What Else Could I Ask For?

Experiencing different aspects of ATMA SEVA’s programs, especially teaching and interacting with monks, is an amazing part of my experience here in Chiang Mai. However, my working experience at Doi Saket could not have been amazing without the improvisation from a colorful life style that any intern may live in during their time at Wat Doi Saket.

IMG_4301

Me at Wat Doi Saket!

Doi Saket temple is very beautiful and enriched with amazing decorating styles. The paintings on the walls of the Vihan, the entrance to the temple, and the statues all truly reflect the long, glorious and vibrating culture and history. Every day at Doi Saket is a happy day for me. For each day, I spend at least 20 to 30 minutes for an easy walk or a hike around the mountain and the temple with my music. There are a lot of quick ‘hi’ back and forth between myself and the people around the temple, as well as those who pass by. Starting my day by waking up early for a quick chat and breakfast in the Wat’s kitchen has become my favorite habit at the temple. It reminds me of a lot of my childhood when my mom would wake me up early in the morning of a normal school day for a quick breakfast and rush to school. The kitchen ladies, like my mom, basically want to feed me to death every morning.

I feel so fortunate that ATMA SEVA put me to work with a group of teachers in the same office at the temple. Though I felt like a new comer to their place, in just a short while I was made used to the place and made to feel at home. They are like brothers and sisters to me. Being caring and concerned about your well-being is how they are. I foresaw myself very homesick after having been there for a long while. But no, I was just right there at a place I could call home. The friendliness, hospitality and emotional support they gave to me are immeasurable. Every lunch time, there are always jokes around the lunch table. We talked, and we made jokes. Even though there were a lot of language barriers in our communication at first, we always tried so hard to learn and get to know more about each other. This is a really unique chance for me to get to know more about Thailand in terms of its culture and the commonalities between Cambodia and Thailand. I taught them Khmer, they taught me Thai. As time went by, our cross-cultural communication skills improved quite significantly.

Downtown is within a walking distance from my work place. You have access to almost any kind of necessities you may need. It’s a small beautiful town, full of friendly people. I made friends with so many people in the market, in the stores and in the small restaurants. When you look like a stranger to them, sure you’ll catch their eyes. All you need to do is to say a simple ‘Sa Watt Dee, Krup’ to them. They will sure greet you back, and with an additional smiling face. In the evening, one could always find cheap and fast foods to eat on both sides of the street. The social environment is just perfect for those who are tired from work and looking for a spot to seat and relax with amazing Thai food. I was very lucky to get to know a very friendly Thai family who has their shop nearby the market. I got invited for a visit to their garden family and for a cooking session.

941201_668552059825386_1555691824_n

Me with my new friends in Doi Saket!

What’s most fortunate of all, they have a Muay Thai training camp that I could have free access to training with boxers and a trainer. There, I got to practice a lot of Muay Thai, my most favorite martial art/cultural sport, with other interns from ATMA SEVA as an evening exercise. Just five minutes away from town, there is a beautiful fish pond where I spent a lot of time at. It is a great place for refreshing one’s mind with fresh air. You can go for a quiet walk or a run around the pond; and it is also a great place for reading.

1014314_10152938923555471_1895475519_n

Muay Thai training!!!!

This is what an intern’s life would look like in their off duty time at Doi Saket. Of course, there are still so many other places and more activities to be explored and get involved in, depending on one’s personal interest. The point is: no matter what life style one may be used to before coming to Doi Saket, experiencing a different way of life in Doi Saket during one’s internship is truly a worthwhile one. In addition to getting involved with interesting and enjoyable education programs, the internship truly gave me a chance to be surrounded by amazing people, colorful natural and social environments, and delicious Thai food. So what else could I ask for?

Click here for more information about internship opportunities with ATMA SEVA!

written by: Kimhean Hok

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Advertisements

The Size of My Shoes and the Eiffel Tower: A Thank You to ATMA SEVA and My Monks

*Brady is an ATMA SEVA volunteer who has been living and teaching at a Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai for one and a half months*

The ATMA SEVA team picking me up at the Chiang Mai airport!

The ATMA SEVA team picking me up at the Chiang Mai airport!

Talking to my Thai friends – most of whom are my students, who are all novice monks – I find there are many things I don’t understand about the world of a Thai person. By the same token, there is much that these novice monks do not quite get about the Western World. As a result, lots of our discussions with each other are centered around the exchange of cultural and geographic knowledge, which I absolutely love. However, we sometimes hit snags in the conversation when a topic is especially difficult for one of us to grasp. I have recently encountered two such topics that shocked my monk friends to the core: the size of my shoes and the size of the Eiffel Tower.

During my first week here one of my favorite dogs – I call him Lucius – ate my shoes (scene: “Lucius, No! Lucius what are you doing? What did you do? Oh my god. Oh no. You ate them, didn’t you? Why, Lucius? Why would you do that?” *falls to his knees and shakes his fists at the sky*). It was a traumatic experience, especially to have so soon after arriving in Thailand, but my parents sent me some new hiking boots, and within a few weeks, a brand-new shoe box was sitting in my room, waiting to be opened. As my friends in orange robes crowded around me, curious as ever, I procured my new pair of shoes. Silence fell among them. They looked at the shoes, then at my feet. “I think they are wrong size,” one muttered. “Too big,” said another.

“No,” I replied, “right size for me. Size thirteen.”
“No,” said another monk. “Wrong size.” I shook my head.

What ensued was a solid thirty minutes of them inserting their feet into my shoes, which they began to call boats, and making shocked exclamations about their vastness. Eyes widened, mouths opened, and every pair of feet in the room were placed next to mine in comparison – some more than once – which resulted without fail in a round of gasps, whispers and statements of utter disbelief.

A similar reaction, minus the foot comparison, was elicited by explaining to the novices the size of the Eiffel Tower. Of course, they know all about Paris and France, but none of them have ever had the opportunity to travel there. In their minds, the Eiffel Tower is a medium-sized statue/monument, not the enormous metal monster it really is. So, when I showed them pictures of the crowds of people standing beneath its four humongous legs, their shock was palpable. “Same size Wat Srisoda?” one novice asked me in a cautious voice.
“Same size as many Wat Srisoda,” I answered.
“Oh I don’t believe you!” laughed my friend Chert.

What really stuck with me was how similar their reactions to my shoes were to their reactions to the Eiffel Tower. It’s funny what you learn about perspective when you live in another country, especially when you get to spend time with some locals. As much as you have the potential to expand their schema for understanding the world, they can do the same and more for you. What had always seemed fairly normal to me – giant buildings and even bigger shoes (or is it other way around) – turned out to be completely extraordinary for my friends. When you learn to think within the frames of other cultural contexts, it can allow you to see the world with more amazement. From now on, when I lace up my…boats, or look at a massive piece of art like the Eiffel Tower, I hope that I will be able to channel some of the shock I saw in my monk friends, and allow myself to better appreciate just how extraordinary and incredible things in this world really are.

Me with the head English teacher at the temple!

Me with the head English teacher at the temple!

Learning to see the world in new ways is one huge benefit I’ve gained from living in Thailand. I’ve been able to experience a ton of new and exciting things that I never thought I would be able to. However, I would never have gotten to have so many incredible experiences, or develop such close friendships with Thai Buddhist monks, without the opportunities provided by an incredible organization for which I am extremely grateful. That’s why I’d like to end this post with a huge thank you to the NGO I’m working with here in Chiang Mai, ATMA SEVA. ATMA SEVA, which means “selfless service for the soul” in Sanskrit, truly embodies the concept expressed in their name by promoting valuable service, as well as the development of meaningful relationships with people here in Thailand. Without the opportunities they have given me, I would never have been able to experience Thailand and Thai culture as deeply as I have. I have become very close with a group of monks, who come to my room to hang out and practice English outside the classroom nearly every night. My experience working with ATMA SEVA was summed up in a few words by my friend, Choo, when he said to me last night, “Before I met you, I didn’t dare to speak English.” Cultural exchange, English teaching, and friendship. That is what ATMA SEVA is all about.

Visiting a local cave with other ATMA SEVA volunteers!

Visiting a local cave with other ATMA SEVA volunteers!

In the spirit if gratitude, this post is dedicated to my monk friends Choo, Chert, Winachat, and Gee, who have taught me way more than I could ever teach them; as well as to David Poppe, ATMA SEVA’s Program Director, who has been around to support me and provide a constant stream of amazing opportunities and exciting new experiences since I’ve joined the ATMA SEVA community. Thanks guys!

You can see me teaching in the classroom at 1:55 in the newest ATMA SEVA video!

*Brady has just began a gap year abroad! To read more about his adventures, check out his personal blog!

written by: Brady Gilliam

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

The Power and Grace of Thailand

I joined ATMA SEVA in July to stay in Chiang Mai for two months, to teach English to novice monks at Wat Phra Non Pa Ketthi, and I’ve now been here two months.  I have happily decided to stay longer!

Wat Saen Luang 8 copy

Two of my students

I have built many bonds with the novice monks, some of whom I’ll visit at their temples during days off school for casual English lessons. Many wonderful characters, and when I am not at the school, it feels slightly odd not seeing them! A number of students are from hilltribes, so Thai is their second language, and English their third! They try to teach me some words in their local langauge, but I’m still trying to learn Thai! I try to make lessons fun for the novices, including activities and competitions, which they really enjoy, especially when I split the class into teams!

20130823_091130 copy

My classroom!

Chiang Mai uni 5

Me with some of my students

A few weeks ago myself and other volunteers had a mini English camp weekend in Wiang Haeng, further north towards the border of Myanmar, where we had lessons and activities for the novices there. It was an incredible experience and I gained so much respect for all of them, after we were shown a presentation by the novices, where we learned they grow their own rice, tomatoes and sweet potatoes as well as mango and papaya trees. Furthermore they build their own rooms and huts from the local mud mixed with cement and grass. The novices were wonderful and eager to learn English and take part in the activities, I like to think we all taught each other something.

Plekwiwek 24 copy

English camp at Wiang Haeng

After the presentation, they chanted as we sat at the back and listened before taking part in meditation. They then surprised us with lanterns, one for each of the volunteers, which we set off up into the night sky. In the morning, the novices made waffles for our breakfast, I watched them as they eagerly showed me their culinary skills!
Me and Mr Pong  copy

My new friend with the card he made me

When we said goodbye I was presented a handmade card by one of the novices, which made me get tears in my eyes, so sweet and unexpected.

Living in Chiang Mai is amazing, I have fallen into the way of life here, I have fallen in love with Thailand. Sometimes when I go around Chiang Mai city, I like to let myself get lost and walk around, absorbing everything, from the markets to the temples. So many temples to see, all so uniquely beautiful with great history. Some have lots of visitors and some are wonderfully peaceful, one in particular called Wat Muen Larn, was so peaceful I found myself ready to meditate, and so I did. I spent the rest of the afternoon visiting temples.

20130803_141827 copy

Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai

I am so glad there is an organization like ATMA SEVA and the incredible work they do, it is the best move I have ever made, and I feel so happy and privileged to be working with novices and helping them.

Victoria Castro

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

New Video – Teaching at Buddhist temples

Check out our latest video which features the Wat Doi Saket project! The WDSP places volunteers to live and teach conversational English at Buddhist temples in Northern Thailand.  This video is a look into the experience!

Video shot and produced by: Antoine Gratian

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

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.

IMG_9541

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

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

New videos!

Below are two new videos produced by our on-site intern Antoine Gratian!  The first is a look into a typical day of an ATMA SEVA volunteer.  The second is about Antoine’s first day in Chiang Mai with our team. Hope you enjoy!

Volunteering with ATMA SEVA

My First Day in Thailand

 

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

A visit to Wat Don Chan

The ATMA SEVA team recently took a trip to Wat Don Chan, a temple and orphanage located in Chiang Mai, with friend of the program Stuart Skversky.  Stu has been working with the temple and children since 2009 through his organization, Stu and the Kids.

The goal of this post is to share the story of Wat Don Chan, the work that Stu does, and ways for people to get involved.

Statues at Wat Don Chan

Statues at Wat Don Chan

Wat Don Chan is a Buddhist temple which has an adjoining school and University with living accommodations for the students on the premise.  Currently, roughly 650 children live at Wat Don Chan, way more than the facilities are designed to hold. Despite the crowd now, up to 900 kids lived here at one time! Of the current 650 living here, 450 of these children are school aged and attending the government school, ages five or six to sixteen.  All of the children living here come from various hill-tribes and many are orphans. They all come here with the hope to get a better education.  It is free of charge for the children to come and live here and study, with the support of the Thai government, the supporters of the Wat, and various Foundations.  Even with the mentioned support and funding, the living quarters where the children stay are sub par, the daily food given is not enough, and educational materials are scarce.  It is also worth noting that the school is at the discretion of the abbot.  Day to day activities are run by the teachers, but ultimately final decisions are up to the abbot.

School at Wat Don Chan

School at Wat Don Chan

There are only four women on location to watch over and take care of the children.  Because of this, students at Wat Don Chan have a way of “growing up fast,” in the words of Stu.  It comes down to the older children taking care and looking after the younger children.  From a Western perspective, this is hard to grasp, being completely on your own at the age of 7 or 8.  It is also different when you visit and see the set up that the gravity of the situation fully settles in.

Children delivering dinner to all of the students

Children delivering dinner to all of the students

Wat Don Chan is a well-known temple and famous because of the abbot, who is said to be clairvoyant.  Many Thais travel from all over to visit and speak with the abbot with the hope to gain knew knowledge about their life or futures.

Buddha statue at Wat Don Chan

Buddha statue at Wat Don Chan

The Wat is also home to thirty monks, many who are originally from Burma.  Despite the overcrowding and lack of funds/resources, Wat Don Chan is home to many bright and motivated young students. Stu has been working tirelessly with this community and fundraising to support the further education for graduates of the school.  There is a technical college associated with the Wat where university teachers volunteer their time to teach high school graduates, but it is difficult for graduates to attend four-year universities. Money is often an issue, so the funds that Stu is able to raise go directly towards these students’ university fees.

Below are several projects that Stu is actively involved with and fundraising for;

  • Paying for multiple students University tuition.
  • Buying/finding new or used computers for the students.
  • Teaching English and cooking classes on a weekly basis.
  • Running English camps periodically through the year.
  • Helping hill-tribe or Burmese students obtain a Thai ID card which enables them to study at the University level
  • Collecting donations of clothes, school supplies, and gym equipment.
Wat Don Chan group picture

R-L; Michael, Katherine, Dave, Dan, Stu

To read more about Wat Don Chan, Stu’s work, and how you can contribute, visit his website at www.stuandthekids.org.  ATMA SEVA has been working with Stu since 2009 on various projects and look forward to many more collaborations!

ATMA SEVA team

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org