Students participating in the Western Washington University course, Discover Asia: Field Program in Northern Thailand & India, lent a hand at Grace Garden January 22nd through January 28th while visiting Noh Bo as a cultural exchange.
Institute for Village Studies is an organization dedicated to facilitating learning experiences for students and communities through service field studies. Students participating in the program conduct an independent research project while visiting communities in Thailand and India and supporting local community development opportunities. Institute for Village Studies has been bringing students to participate in efforts at BGET annually since 2004 and to Grace Garden specifically since 2011. BGET much appreciates Village Studies’ continued support for our projects.
This year, the group of seventeen assisted Grace Garden in getting a jumpstart to the New Year by accelerating such projects as expanding and beautifying the nursery, transforming our vacant composting pig pen into an occupied chicken coop, preparing the ground and collecting sand and gravel for pouring the concrete foundation for the new classroom, constructing the north perimeter fence to protect the fragile pioneer nitrogen fixing trees from grazing cows, painting bamboo shingles for the new buildings, and reinforcing the vegetable garden fence with mesh to keep out roaming chickens, pigs, and goats. The students worked so diligently and efficiently that by the end of their visit, Grace Garden had been worked clean out of materials from paint to bamboo to fence mesh to zip ties! Thank you for the fantastic work!
At the same time, seven second year engineering students from Mae La Refugee Camp’s Engineering Studies Program (ESP) came to Grace Garden for a two week hands-on workshop building a solar water heater. In addition, the ESP students got a chance to learn about natural buildings through trying their hands at making adobe bricks and pouring concrete foundation. Other minor projects included repairing swales, a rainwater management strategy for hilly terrain, and leading the American students into the jungle on a bamboo foraging expedition.
For all of these hardworking and driven students it was their first trip out of the camp since arriving up to six years ago. The students admitted to feelings of restlessness and boredom while living in the camp but also demonstrated inspiring hope and determination for a brighter future. Most insisted that living in the camp presented more opportunity for education and employment and, contrary to what I had initially assumed, were not eager to return to Burma. The more I learn about the plight of the Karen refugees, the more I realize how complex the situation is and I never cease to be amazed by the resilience of the human spirit.