March 13, 2012

Chiang Mai: School of Life Volunteer Project

Emma Willard School in Thailand 

Day 6 - School of Life - Final night in Chiang Mai

"Our first day of community service would never top our elephant/rafting/waterfall experience," I thought to myself as we left the hotel. The ride there was about an hour long and my expectations of a Thai orphanage were far from what we were all about to experience. As soon as we parked the vans and used the "happy room" (Thai for bathroom), we were greeted by the founders of the SCHOOL OF Life and really nice girls who served us an exotic iced tea. The orphanage also made a banner that welcomed the EMMA gang that they hung with a rope tied around two huge trees. The weather wasn't too hot in the morning, but as our day continued, it got really HOT (Tropical/Honduran hot). We spent the morning painting the building where they hold school meetings.  Once we were finished, we had a yummy picnic lunch, and after we learned how to dance traditional thai dances. We also showed students what step was, how to dance to Beyonce's "Move your Body" and the infamous Cha Cha Slide. 

Before we left, we wanted to interact and play with the children so EMMA challenged the SCHOOL OF Life to have a soccer match. Eleven EMMA girls against eleven kids of all ages. Since we were more than eleven, I had to be a sub. As I waited for someone to ask for a sub, a girl with short hair, dark skin and a green heart plastic ring sat next to me. Without saying a word, she smiled and pulled me towards her to show me her bracelets. Even though we didn't' understand each other, we instantly clicked and started to have a "sign language conversation," sharing our hate for ants, blisters and heat. When I took out my phone to take some pictures of everyone playing soccer, I saw her curious face and started to teach her how to use my iPhone. In a matter of seconds she learned how to take pictures, go through them, delete them and she had fun playing fruit ninja. After a while together we became best friends, and the idea of leaving our new best friends so soon made all of us really sad. What we have experienced every single day has been unique and the days just keep getting better. Leaving felt terrible, as we glanced back and watched  "our" kids wave goodbye for the last time. This definitely topped anything I had previously encountered during our Thailand adventure.

It was very hard to say goodbye to all of the friends we made at the orphanage. All of us got so much more from that experience than just getting exercise by playing soccer or painting a room bright orange, because we really felt a connection with the kids, and after everything that occurred that morning we left the School of Life feeling moved and empowered to do more.

After the hour drive back, we returned to hotel and tried to rid ourselves of all of the orange paint that stubbornly refused to leave our skin. I still haven't managed to get it all off!! Then we drove to a nice hotel for dinner, where we all compared photos and swapped stories of our different experiences at the School of Life. After an amazing dinner, our new friend in Chiang Mai, Mr. Tong, announced that there was a surprise in store for us. Excitedly we followed him back to the parking lot, where there were what looked like six large garbage bags lined up on the sidewalk. Noticing our confusion, Mr. Tong explained that these were floating lanterns, and that Thai people believe you can store all of your inner frustrations and biggest hopes into a wish you make when you release your lantern into the sky. It was no doubt the best way to end an incredible day. We excitedly gathered in groups of four around each lantern, and as their flames were lit, we closed our eyes and made our wishes, casting the glowing lights into the night, carrying our hopes and dreams away with them. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to Chiang Mai, a wonderful city that had provided us with lifelong memories and unforgettable experiences. Phuket, here we come!!! We can't imagine what you have in store for us.

Raquel & Caroline  

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