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

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

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Custom travel – Three week learning adventure Part IV

Below is part IV of Raghav’s custom learning adventure from 2012! If you missed it, here is Part I, Part II, Part III

Interested in custom travel? Click here for more information!

17 July 2012 

Today, I started the day by waking up relatively early at around seven. So far, I had been avoiding the extremely cold bucket showers, but I decided that today I needed to get refreshed again. After my shower, David, Nid, and I ate breakfast. We ate eggs and bread, both of which, and especially the latter, are not eaten in the village, and we had bought at the market in the city. Even though I had been enjoying the homemade meals, it was nice to have some familiar food.

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View from our hike!

After breakfast, we went back to the school for our daily discussion. This was a fun day as we discussed perceptions of both places and compared them. It was interesting also comparing their perception of me and the monk’s perception. Today, we had to cut our discussions a bit short because we had to take a long trek.

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Some of the kids who joined us on our hike!

After a quick break at the house, we set out for a long trek to a Karen village even deeper in the mountains to meet people there and learn about their culture. Accompanying me were David, Nid, four younger kids, and even two dogs! We got our walking sticks and raincoats and set out. It was a beautiful hike, out in the greenery of the mountains with steep agriculture at random places. Winding roads even held some wildlife, especially the blome which was a type of leach that kept sticking to us.

We trekked for two hours, after which it started raining heavily, and we were forced to stop. In a little while Dtee came to pick us up on his motorbike. He took me up to an overlook and called people from the other village to pick up the rest of the crew. This was my first one on one with Dtee. I realized that even though we couldn’t talk because of the language barrier he was a really cool and caring guy.

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The men from the Karen village who came to pick us up!

Eventually, the rest of the people came; after some pictures, we headed over to the village.

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In the Karen village talking with the village leader.

We arrived at the host’s home. We first started talking about sports, Muay Thai was a big deal in Thailand. It was on TV (I was very surprised that there was reception in such a remote area of the world!). We also started learning about the culture and history of the village. The most interesting thing that I learned was that a few decades ago, some Christians had come and converted most of the village. We paid a visit to the school and church that they had built when they had arrived. It was interesting to note that the church that they had built was magnificent for such a remote place, but the school was very run down.

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At the school in the Karen village.

Upon seeing the school, we all head over to visit the eldest people in the village, who were the only indigenous (religion) family left. The couple that we met were in their late nineties. This was one of the most special experiences of the entire trip because they both performed an indigenous, ceremonial blessing for me. I felt extremely privileged to be the recipient of such a special and old practice. After the ceremony, it was an indication of respect for everyone to drink some home-made rice whiskey (very bitter).

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One of the elders who performed a blessing.

We then said bye to the elders there and started heading off home. Before leaving, we saw the places where the villagers make things like rice whiskey and prepare grain in order to be self-sufficient. After this, we decided to head home because it was getting late and it was almost dark. The same people who drove us offered to take us back even though they would have to drive the narrow, winding path in the dark. It was very nice of them! As soon as I got home, I laid down and went to sleep, reflecting on the interesting day I had had.

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Learning how the village whiskey is made.

18 July 2012

Today, after a good nights rest, I woke up early. We all had a nice breakfast that consisted mostly of egg dishes that Pee bit, Dtee’s wife, had cooked (she suspected we liked eggs a lot because of the previous day). We talked about the previous day and shared some thoughts before heading out for the next discussion with the kids.

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Comparing daily schedules.

We began the discussion with general questions from the previous days. There weren’t too many questions except some inquiries about my family and school. They thought it was really cool that I drove myself to school and that it was so far away from my house. After this, we started playing our team building exercise. We had to draw certain things that David would describe to us and the team with the best drawing would win. Our team lost by a little bit. During this activity, I noticed that the kids were a lot more open and talkative than they had been a couple of days before. I felt really connected to them as we tried winning the game.

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Team-building!

After this game, we headed to Kom Jon’s sister’s house because two girls were giving us a presentation on food and traditional Lawa costumes. These presentations were really impressive, especially taken that they were doing it in front of some almost complete strangers. During this presentation, I saw the girls looking at the guys and giggling with each other. Thinking about this, I realized that human behavior is universal. Everywhere that I have seen, young adolescents act like this. Human behavior is truly something that breaks the barriers between different types of people. When the presentation was over, some of the kids invited us to come play sports with them.

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Volleyball time!!

After a quick snack made by Nid, David, Nid, and I went to the school to play. In the beginning, the girls were having their volleyball practice so I just played badminton with Nid on the side. I also shot around some hoops with Nam (Kamon’s son) and other boys. The girls were really good at volleyball, especially Moi (Nid’s niece and Anchille’s sister). Moi let me practice with them; initially, I was terrible and my arms hurt like crazy. I got used to it eventually and, when we started playing some games, my team dominated the other team. We played late into the evening even during heavy rain. It was exhilarating.

Eventually, some of the girls had to go home, so we went back home too. I talked to Dtee’s little kids for a bit (Beau and Nye) and taught them my name (because it is kind of hard to pronounce I guess). Even they were opening up to me and feeling less shy around me. I taught them how to clap and pound, and they loved that! We then ate dinner and played some games on the iPad before falling asleep.

19 June 2012

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Cultural comparisons!

Today’s day started off with another discussion with the kids (the principal of the school also joined us). Today, we had a comparison day. We analyzed our perceptions of each other’s culture and discussed why we thought that way. The main topics that we looked at were government, people, culture food, and sports. One thing I noted, that others had also pointed out, is that the kids were fascinated with America but also disgruntled with Americans at their superior attitudes towards them.

UntitledAfter some group discussions, we headed over to an elder’s house for another presentation. Today, the presentations were Lawa weddings and funerals. It was interesting that the importance of these two events in human society is universal. After the kids presented, I showed them and the elders some pictures of American and India funerals and weddings, and described them with as much detail as I knew. The kids were very interested in my short presentation and many of them took rapid notes. It was cool that most of the group said that they would want an Indian wedding because of the grandiosity while a few of the boys said they would want an American wedding because of the smaller cost.When we finished our discussions for the day, we headed home to get some lunch. Pee bit made us a delicious egg and vegetable meal.

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Walking out to the farm

We then headed off to Dtee’s farm. Fortunately, his farm was not too far and it only took us a 25 minute walk. When we arrived, we walked around and explored as much as we could. The land was very extensive and some parts were surprisingly well-developed! We picked up some walking sticks to help us walk through all the plants and wildlife (the farm was situated in a small jungle/woods). As usual, we caught a few blome trying to get us, but none of them got too far. After spending the entire afternoon, we also decided to spend a night at the farm. We would be staying at a two-story wood structure, built for overnight stays at the farm. Dtee got us some tents and supplies that we need. It also started to rain heavily, but we were lucky that we were covered; also, the views of the rainfall were amazing!

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View from Dtee’s farm

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getting ready for dinner

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Eels!

After setting everything up, we started preparing for dinner. Dtee showed us some eels that he had gone out and hunted (they live in the over-flooded farms in the steppes). Being a vegetarian, I decided not to try them. David, however was open to trying them and even helped prepare the eels. Nid meanwhile prepared other dishes for all of us to share. After dinner, Nid went to sleep and David, Dtee, and I talked long into the night. We learned that Dtee had a desire to learn English just like the Lawa children. Even though he had not been taught much, he still knew the alphabet pretty well and even the numbers. We taught him some basic phrases such as how to introduce oneself. We also talked about how Dtee was engaging in green farming without the use of pesticide and harmful chemical and how it was important to teach the newer generation this. We talked like this until we had to go to sleep just because we had to get up a little earlier in the morning to walk back to the village.

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Dinner out at the farm!

Click here to read part V

written by: Raghav Agarwal

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

A cold rainy summer in Pa Pae

Summer has passed half way and these past 2 weeks, I’ve taken some time to visit my family back in Vietnam. Last week as I accompanied two friends – Tony and his sister Lily – back to Pa Pae village, it felt like coming back to my hometown. People recognized and smiled at me. And I became the host for my friends, taking them around, showing them places and introducing them to others.

The children that I met and the time I spent with them was definitely what I’ve missed the most. A group of fourth-grade students welcomed me back with words like “Teacher, we’ve missed you” or “Teacher, do you bring us gifts from you country?” During weekends they would knock on the door and drag my lazy bump out so that we could begin our adventure around the village. It is incredible to see how eager these children are. All of them are sweet, nice and do have very polite, respectful attitude which provides a comfortable environment for teaching and living.

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Village kids in traditional Lawa costumes

I remember at first, the idea of watching little children worried me a little bit, just because I’ve had very minimal experience taking care of kids. The children would start fighting, and playing in class, over and over again. Yet, as time went on, they noticed that there was a much older person in the room, a person that could guide them and help them. Some kids began to calm down and pay more attention to what I said. Some even tried to make conversation with me. As they began to look for me more often, I decided to instigate some activities that the kids and I could participate in together. Over the weekends, we ventured out onto the temple or playground and talked in mixed language – Thai, English and hand gestures. The boys are more shy standing next to me or making conversation than the girls. But they do have their own way of expressing their eagerness, by climbing up the trees and picking down the fruits for everyone to share.

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Teachers and students carry the candle up to the temple

With their tremendous help and presence this time, we took our friends to all the popular spots and shot some good footage for a marketing video for Atma Seva. The weather has gotten even cooler and rice fields have all grown to full extent in beautiful green color. We were back in time for another festival – the Buddhist Lent Day or “Khao Phansa Day”, which could be translated as “the entering of the rainy season”. It marks the beginning of three lunar months when monks are required to remain in one particular place or temple. This tradition originates from old times when Buddha stayed in temples during the rainy season to avoid killing insects or harming the growing seeds. It is a period for study, meditation and teaching of new monks. The monks are allowed to go out during the day but they must sleep in the same temple every night during these three months.

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Khao Phansa Day ceremony at the temple

Upon preparation for this day, the kids helped teachers decorate a large yellow candle with flowers on a big bamboo draft, which would later be presented to the monks. This candle is big enough to last for 3 months! Around 8:30 in the morning, everyone gathered in the schoolyard for the flag ceremony. Instead of traditional Lawa costumes, kids showed up all in white shirts for this special Friday. Everyone made small donations in an envelope and put it next to the candle. They then proceeded to stand in lines, following the teachers and older kids who carried the candle and we all marched up to the temple. Here we sat in the big bright hall, listening to the monks’ teachings and paid our respects with kowtow gestures. Although I didn’t understand any words, seeing others’ faces made it clear how important this event was for them. They all wish for a prosperous rainy season so they could have enough rice and food for another year.

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Female teachers and volunteers after the ceremony

As the ceremony came to an end, we also said goodbye to Tony and Lily. They have finished their short but fully exciting trip and hopefully through the images they brought back to share with others, we could look forward to having more and more people knowing about Pa Pae and coming to help while experiencing the warmth and beauty of this mountain village.

Trang Nguyen, on-site intern

info@atmaseva.org

 www.atmaseva.org

New video – Lawa Village

Check out the latest video about our unique Lawa Village program! This video was shot and produced by our talented on-site intern Antoine Gratian.  All details about this program can be found here.

Don’t forget to ‘Like’ ATMA SEVA on Facebook to follow along for all the adventures!




info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Lawa village – Wai Kru Day + daily village life

Me hiking around the village!

Me hiking around the village!

The marking of my fourth week in Thailand and third week living in Pa Pae village just happened to coincide with the traditional Teacher’s Day – or ‘Wai Kru Day’, which is a different event from the modern version of Teacher’s Day. Here in Thailand, Wai Kru Day is a part of the schools’ celebration scheduled every June and it normally falls on the 2nd Thursday as Thursday is considered an auspicious day in Buddhism. This year it was on June 13th. In the afternoon before the ceremony, everyone gathered in the lunch hall for a quick rehearsal before the students went out to look for different types of flowers and leaves. Together with some candles and incense, they did their best to make their class bouquets appear beautiful and unique.

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The flowers and stage ready for the ceremony.

The formal celebration started just after the daily flag ceremony on Thursday morning. We walked into the hall and saw some nice decorations on the stage, a row of chairs for the teachers placed next to the alter, and a picture of the King of Thailand. Beautiful flower bouquets were displayed on the table in front of the stage. The teachers came in and sat on the chairs, in front of the crowd of students. The ceremony began with students’ reading, in harmony, their words of appreciation, respects and promises to be good students, good people and good citizens. Each class representatives – in pairs of one boy and one girl – walked to the stage on their knees carrying the bouquets, first prostrated at the alter, and bowed at the King’s picture. Then they kneeled in a row and prostrated at teachers’ feet as a sign of respect, and presented the flowers to the teachers. After that, groups of students would follow, each bringing their own smaller and simpler versions of flower bouquets wrapped inside the banana leaves. My personal winner was the yellow bouquet as it is my favorite color!

The event was the first time I’ve learnt, witnessed and experienced Wai Kru Day. I felt like being a saint sitting on a gigantic altar; because the clasping-hand and kowtow gestures usually signify worship toward the supernatural, as well as the ascendants, in my home country (Vietnam). I would be happy enough just to receive flowers knowing that the children appreciate my effort. It was both a surprise and an honor to be a part of the event even though I am just a volunteer teacher. And I’m so proud to be the first ATMA SEVA on-site volunteer to have this experience.

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Students gathered for Wai Kru Day.

Life up on a mountain village has been good so far, with moderate adjustment to the weather, the accommodation, and of course the teaching. Things are beginning to take off in my preparation for materials and interaction with the kids in class. The area I am working on at the moment is conversational English, helping the students to become familiar with new vocabularies by topics, and learn to make simple question-and-answer dialogues. The challenge of having a class of all hill-tribe students is that they have to learn three languages – the local Lawa, Thai and English – at the same time. It makes things hard for them to retain without regular review and practice. And the local people in general have rather limited exposure and resources to a good English education. So I am very appreciative of the support and ideas of helping these kids that ATMA SEVA is offering. Having observed and made progresses for three weeks, I have started to create more activity-prone materials – such as puzzles, coloring tasks, games and songs – for the children as my go-to teaching strategy. It seems to work effectively in keeping the students interested, attentive and engaged in learning.

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Rice fields in the village.

Outside of classroom, the rainy season has started, and the weather is much cooler than in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, which is plus. For the last few weeks, I have not slept in the gale of a fan. We are still getting some nice sunny weather between the rain showers, but the showers are beginning to get longer and more persistent. Rainy season also marked the beginning of planting season. People here maintain a sustainable lifestyle by self-producing food from farming and raising livestock while still insisting on protecting the environment as they understand the importance of preserving nature as their main source of existence. The 13th day of the 5th lunar month marks the start of rice planting season. On my first day after arriving in the village, Katherine took me around for a tour of the area and we walked up to the farm of pee Bits family – who has been taking great care of the volunteers. They were cleaning up and ploughing the soil to make space for new rice season. Three weeks since then, I was walking along the narrow hillside roads, looking down the terrace rice fields that have all been filled with rain water and rice started to grow out in bright green, creating a beautiful canvas down the valleys.

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Pee Bit’s husband ploughing the rice field.

Similar to other small rural villages around Asia, Pa Pae is a close-knit community. Life is simple; people are friendly and welcoming. The doors are always open and people in the house enjoy making conversations with their neighbors and the passer-by. Beside the many familiar things we could see or find in any Asian countries, there’s always something that is different and distinguishes the cultures apart. The ‘twisty’ difference within the resemblance gives this place a special charm that makes it special and fascinating. Houses are raised on stilts; people live on the upper quarter while animals are kept on the ground together with storage space. The villagers always seem to be busy with their daily activities. The men go to their work in the farms everyday, women gather at one house and make traditional Lawa bags together. Some teachers work at school during the day and go to the farm in the afternoon and during weekends. As the nights fall, everything gradually comes to sleep before another new day dawns. Walking along the alley every night from pee Bit’s house back to my dorm room, the dimming light flickering from the houses can be easily mistaken with fireflies.

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Cooking dinner with Pee Bit.

I got used to listening to the kids’ voice in the schoolyard to tell time. Everyday around 7am, the morning sounds of doors opening and students’ talking wakes me up. And music about the King and his teachings echoes shortly after, like a greeting for a new day. I admire the students here for being hardworking and showing great respect to the teachers. On my first day at school, I walked into the new room and was surprised by a group of students who were cleaning and bringing me things to make sure I would have a comfortable stay. They would clasp their hands together and bow down toward the teachers all the time. They bring water and coffee for teachers, help clean and wash the dishes after every meal. They also divide among themselves to help cooking lunch for the younger kids in kindergarten. School for the village kids is not only the place to learn but it’s also a social gathering place, where they learn about farming, help build and maintain school with activities such as planting flowers, cleaning and repairing things. Between 4-5pm in the afternoon is the quietest time at school, when students finish with classes and go back home for a short break. Then they all just come flooding back yelling, screaming, laughing, playing sports and games down in the schoolyard before dinner time. Friday is what I call ‘traditional Lawa clothes’ day when the boys show up in their white shirts and pants, and the girls in black shirts and skirts with pretty decorative details that I totally love. And that’s why I’ve just got for myself, my sister and my mom each with a traditional Lawa shirt and I am so eager to wear it the coming Friday. Maybe then I’ll look like a Lawa teacher!

Trang Nguyen, on-site intern

info@atmaseva.org

 www.atmaseva.org

How to Fundraise for Your Volunteer Trip to Thailand

by Billy Beltz, Co-Founder & CMO, Volunteer Forever

There are many reasons to volunteer with an organization like ATMA SEVA and provide a positive impact on local communities in Thailand. In fact, when you consider what kind of life-changing experience it could be, the question soon becomes “What’s stopping you?” If it’s a financial obstacle that’s holding you back, there’s good news to share:  At Volunteer Forever we’ve created a fundraising solution to help harness the collective support of your network and raise funds for your trip abroad.VF Logo variants-03The Volunteer Forever crowdfunding platform allows users to create a campaign page that conveys their story and fundraising needs in a simple yet powerful way, and provides them with the tools to promote the campaign to their extended network. If done correctly it can allow people to reach exponentially more donors than they ever would have through traditional fundraising methods.

Want to get started? The first step is to create a campaign page on Volunteer Forever. But creating your page is the easy part- the success of your fundraising campaign is determined by what you do afterwards! So here are 5 tips to ensure you optimize your fundraising campaign:

  1. Tell a Compelling Story. Each person has their own motivation for volunteering overseas, but it’s important to communicate in your campaign why you’ve decide to engage in this form of meaningful travel. People respond to stories, so make sure your page explains yours in an engaging way. Talk about what you plan to do while you’re abroad and how you’re going to add value to the host community. Also, describe why you need the funds. Include all of the information on your profile that potential donors will want – your itinerary, a purposeful budget and most importantly, the details of the organization and project you plan to work with.
  1. Share Your Page. Spread the word among everyone you can! This may include family, friends, past teachers, co-workers, community members, or even just people that you know on a Christmas-card basis. A good first step is to use the “Share” widget on your campaign page to promote the page through email, Facebook and Twitter. Also, data shows that people tend to donate more to campaigns that are already 30% funded. You may start with your close family and friends and collect some initial donations before spreading the word to everyone else.
  1. Ask Your Contacts to Share Your Page. Don’t limit your outreach to just people you think have the money to donate. One of the most powerful benefits of our crowdfunding platform is that it makes it easy for others to share your page and reach an exponentially larger network. So when you share your page, ask people to share it with their contacts as well! If you don’t ask they may not even realize how they can help.
  1. Thank Donors Publicly. People love recognition and this is your chance to give them well-deserved praise! Make it public so that everyone can see that someone has contributed to your campaign- this will help get additional donations from others. Also, when you thank your donors make sure to ask them to help you spread the word among their contacts as well.
  1. Share Your Page Again. And Again. You will be much more successful in raising funds if you continue to share your campaign multiple times. People may need several reminders before they take action, and so you’ll need to re-engage your donors often to get them to donate. Send follow-up e-mails, text messages, and phone calls. Post and re-post your link on Facebook periodically and let your donors know that your campaign only has XX days to go! Using your campaign timeline to create a sense of urgency towards the end can help.

Good luck!

 

Billy Beltz

Co-Founder & CMO

Volunteer Forever

Volunteer Forever makes it easier for people to find and fund their volunteer abroad trips. The website features program reviews to help volunteers discover and select the right overseas placement, as well as a unique crowdfunding platform that allows users to tap into the power of their extended networks and raise funds for their trip more effectively. To learn more visit www.volunteerforever.com.

Behind the scenes at ATMA SEVA

Everybody loves a good, heart-warming story of how people are making a difference in the world. How often do we see a headline and picture of a donation being received, a volunteer construction project being completed or other “snapshot” moments in the volunteer world?  There is no shortage of worthy causes to support.

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On-site intern Katherine and the student from the Karen village

What many people don’t realize, or think about, is how much work goes on behind the scenes to allow that photo op to happen. For example, ATMA SEVA recently visited a Galiang (Karen) hill tribe to bring light bulbs and fixtures for the entire village of twelve families. Our connection with this village has grown organically over the past year. It all began when we met a novice studying at Wat Saraphi (temple school working with our Wat Doi Saket project) who came from this particular village. After hearing that he had not been home in over five years, we thought that it would be nice to take a picture of him to his family back in the village. This particular village is very small and remote and has no computer access. The next time we were out in Pa Pae (Lawa village), we made a trip over to the village of this student to deliver a picture to his parents. They were thrilled to hear how their son was doing and see a photo of him, happy and well, at the wat.

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Our first visit to the Karen village

It was during this trip that we noticed a surprising presence in the village: solar panels! This small village of less than fifty people had received a donation of solar panels and light bulbs from an aid organization several years ago.  Unfortunately, despite the implementation of a quite modern system, many of the houses didn’t have light. Originally, they thought the solar panels were broken, but it turned out that many of the light bulbs in the houses had simply burnt out. When we asked if there was anything we could do to help, they asked us if we could bring them some replacement bulbs. Thus our mission began!

After a few trips to the village to find out the specifications and number of light bulbs required, we eventually acquired the necessary equipment and matching mounting fixtures in Chiang Mai to bring back to the village.  This past weekend, we were finally able to bring the supplies to the village and watched while one of the village men deftly assembled the new light fixture in his home, a happy moment for all.

Lights in Karen village

Success!

Many of ATMA SEVA’s connections have similar histories. We pride ourselves on working directly with community leaders and letting them convey their needs and desired projects.  Often times even the best intentions can have unforeseen negative consequences if the community is not an active participant in the relationship. In our opinion, it’s much better to let the community tell us what needs they have and together we can then discuss a potential partnership to address these needs.

This is how our flagship Wat Doi Saket project started- after the initial Rotary funding for the HIV AIDS awareness project expired, we approached the temple with a simple question: how can we best help?  The answer was straightforward: ‘we would like English teachers to help improve our English’. Since then, we’ve been working hard to develop a sustainable program bringing native English speakers to Wat Doi Saket as well as other affiliated temple schools.

ATMA SEVA is at a point in its development where we are confident in the quality of the relationships and programs we have created and maintained. The trial and error phase is over and we are ready to launch full steam ahead! Like many organizations, the biggest obstacle is funding. We have recently submitted our 501(c)3 paperwork to become a federally recognized non-profit with tax-exempt status. Once this is approved, all donations received from the date of submission onwards will be eligible for tax-exemption.

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One of many trips to the Karen village. This trip we brought a donation of clothes.

Similar to the project with the Karen village, people often overlook how long it takes to develop relationships and build trust.  We recently started a Wish List, where people can donate money and that donation goes directly towards school supplies for the schools we work with.  This did not happen over night.  For ATMA SEVA to be in a position to bring donations and volunteers has taken over three years to establish.  These ‘feel good’ moments are fueled by extreme hard work and dedication to our projects.  In addition to hard work and dedication, it takes money to pay for gas or money to pay for volunteer teaching supplies.

We would like to encourage everyone, if you can, please consider making a donation to support ATMA SEVA’s ongoing efforts.  We finally have the manpower to increase the momentum of the projects, but to keep things up and running, we need funds. Every little bit helps, from $5 that can pay for the gas necessary to drive to and from a school out of town where we’ve stationed a volunteer, to the $55 that will buy a full school support pack- whatever the amount, you know that it is going directly to support and improve our community projects. The Karen village light bulb donation would not have been possible without a generous donation from Elizabeth Devine that allowed us to purchase and transport the supplies.

Click here to DONATE NOW

Thank you very much to all donors, past and present, who support ATMA SEVA..

If anyone has any questions about donations, our projects, or anything else, please send us an email or leave a comment below.

Krup Kuhn mak krup (thank you very much in Thai)

Jamie Shannon & David Poppe

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org