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.

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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