one place. Every morning he is awoken by his cute black cat, Nit Noi, and of course, his Puyaiban’s heavenly voice via the community speakers. In many ways his village layout was similar to mine because of the narrow roads and tightknit houses. His house is right in front of an Anuban school, but it was closed that day, so we didn’t get a chance to meet the little rascals. We did get to meet two of his neighborhood dogs that came right up to us and introduced themselves without hesitation.
Describe Dalton’s school, teachers, and students.
Dalton mentioned that due to Khong Chiam being near the Laos and Cambodian border he teaches many students who are learning Thai as their second or third language. He teaches at four different schools, one Matayom and three Pratoms. One of those Pratoms is largely attended by Bru students, and is relatively isolated in comparison to his other schools. He mentioned that for many of them he was their first friend from the West. For Dalton it has been very rewarding learning about their culture and traditions, while also getting to be their first impression of American culture and humor. The English Camp was an opportunity not only to improve his students English, but also provided them with the positive environment to improve their socialization skills. Many of the teachers I met were clearly committed to their craft, and were always looking to improve their pronunciation as well.
What were some highlights from your trip?
Getting to learn Bru and interact with such a diverse group of people was fulfilling and fun. As well as learning some of the camp fire Thai folk music and dancing with the kids. Considering this was my first time seeing the grandeur of the Mekong River, a river which has been the center of so many different civilizations, it was fascinating getting to learn about the 3,000 years of history in the Khong Chiam region. Not only that, it was interesting to see how many of the cultural tenants remain through the centuries, especially when the country we come from has existed for less than three hundred years.
What surprised you about Dalton’s community?
Even though the community is very culturally diverse they proudly rally around their common identity as Issani peoples. While at the same time the borders between Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia are very porous, and are just human constructions that do not divide the communities because they have been there for thousands of years before the creation of nation-states.
Explain the similarities and differences between your site and Dalton’ site.
Both of our communities have many similarities, considering they both identify as Issani peoples. Much of the food is similar, the music, the dance, and the language. Some key differences were the cultural diversity within the schools, and the structure of the community in terms of how close houses were to one another. My site is much more spread out, and has clusters of houses, while the villages in his community are closer together creating a more unified experience. Both communities definitely love their fish!
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