Since there was another Project Week group working with School For Life, we agreed that they would complete the other aspects of their CAS plan while we went to School For Life for our service aspect of the trip. On Tuesday morning, School For Life brought the girls back to their chosen accommodation and picked us up from our hotel in the Old City. We sat in the back with two of the girls from School For Life, who were really friendly and excited to see us. Although their English was limited and our Thai nonexistent, we were able to swap names and ages, and found out that they are similar in age to us. One of the girls mentioned she liked to listen to K Pop when we were talking about what type of music we like, so Rhea played some K Pop from the girl group Blackpink and we sang along as best we could (which was poorly) but the girls knew most of the words and we had fun. School For Life is around an hour drive away from Chiang Mai city, but it was easy going and we saw more of Thailand in the truck. School For Life was located deep inside a forest and nature area, and was a very large complex. When we arrived, we were met by the other students in the oldest grade, and we were shown our two rooms in their guest area. After giving us some time to unpack and get ready for the rest of the day, we spent the next hour or so playing icebreaker games and getting to know the other students. The group split into two and we got a tour of the School For Life campus, which was very natural. There were living facilities for teachers and students, sports and music facilities, several classrooms, a cafeteria and joint kitchen, offices, a library, a communal assembly hall, and farm areas. We walked all the way to the farm area, and the main academic and living area was concentrated in the front while the back end of the land area was for sports, music, and farming. They explained that the children helped farm and cook, taking turns with their class to help. In the farm area, one of the students in my tour group grabbed some mangoes from the mango trees they had, and as we walked back, explained to me some of the Thai words for various plants. While the students broke for lunch together in the communal cafeteria, we ate lunch in a separate guest area and discussed our plan for dancing which was our first activity and schedules for that afternoon. We chose to teach a modified version of a Kahaani dance that Mallika choreographed and Rhea and Isabella participated in. Aarushi and I spent an hour going over the dance several times again to ensure we also knew it. The dancing was actually very successful despite the dance being a difficult one. Everyone was enthusiastic to learn despite the dance being intimidating, and we quickly taught all the choreography within an hour. By the end everyone was smiling and laughing and enjoying themselves, and we didn’t focus on the precision of the movements rather the community feeling everyone shared and enjoying oneself with the activity. After we taught our Indian dance, we motioned for a trade, since we discovered that K Pop seemed to be very popular with the students, and the girls who rode with us in the truck were very familiar with the dances to many songs and could perform them herself. Thus, we had her teach us, but we spent most of the time watching her dance while we tried to stumble along in the background, but I enjoyed that part the most. At that point, the younger children were done with school, so many of them were sitting in the room watching us all dance. At the end, the teachers asked us to perform the dance as one large group the next day to the rest of the school, so that they would get to experience it as well, and we agreed.
Despite having separate rooms, we all slept together in one of the rooms. There wasn’t access to wifi in the majority of the compound, so the atmosphere was very peaceful and the rooms had large windows that looked out into the surrounding forests. We spent some time getting ready for the morning assembly, which some of the other volunteers explained as being a meeting with everyone in the community for announcements and school events. The students all lined up in order of age with the youngest class on one side and the oldest on the opposite. The teachers were spread out around the children. There were several announcements both from teachers and some of the older students, and there was a school chant in both English and Thai. While much of the announcements were in Thai, there was a part of the morning where everyone participated in stretching with music accompaniment that were able to follow along with. It was quite brief, but we all enjoyed the ceremony and the common theme of School For Life with having strong community relationships. After everyone ate breakfast, we did arts and crafts with a younger class, around grade 7, and the two long term German volunteers who would be acting as translators throughout the duration of our stay. Many of the girls knew various origami animals or flowers, so we spent two hours learning different origami types and drawing pictures. I was personally curious about learning origami, since it was something that I was never good at. It was also nice to be able to do something simple and have conversation without any outside distractions. Everyone was very focused on participating in the activity and I found that something nicer than what we usually have in our lives with all the technology and quick access to information. School For Life let my group and I slow down and step back from the fast pace of life. In the afternoon, we chose to participate in different activities that the children would do since Wednesday afternoon was the time where all the students participated in a club or activity of their choosing. Mallika, Rhea, and I joined Thai traditional dance, and Aarushi and Isabella went to do organic farming. In the general assembly hall where many of the larger group activities were held, we were joined by a younger mixed class of boys and girls along with a very young class of children no older than six. It seemed that the teachers would be sitting back more as supervisors since two of the boys took it upon themselves to organize everyone in two circles. We started in a kneeling position facing into the circles and the students to our left and right showed us what to do. Everything was done within a count of 8, and for our benefit and understanding they all did it in English. We quickly learned that it was not dancing we were doing, but Muay Thai, because after around three counts of 8, the two boys who were leading suddenly spun into a standard fighting pose opposite each other. Rhea was dragged to be with a little girl in the other group, but Aarushi and I were each pair with one of the leading boys while the other children split up to be with each other. While everyone seemed fairly familiar with the moves already, the boys had to repeat the steps in each 8 count several times before we were able to move on to the next section. While fun, there was definitely a large amount of stress since everyone seemed rather amused by the three of us and we really couldn’t understand many of their corrections. Overall though it went really well until one boy braced himself and the other one ran up onto the leg he braced and
kicked up and over before landing opposite the boy once again. That was where it all completely devolved because really no one else could do it. I would do it again, or for a longer time, but we did definitely join in at more ofa middle level than a true beginner, so it would have been nice to spend longer with the boys to learn at a slower pace and from the beginning. Apparently the organic farming was very successful but perhaps even more tiring, since they were in direct sunlight but we had some cover. Everyone went back to class and we went back to our rooms to shower and share our experiences. In the end, everything was rather different than how we thought the afternoon would pan out but still a good experience nonetheless. Towards the evening, we went back outside to play with some of the children who were playing on the playground before dinner, and they took great delight in the see saw, something I definitely do not find delightful. They rushed off to dinner and we went back to the guest area for ours, and had another delicious Thai meal. All the meals we had so far were very authentic and they were very accommodating to the different allergies that we had, for which we were very thankful.
We had to leave around midday for our flight back to Bangkok and Singapore, but we planned to bake during the morning with one of the classes. After the morning ceremony, we drove with some of the teachers to the nearby town around 20 minutes away, where we went to a market to buy all the ingredients that we had preset for our baking. While we had considered that butter would be hard to find and so found a recipe that substituted butter, we didn’t consider things such as cinnamon not being powdered and that there wouldn’t be many tools like large bowls or measuring cups. The same girls who did arts and crafts with us were going to be baking with us. Since there were no measuring cups, we used a large rice pot to mix all the ingredients, and small plastic bowls to measure out the ingredients as best we could. We also used a mortar and pestle to grind the cinnamon sticks into powder. When we practiced the recipe at home, they didn’t turn out to be that appetizing, so we modified certain aspects and then tried the modified version at School For Life. I’m amazed the cookies even turned out as well as they did, because we guessed the majority of the amounts. They did take a long time to bake, but that was because we were all listening to K Pop and rolling the dough in sugar balls and generally enjoying ourselves. While the last of the cookies were on baking sheets waiting, we washed up in the communal dish washing area, and waited for some cookies to finish. After leaving instructions with the German volunteers, we had to leave for the airport. We never saw the majority of the cookies baked, but all the children that we had gotten to know came and said goodbye, and as we left in the truck all the children were gathering for lunch and waved goodbye to us when we drove past. We hadn’t anticipated Chiang Mai being like it was for us in the end, and despite all the difficulties we experienced while planning, the trip itself turned out to be an amazing experience, both with each other and with the CAS aspects that we had designed and participated in. It was in the end all about the people who made it worth it.