Sustainability at Plekwiwaek Dhamma Center

I studied Agroecology in graduate school, and have been working in organic food certification for nearly a decade.  For the last couple of years I held a comfortable management position at a mid-sized nonprofit in Oregon, USA, but I still felt that At Mae Joe ag fairsomething was missing.  I needed anadventure!  An acquantaince of mine was interning for ATMA SEVA and I learned about sustainability ventures at Plekwiwaek Dhamma Center in the far north of Thailand along the border with Burma.  I have now been at Plekwiwaek since October and will be here for six months.

Plekwiwaek was founded seven years ago on the principle of experiential learning, or what they call “learning by doing.”  Many of the novices at the center are from theThreshing rice Shan ethnic group in Burma and left that area due to the armed conflict between the Shan, ethnic Burmese and other groups in the region.  As such, many of the novices have a nebulous legal status in Thailand and the future of Shan State in Burma is unclear.  Only a small percentage of the novices will become monks, so it is a goal at the center to equip the boys with life skills that may help provide them with a future livelihood.

Hauling dirt at construction siteSustainability is a major focus at the center.  They farm organically and the novices are trained in composting and sustainable farming techniques.  Early construction also utilized locally renewable materials.  Novices made handmade bricks from a mixture of mud and rice hulls.  They assembled the buildings themselves, including learning electrical and plumbing skills.  Currently a large dorm is being constructed, with much of the labor provided by the novices themselves.

Recently Plekwiwaek entered a partnership with Mae Joe University, an institution outside the city of Chiang Mai, that has installed some renewable energy sources at the Dhamma Center.  The project is actually funded by a large Thai energy company.  To date, we have several solar lights, a small wind turbine, and a large solar dryer for food preservation.  A donor recently gifted reusable plastic bottles to the novices to cut down on waste.  We were fortunate to attended an agricultural fair at Mae Joe University this month that feature several sustainability exibits.  The Plekwiwaek director, Dr. phra achjarn Thanee Jongjen, received an award for his pioneering work in this area.

Novices at Mae Jo ag fair

Plekwiwaek also performs extension work.  The Center has trained some of the Rice harvest with reusable bottlessurrounded community on organic farming and sustainable building techniques.  We regularly host groups (often from other countries) that are interested in learning about these topics and community development in general.  Just a few weeks ago, a group of nearly 90 schoolchildren from a nearby village came to the center for a day to learn about sustainability and its relationship to Buddhist principles.  The future of sustainability in Northern Thailand is looking bright!

Corinne Kolm

info@atmaseva.org

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Ever Since I Heard of Bhutan….

Dragons, Dzongs and Divine Mad Men!

Ever since I heard of Bhutan, I have wanted to visit. It was 2009 and I was studying for my Masters of Intenational Health when I came across a paper mentioning Bhutan’s development measure of Gross National Happiness. I was intrigued. Then over the years I became more fascinated by Bhutanese ideas, culture and development. Bhutan was declared the first country to be 100% organic in 2012, declared to maintain 60% forestation across the nation and a rich Buddhist tradition spanning thousands of years.

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It was by chance that I was fortunate to be able to visit in December this year. I had already planned a substantial overseas adventure with a cycling trek from China into Myanmar and beaching in Thailand, I was all set. A work colleague and friend from another town happened to be visiting when I was just firming up my plans and mentioned that she would be in Thailand at a similar time to the end of my trip and really wanted to organise a tour in Bhutan, but had no-one to go with…..Wow!

What was I going to do? My leave was already approved and I didn’t have enough holidays banked up to take any extra time, not to mention the additional cost on top of my already pricey trip! It seemed like too good an opportunity to forget about though. An ATMA SEVA tour with a slant on traditional medicines in Bhutan, na-hu, no way was I going to miss this! Untitled

Thankfully I have a very understanding boss who was more than happy to extend out my leave for another 9 days at half pay so Stef and I could gallivant amongst the clouds, drinking tea and smelling lemongrass and ginger all the way.

We met in Bangkok the evening before our flight into Paro. Both of us were exhausted from our respective travels to that point. I’d been on busses and ferries for the previous 10 hours and Stef had just arrived from a boozy family wedding weekend in Phuket (beats the ferry anyway)! Words cannot describe the anticipation. I was psyched! I had already been to Myanmar earlier in the trip, another bucket list dream that ended on a slightly sour note.  So I was determined that this would top it. And it did!

Stef and I were blown away by how accommodating the ATMA SEVA team (Sonam, UntitledGyembo and Sangay) were. I certainly wasn’t used to travelling in this style, with this much genuine interest in what I desired to do each day. I feel like anything I have to say, or any photos I share will not do justice to the fabulous job each of these 3 did in sharing the Bhutanese culture with us.

We were met at the airport terminal by the whole team and whisked over the mountains and through the valleys to the capital Thimpu. There was never a moment of silence from the second we arrived. So many questions, so much information and people so willing to share their culture and personal thoughts and feelings! After having travelled in China and Burma earlier in the month it was refreshing to not have to ‘read between the lines’.

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A visit to the National Institute of Traditional Medicine was a special treat as our guide Sonam was an old friend of a professor of botany there so we were able to Untitledexplore every aspect, even the pharmaceutical unit. Stef and I were like children in a candy store in the library. I could’ve spent the entire day reading, touching, smelling the books!

Stef was a bit worried about how the altitude would affect us. I had been as well as I hadn’t coped well initially in China. The excitement of being in the mountains was too much though. I wanted to throw myself into every experience, even if it meant freezing my nose off at the Dochu-la pass overlookingUntitled1 the Himalayas, puffing my way up to the Tigers Nest or immersing myself into the steaming hot stone bath. I was captivated!I was more concerned that I wouldn’t fit into my wardrobe anymore. Bhutanese food is amazeballs! Rich and cheesy, buttery and chilly-ee… In the words of my dear friend George, every morsel was like ‘Jesus rubbing your belly’. Ahem…. Perhaps I should rephrase that the say Buddha rubbing your belly. Except perhaps for the dried yak cheese…. Not big on that one!

It’s so hard to discern a highlight for this aspect of my trip. Every day was unique Untitledand held its own delights and challenges (physical and personal).Stef dubbed Bhutan ‘the land of surprises’.  Each day held an auspicious moment that told us that we were exactly where we were meant to be every moment. From brief glimpses at the King and Queen, sightings of other Royalty, to blessings from young reincarnates of enlightened monks years gone by. I was mesmerised by the mountains, the architecture and nature. The culture, peace and serenity with which people conducted themselves….. I think I was drunk on “Gross National Happiness’!

Danielle

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Photography Corner: Shan Cultural Festival

Northern Thailand hosts amazing cultural diversity. I find the Shan people to be of particular interest because all of the novices at Plekwiwek Dhamma Center where I am living are Shan. Most Shan reside within the borders of Myanmar (formerly called Burma) in Shan State. Myanmar has experienced decades of ethnic and political strife. Many Shan people seek independence from Myanmar in recognition of their unique cultural and language identify from the Burmese ethnic group. Although recent years have found relatively stability in Myanmar, the area where I am living continues to host many refugees who fled the violence between the different ethnic groups in the region.

In early November I was privileged to attend a Shan cultural festival that was located at a nearby temple, Wat Phra Wiang Inn. This temple is literally on the border with Myanmar. During an armed conflict in 2002, the temple grounds were divided between Thai and Burmese control. Today a fence runs through the traditional temple compound with various buildings located on separate sides. There are now Thai and Burmese army bases on opposite sides of the fence. For the past decade the temple has also hosted a refuge camp for Shan people who fled the war in their home state. The future of Shan State and the Shan people living in Myanmar and Thailand, including many of the novices who came to the Center directly from Myanmar, is unclear.

Corinne Kolm, on-site intern

info@atmaseva.org

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Teaching Abroad – Two fun games

Hello everyone!

This past month has been such a super busy month working with many volunteers! Hopefully one day YOU will join us also! (check out our Wat Doi Saket project) We had volunteers from Australia, England, Canada, Germany, Lithuania and USA. They all taught at different locations, and they all wanted to know about games for the classroom. So, I am sharing a few that were super fun here with Thai students.

WHAT AM I? 

This game is great for practicing Yes/No questions with the verb ‘to be’ in present simple.

Think of a category: fruits, places, countries, people….

  • Pick one student to stand facing the classroom with his/her back to the board.
  • Write a word from the chosen category, for example: banana.
  • He is now a ‘banana’, but he does not know.
  • The student standing in front of the class has to ask at least 10 questions to guess what he is.
  • Questions have to be yes/no questions only. Am I big? Am I red? Am I gooey? etc.
  • The class can only reply with YES or NO.
  • The student gets 3 opportunities to guess what he is by asking: Am I a watermelon?

You can make variations to the game, like giving certain amount of minutes to make as many questions as possible or choosing from a vocabulary list that you have been working with in class. You can even make teams and keep score.

BANANAS!

This game is super fun to play as a warm up to get the students to feel comfortable speaking in English. It is also a good way to practice asking the correct format for asking yes/no questions. (You can use simple present, past or future, if the class is a beginning level I suggest you keep it in simple present unless using the game to practice a particular tense)

  • Pick one student to sit on a chair in front of the class.
  • The class gets to ask any questions they want, but must be in a YES/NO format, funny questions: Such as: Do you like to eat potato chips with your feet? Do you pick your nose with a fork? Do you eat worms?
  • The student in front of the class cannot say anything but BANANAS!
  • The object of the game is to make the student laugh! If he laughs, then the student who made the question gets to go in front of the class and try to go as long as possible without laughing.

This game sounds simple but trust me when I say: students laugh much sooner than you would anticipate.

Here are a few shots of our volunteers using these fun games in the classroom. I hope you get to try them one day and share your experiences.

josh teaching peter teach

If you have any suggestions or questions about anything relating to ESL, leave me a message and I will happily respond!

Chok Dee Kah! (good luck in Thai)

Be well!

Marcia Somellera, ESL coordinator

marcia@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Loi Krathong and Yi Peng 2013

Yi Peng and Loy Krathong are traditional festivals that happen every year in Thailand.   Loy Krathong is celebrated on the full moon of the twelfth month in the Thai Lunar calendar.  Yi Peng is a Lanna (Northern Thai) festival and is based on the Lanna calendar and is on the full moon of the second month of this calendar.  However, the two festivals fall at the same time and are celebrated in similar ways with similar meaning.

Loy Kathong is traditionally celebrated to pay honor to the goddess of water and Lord Buddha and as a way to send away misfortune and ask for good luck in the future.  Many people will make krathongs (small floating offerings) out of the leaves and trunk of the banana tree and decorate them with candles, flowers and incense.  They will then be floated down a river as a way to pay honor.  In modern times it is also celebrated with parades and many fireworks and sky lanterns which can be seen and heard all over Chiang Mai.

Yi Peng is a time for paying respect to Buddha and sending away worries and asking for good fortune for the year.  It is often celebrated by releasing Kom Loi (Sky lanterns) and decorating houses with lanterns and candles.  One of the most amazing places to see this is near Mae Jo University outside of Chiang Mai.  Thousands and thousands of people gather together to simultaneously release their lanterns for a sight that is like no other.

ATMA SEVA took a team trip to the Mae Jo lantern release and we have to say that it truly was a spectacular evening for all of us.  Here are some of the pictures from the night!

Written by: Amy Kaylor, on-site intern

Photography by: David Poppe, Programs Director

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Photography Corner: One year in Thailand

Katherine Devine was an on-site intern with ATMA SEVA from August 2012 – 2013. Below are photos from her year in Northern Thailand!

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Photography by: Katherine Devine

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Photography Corner: Street Food of Chiang Mai

ATMA SEVA generally uses our Photography Corner as a way to highlight smaller and lesser known places around Thailand, usually including temples and cultural sights.  These are all wonderful insights and amazing places to see and I am so glad to have seen them through the Photo Corners.  However, I have seen a noticeable lack of the wonderful, amazing, beautiful…. delicious street food that Thailand has to offer!

As an on-site intern in Chiang Mai I have been partaking in many of the street foods and food stalls that can be found around the city and have found many hidden (or not so hidden) gems.  The foods range from fresh fruit and smoothies to grilled meats and fried snacks.  There are noodle stands with the ever famous pad thai and noodle soups to salad stands with deliciously fresh papaya and other fruit salads.

The options are endless! And cheap!  With a smoothie running you about 20-30 baht (less than a dollar) and salads and noodle options in the dollar to two dollar range I have been able to try so many items and yet feel like I have barely scratched the surface.  I generally go to a few main places near my house but you can find food on just about any corner in Chiang Mai at any time of the day (or night!).

Some of my favorite locations include a market for students right across from Chiang Mai University, the Sunday night walking street, the Chiang Mai Gate Market, and a night markett off of Huay Gaew on the way to Chiang Mai University.  One of my absolute favorites is at Chiang Mai gate where you can find Mrs. Pa’s smoothie stand.  She makes the most ridiculously delicious smoothies I have ever tasted!  She lets you chose any amount of different fruits from her smorgasbord of options, sugar or no sugar, and then blends them up to perfect consistency while smiling, chatting and working on the next smoothie in line at the same time.  And all for 20 baht! Her smoothies are SO good that she has had several articles written about her including one on CNN’s travel site which you can see here:

http://travel.cnn.com/explorations/life/best-smoothie-chiang-mai-887475

A huge part of what makes Mrs. Pa, the smoothies, noodles, soups and all of the other food so great is that I am always greeted with a smile :) and even though we may not understand each other completely every person has been so gracious and so willing to make sure that I walk away happy with some delicious food in hand.  It is a win-win situation: great food and great experience!  Needless to say I am quite in love with the street food of Chiang Mai and its vendors!

So without further ado, here are some pictures of my favorite foods and places to get them in Chiang Mai!

WARNING: All pictured foods are very delicious.  Drooling on your keyboard may ensue.  We take no responsibility for damaged keys.  Thank you and enjoy!

Amy Kaylor, on-site intern

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org