Thailand Water Project 2017
Over several months, all 21 students of the Thailand Water Project devised their own means of fundraising in time for their departure to Mae Ya Noi at the end of the summer term. Some took part in sponsored swims, while others held bake sales and sold small gifts and trinkets, all to unassuming parents and members of the public, whose generous donation was a small step towards providing men, women and children, in a remote part of the world, with the most important substance on earth - water.
Over the three week period we worked closely with the Pakanyor Foundation, who have run projects like this for almost 30 years now, and have left a lasting impact on many Karen villages in Northern Thailand. The guys we worked with were Karen themselves and their knowledge of all aspects of construction and forest life meant we were all confident in what we had to do, even if the language barrier meant a few things were lost in translation.
Whilst in the village we installed two water tanks and built 300 meters of road, which would allow the lower section of the village to be more accessible during the wet season. The work was tough but we all found jobs that suited our strengths and just got on with it. There was never a dull moment, as we often had villagers helping us, and while we worked we chatted away to them, picking up words of Karen and hopefully managing to teach some English. As we’d pass heavy cement buckets in a long chain they would offer us cows as gifts, show us fire like we had never seen it and laugh at the way we pronounced Karen words, all these interactions made the harder, hotter days a lot easier.
Week One of the project involved laying pipes from the source down to where the tanks would be and as we were in the highest project village so far, this meant we had to walk on steep, uneven ground with pipes in both hands. The trek to the water source was through thick vegetation, so we were all amazed when we saw the Karen men venturing through it bare foot. We all mixed a lot of cement over the course of the project and from this the rings were created and were left to set in the moulds at the end of each day. The scaffolding was put up swiftly and both this and the roof of the tanks were just incredible structures that the Karen people constructed so effortlessly. The rendering of the tanks saw them finished so the scaffolding came down and the pipes were laid down to the village.
In the midst of the 11 days of work we had a mid-project break, which gave us all time to rest a little. We visited a Buddhist temple and swam in a waterfall, as well going around local markets, where many tried strange meats and fruits.
At the end of our stay in the village we had a ceremony and were all presented with Karen tunics and bags. Sam piped everyone to the tanks, where the sign was put into its final position allowing them to finally look finished. In the evening we had Scottish reels and sang well known songs, also learning bits of Karen music, our favourite being the Tablu song.
Becoming close to the villagers - getting to know their routines (for example, making breakfast at 4am), singing their songs, joining them in their homes for rice, rice and more rice - meant that saying goodbye was the most draining part of the project. We had given them something we all take for granted, but in doing this for them we could now return to Mae Ya Noi in the future to be welcomed with open arms and the tricky choice of whose bamboo hut to stay in!