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




ATMA SEVA photo exhibition in Cabo San Lucas!

Hello everyone, I am back on the blog again…and as most of you know I was in Thailand volunteering in 2012. I had received so much while I was in Thailand, that when I got back to Mexico I began working towards a fundraiser event. It all started as a small family and friends get together, and slowly progressed to a lovely event held at the Cultural Pavilion in Cabo San Lucas.

Over my nine months stay in Thailand I had taken over 14,000 photographs. I decided to print some of them thinking that maybe I could sell some and raise some money for scholarships and ATMA SEVA.  It took months to select just a few among thousands. I wanted to show all of them lol, but that just wasn’t happening. I learned that digital photos and printed photos are two very different worlds. I had to learn about aspect ratio, printer profiles, sizes…etc. It was indeed a lot more work that I could have possibly imagined, but the thought of giving something back was a great fuel for my engine. I was very excited to organize this and in the end it all paid off.

After looking at my photos over and over and over again, selecting…I got a bit overloaded so I asked my niece Daniela and my friend Karena to help which was an excellent idea; their input meant all the difference; looking at the photos from a different perspective helped me narrow the thousands to hundreds. After months of planning and working I was able to constrict the topics to only six: The beginning of the story, Thailand: Landscapes and People, Daily Life Style, Temples, Monks and Novices, and ATMA SEVA. It was a story told through photographs; what had taken me to Thailand and what I had seen there. The exhibition was called “A taste of Thailand through my lens”.

A lot of people got excited with the project and helped me. My mother took me to all the places I needed to go (I can now drive but not as much as I would like) she also helped with all the errands and supported me anyway she could. My niece Daniela, from Love Ideas, helped with all the planning and logistics.  My friend Mirna (from MX producciones) helped with all the permits and locations. My friend Heidi invited me to her radio talk show. The local radio station, Cabo Mil, helped with spots during the days prior to the event. My friend Adaisa donated all the photo framing from Marco Framing; her employee Aldo was an amazing help framing and handling all of the photographs. Nico, one of my students from ‘Bonaria carpentry’, helped with the set up and construction of the blackboards and display boards. My nephew, Luis Fernando, from Cantoya Studios helped adjust the ATMA SEVA logo for the event. My friend Nivea donated the cloth for the display boards and all the tablecloths. The Faraway Restaurant Lounge, in Cabo San Lucas, donated some food for tasting during the event. My friends Martha and Josefina helped at the photo selling station. Also, my friend Indalecio, from Los Cabos News came to the event to photograph and published an article about my story and how I got to Thailand! Many of my students helped that day with whatever I needed. So, as you can see this was a wonderful and successful volunteer-team work!!!

The team in Thailand led by David Poppe had set up a video to show at the fundraiser. The video was excellent!! I had been showing our YouTube videos during the exhibition and at the end we showed the video where David explains about ATMA SEVA and the monks chant a blessing for all the participants and donors at the event. Everyone loved it! Prior to showing the video I spoke a little about the experience, shared some anecdotes and I was shocked to see  how people showed great interest in what ATMA SEVA does, the monks, the food, and asked many interesting questions. One little girl asked about the girls in Thailand: “Why aren’t there any girls?” she said….I had displayed many girls but most of the photographs were of novices and monks. I was happy with her question which gave me the chance to speak about our huge project: the building of a school.

The day of the event Cabo was hit by a storm and we considered canceling it but in the end we thought best to continue and opened it anyway. We had a great turnaround, over 90 people showed up regardless of the heavy winds and rain.

A lot of people got involved and learned about our work. Many were intrigued by the culture and Buddhism. A very nice couple arrived early, while I was still getting things organized but they didn’t mind, they waited and stayed till the very end, wanting to hear me talk and watch the video.  During the set up as well as during the event I could hear people calling other friends telling them about what a great exhibition it was and asking them to come to the photo event.  I will forever be grateful to everyone who helped and believed in me and the project.

Planning and organizing this fundraiser was a unique experience, I am planning on doing it again someday when I go home. We would love for you to organize something like this and be part of our worldwide community; you can help us spread our work and raise money to help us for the school we are planning on building for kids less fortunate here in Thailand. If anyone is interested and would like more details please send me an email! (marcia@atmaseva.org)

Thank you sooo much to all of you who helped, believed in us, and made of this event such an incredible night. May you all be blessed with abundance and love!!!

I hope you enjoy the photos!

Again, huge thank you to all supporters and friends who helped make this event a true success!!!

Bonaria Carpentry, Nico Marchesi

Cabo Mil

Cantoya Studios

Faraway Restaurant Lounge

Heidi Von Der Rosen

Los Cabos News

Love Ideas

Marco Framing

MX producciones

Pabellon Cultural Cabo San Lucas

Platicando con Heidi



Marcia Somellera



Visa run in Penang

Recently, I had to leave Thailand to fix my visa and decided to try a new location, Penang, Malaysia! I have been to Kuala Lumpur before and had been hearing lots of good things about Penang!

This entry is to share information for what I paid for my flights, hotels, and my observations from spending four nights there.

Getting there

Round trip ticket from Chiang Mai to Penang (had to stop in BKK both times) was around 12,000 THB through Air Asia.  That is pretty expensive when you compare that to how much it costs to do a visa run from Chiang Mai to Laos, but I have been to Vientiane too many times and wanted to explore something new!

The taxi from the Penang airport into the city was 45 ringgit which is about 450 THB.  Currency is super easy to translate, just add a 0 to Malaysian money and that is about the equivalent to Thai baht. (give or take depending on the rates)


I searched around for a while where I got dropped off and decided on the Oriental Hotel.  Per night was between 80 – 90 ringgit, which isn’t cheap, but I needed wifi and at that point just wanted to drop my bags and relax.

I would highly recommend this hotel based solely on the service from the doorman, who became my friend, and the guys at the front desk.  They were nothing but helpful from the first second and every-time I came up or down they asked me how I was, booked taxis for me, and recommended sites to see.  One night I came back to the hotel around 7pm and when I walked in, they said ‘Where have you been? We haven’t seen you all day and were getting worried! We were about to call the police to look for you!’ They were good people, and when you travel, it never hurts to have good people in your corner.

The rooms were nothing special, but they got cleaned everyday, and the basic set-up was just what I was looking for.

Thai Embassy (website)

This was by far the easiest, fastest, and cheapest embassy I have been to.  Granted, some days might be busier than others, but the set up was not conducive for massive crowds like you see in Laos. I filled out my application and was at the counter within ten minutes.  I even got to pickup my visa the same day!

Around the city

I made it a point to not research too much or make an itinerary with what to do and see. For this trip I merely walked around and decided where to go based on what looked cool and how I was feeling.  I was able to see most of the city this way.  The city had nice ocean views with clear blue water, interesting side streets and markets, and great Indian food.  I went back to the Coffee Bean almost everyday as they had great wifi and quiet places to do work.

Overall, it was a cool city with great food.  I did not go out at all for the nightlife, but from the locals I spoke with, the city seemed to have some decent clubs and places to go out.  If a cheap and fast visa run is what you are looking for, Penang is not your answer, but if you are looking to get away for a few days and explore Malaysia then Penang might be a good fit.  Kuala Lumpur also has a Thai embassy, but in my experience KL was more expensive overall.

Feel free to ask any questions about this city, visa runs, or anything else.  Hope you enjoy the photos!

David Poppe



The monk chat experience

During my trip to Chiang Mai, in addition to preparing and helping with English Camps at schools and temples ATMA SEVA works with, I have also been working to spread and strengthen the monk chat program. Monk chats are an excellent learning/teaching tool in which students sitting anywhere around the world can talk and ask questions to Thai monks in Chiang Mai through video skype calls. Students can ask the monks questions about Buddhism, their monastic life, and virtually anything the students would like to know or talk about.

So far, monk chats have been useful in classes such as cultural anthropology, global problem solving, and world religions.

monk chat from West Hartford

A monk chat with a high school Human Rights class in Connecticut

The concept of monk chats was born in 2010. After coming to Thailand to work with monks for English education, David Poppe (ATMA SEVA’s Programs Director) thought that communicating and learning from the monks was unique and extremely interesting. David really wanted to find a way to share this opportunity with people back in the US. The idea of using skype to talk to the monks was then conceived. Since then, many groups have utilized monk chats. Among these include four different schools, a boys and girls club, and other various groups. The ATMA SEVA team and I are now working on bringing monk chats to as many schools as possible so the maximum number of students can benefit from this opportunity.

One of the very first monk chats!

One of the very first monk chats!

Monk chats were created with several goals in mind. First of all, they are seen as excellent teaching tools. Instead of learning about topics such as Buddhism from old textbooks, students will get an opportunity to learn first hand from someone who lives their life in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings. On the other side of the call, the monks get a chance to practice their English and gain exposure to people from around the world. Initially, the monk chats had a fee of $10 per person in order to raise money for ATMA SEVA’s scholarship program that supports the educational needs of novice monks and monks. Now, the fee is no longer required but donations are highly encouraged and all money still goes towards these scholarships.


The monks answering questions from Wat Doi Saket

In my personal experience, I have been a part of five monk chats. Whenever I am in a monk chat, whether I am participating or moderating, I always learn so much from the interesting question-and-answer back and forth. One of the most memorable moments was a question about how to incorporate Buddhist ideals of detachment in our daily lives without becoming a monk. I’ll let you find out the answer during your next monk chat!  Just talking to a monk, about whom we barely know anything, is an experience in itself let alone learning about them and their culture. Most people are amazed at the responses they get and are excited about their one of a kind experience!

Me in Thailand during a monk chat I scheduled!

Me in Thailand during a monk chat I scheduled!

I am really excited to continue working with the schools and other organizations on monk chats! If you or anyone you know is interested, please contact ATMA SEVA via email. If groups or schools want to know what the experience is like beforehand, we would be happy to host a “practice” monk chat for you. For further information about the program, you can visit www.atmaseva.org/Page-74/Monk-chats.php. Thank you for reading and looking forward to (monk) chatting soon!

Written by: Raghav Agarwal



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.


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.


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


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.

on the way to karen village

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



Photography Corner – English Camp in Wiang Haeng 2013

On May 4th, 5th, and 6th the ATMA SEVA team assisted with an English camp in Wiang Haeng, Thailand.  To read all about the English camp, how it was structured, and our general reactions/advice, please click here.

Below are photos from the three days of activities, games, and learning!  Thanks again to Yao and Lawrence who organized and led the camp.  Enjoy the photos!

Photos by: David Poppe



Photography Corner – Wat Doi Ku

Wat Doi Ku is a very small temple located just outside the district of Doi Saket. (click here for google map)  There are only four monks who stay here, but starting next semester (June) the temple will have an additional five novice monks.  This temple offers great views of surrounding districts and lush green rice paddies.  This is also a location that volunteers from our Wat Doi Saket project can stay and teach at a local government school.

Hope you enjoy the photos and stay tuned for more Photography Corners coming soon!

Photos by David Poppe