Two months into the on-site intern experience!

I’ve officially been living in Wiang Haeng for two months. At this point one would expect the excitement of living in a new place would be wearing off, but that is far from the reality.
In the past two months I have visited numerous temples in the area, tasted dozens (if not hundreds) of new dishes, and participated in several religious ceremonies. In addition to my classes with the novice monks, two other teachers from my school and I started teaching classes at the government sub-district office this past month. I started to get into a routine – wake up, morning run, shower, eat, school, sub-district, teach English to novices at the Dharma Center, read, sleep, wake up and repeat.

IMG_3776 To some extent, I was beginning to think that I had seen it all – however, that changed recently when one of my students from the sub-district office invited me to cook and eat lunch with her and her family. We ended up having so much fun that we spent the entire day together. We cooked, ate, visited sites around the area, and met her friends and family. She then invited me to spend every Sunday together so that she can take me around to tour the area and check out the sights. How could I resist such an offer?


Over the past few weekends I have found new beauty in the town and district in which I live. I’ve seen parts of my town that I never knew existed, fields quietly tucked away on side roads near my school, and neighborhoods hiding past the row of businesses on the main street. The sights are simply spectacular. As we coast through dirt roads on her motorcycle, we are flanked on both sides by lush rice paddies and the brooding mountains surrounding us. The rainy season is among us and the air is becoming crisp and cool, while rainbows become a common sight.

IMG_3883 These trips have also helped me feel like a more integrated part of the community. Kong Lom is a small village boasting around 400 houses. As a naturally kind and extroverted person (and a person who was born and raised in the village), my friend Toy seems to know everyone in town. Here, there is no such thing as a short bike ride, as we are constantly stopping to say hello to various family members and friends. And let me tell you, Thai families are not small! Everywhere we go we are warmly greeted and offered something to eat, which means I have eaten more than ever before but every dish is uniquely delicious.

IMG_3884 I also have to admit that I am addicted to Toy’s children’s energy. There’s nothing quite like enjoying a new site when your tour guides are 4 and 6 years old. They simply have a different taste for life and it makes you appreciate the experience that much more. The kids squeal with delight as we bump along the roads, while I close my eyes and grip tightly to my seat. They repeat what I and their mother say in English, even if they have no idea what it means. They like to hold my hand and tickle me when I least expect it. Her children, like many of the community members around me, communicate with me even if it’s not by using words – but rather, by sharing and creating experiences together.


I’ve tried to document some of the experiences through pictures, but I’m finding it difficult to capture the sights, sounds, and emotions on camera. The views can’t be fully experienced until you feel the wind blowing in your hair as you wiz through the fields in a motorbike, hear the giggles, and see the warmth of the smiles in person. Here is a brief attempt to capture those experiences.


Stay tuned for more pictures in the Photo Corner in a few weeks and don’t forget to ‘Like’ ATMA SEVA on Facebook!

Maria Moreno, on-site intern


Photography Corner – Wat Kong Lom

No two days are the same at Wat Kong Lom – I’ve come to anticipate and appreciate this fact. On any given day we are hosting visiting monks, participating in school clean-up and beautification projects, planting rice, or paying special tribute to the teachers, community, and holidays. In addition to getting a traditional “book” education, students at the school obtain hands-on skill training as well.

The temple at Wat Kong Lom is currently under construction and will be completed within the next year. Currently, workers are working every day to complete the detail-oriented decor of the building. The temple, named after the village in which it is located (Kong Lom, which is part of the larger Wiang Haeng area), is a location where ATMA SEVA volunteers live and teach.  Hope you enjoy the pictures!

Don’t forget to ‘Like’ ATMA SEVA on Facebook to see more pictures from this location!

Maria Moreno, on-site intern

ATMA SEVA – First impressions of Wiang Haeng

Welcome Maria

Me (center) with two other ATMA SEVA on-site interns

When I was first told that I would be spending the next four months living in Wiang Hang, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I studied the tiny speck on the map and wondered what life would be like there, what stories the people had to tell, and what new adventures lay ahead. The past two weeks here have indeed been an adventure with no two days the same. But this is exactly the type of adventure I was hoping for. After living in Bangkok for 3 months, I was eager to move to a more rural area where I would have an opportunity to learn more about Thai culture and challenge myself to learn Thai.

The area I am in is actually comprised of multiple townships, each with its own distinct culture, language, and story to tell. Within a 15 minute car ride, you are able to visit a Karen village, a refugee camp that has an expansive solar-power project, and a village with Chinese roots (complete with traditional dress and red Chinese lanterns hanging from every home). The majority of the people in the region, however, are from the Shan State in Myanmar. In spite of the diversity in the area, the one aspect that is universal is the importance that Buddhism plays in each of their cultures. Every temple and pagoda is different – each one reflecting the stories and culture of its members.

novices construction Wiang Haeng

Novices helping with the construction

I am currently living in Pleekwiwek Dhamma Center, along with thirty novice monks and three monks. Pleekwiwek serves multiple functions: it is a dhamma center and meditation retreat, the home and training center for the novices, a community center, and a model for self-sufficiency. The founder of the center and current director, Dr. Phra Ajarn Thanee, received a master’s degree in agriculture, a fact that very much shapes the way the center is run. The novices grow a majority of the vegetables and rice they eat right here at the center. In addition to learning about farming, they learn how to make bricks out of mud and cement and have built a number of the cabins on the grounds. Novices learn to value the homes they have built for themselves, the food they have grown for themselves, and even the cotton they have grown to make the robes they wear. Therefore, the boys who have lived here have not only had the opportunity to attend school and learn about Buddhism, but also learn valuable life skills that they can apply to future life endeavors.


Shot from Pleekwiwek Dhamma Center

In spite of my efforts, I still struggle to pronounce the name of the Center correctly (at least, the locals don’t seem to know what I’m saying), however, as soon as I say that I am teaching at Wat Kong Lom and am working with Dr. Thanee, everyone kindly reminds me of the correct pronunciation: Pli-wih-wehk. It’s clear from their reactions that Dr. Thanee and the work he does is an integral part of the community. This is also evidenced from the number of training camps that have taken place here in the past few weeks.  The trip here started with an English camp which was followed by a weekend retreat with over one hundred students from the local government school learning about Buddhism and sufficiency economics, a few days later we had a flock of women working frantically to prepare decorations for blessing a new construction site, then we received a group of soldiers who helped plant numerous trees on the grounds, and then we hosted a large retreat for all of the students from Wat Kong Lom.

I am excited to be here and see all of the activity taking place around me. I never would have expected that that little dot on the map could be so full of life and yet so peaceful.

I have been working in the field of community organizing and event planning for many years, but I decided to come to Thailand to learn more about how community development takes place in developing nations. Pleekwiwek has been a great experience in teaching me more about sufficiency economics and the way that a community that is so diverse can come together as neighbors to help one another.  In the short time that I have been here I have learned more about Thai culture, language, and Buddhism than I have in the previous 3 months living in Thailand!

Buddha view Wiang Haeng

View from Wat overlooking Wiang Haeng

I am eager to continue learning – learning about northern Thai culture and all of the diverse groups in the region. I have already learned three new ways of saying “hello,” I’ve been anointed with a Thai name, and have heard numerous folklore stories from the region. I am also excited to begin teaching English. The people in the region and the novices I am working with are just as eager to learn about me, my culture and my language as I begin to teach at Wat Kong Lom temple school.

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


Teaching Abroad – English Camp in Wiang Haeng!

Last weekend, the ATMA SEVA team took a trip up north to Wiang Hang to participate in a 3-day English camp for novice monks and set up our newest on-site intern Maria. The camp was held at Plekwiwek Dharma Center, a Buddhist center attached to Wat Kong Lom, that leads meditation retreats, hosts various camps and seminars, and teaches novice monks to grow and cook their own food, design and build houses and become leaders within their communities. The center is in a beautiful location with outstanding mountain views.

wiang haeng good view blog pic

View of Wiang Haeng from local temple.

The camp was organized and led by friends of ATMA SEVA, Yao and Lawrence, who had run a similar camp with the same students back in March. The theme of the English camp was “Community Helpers” and we played games, sang songs, and lead group activities all focused on people in the community and their job responsibilities. Here is quick overview of our schedule for the first 2 days:

  • 8:00 – 8:30 Orientation/ Breakfast (Choose names, make tags, name games and general introductions to camp. Second and third day made waffles!)
  • 8:30-10:15 Review of theme & new vocabulary (lots of singing and group games)
  • 10: 15 – 12:00 Cooking & lunch (Remember the monks cannot eat after 12!)
  • 12:00 – 12:30 Break
  • 12:30 – 2:30 Station Activities (Introduction to community helpers, job responsibilities and where they work, drawing, matching games and “salad bowl” -see games list below)
  • 2:30 – 3:00 Break                                                       
  • 3:00 – 4:00 Writing activities (Crossword puzzles, what do you want to be and why?)
  • 4:00 – 6:00 Free time & dinner for the teachers           
  • 6:00 – 8:00 Games! (Not all related to community helpers but fun and engaging games)

Since the camp stretched over a few days, versus one day or an afternoon, we had a variety of different activities to keep the novices engaged while still practicing the new vocabulary and keep with the community helpers theme.  Yao took classic nursery rhymes and kids songs but changed the lyrics to fit the theme, had flashcards with the helpers and their job responsibilities, and enforced the vocabulary with pictures and acting games. Even when some vocabulary and phrases felt repetitive, it was the best way for the novices to understand and retain the “curriculum” of the camp.

In addition to helping with the morning and afternoon activities, ATMA SEVA was in charge of planning two 2-hour blocks of games in the evening for the 40 novices. Below are some of our favorite games that worked well with the novices and can be played with larger groups of school kids as well.

Recommended Games/Activities:

novices cooking in wiang haeng

Novices preparing spaghetti sauce.

Cooking – Cooking is a great way to engage all your students, teach about food and foreign dishes, hear new vocabulary, and for the students to learn new skills. Make sure to plan menus well ahead of time to prepare shopping trips, and enough food for the whole time.  During our three days we made: waffles, scrambled eggs, toast, pork burgers, french fries, salad, fried chicken and spaghetti!

Salad Bowl  – Students sit in chairs in a circle, with one person standing in the middle. Make sure there is one chair less than the number of students, just like musical chairs. Each student has a slip of paper with their “group” name written on it that they don’t show others. For example, for community helpers the groups were : doctor, fireman, policeman, etc. The student in the middle calls out a group and everybody in the group has to get up and find a new seat before the person in the middle gets one first. The last student left standing is now it and shouts out a new “group” of his/her choice. Great way to practice vocabulary and we found the novices playing the game themselves well after camp was over!

salad bowl game

The salad bowl game in action!

Human Knot – Students stand in a circle and grab hands with someone across from them (but not their neighbors!) When all the students have joined hands, they must work together to untangle themselves and become a circle again without letting go of their hands! There is no too much English involved but the novices really enjoyed the challenge and cheered when they untwisted themselves!

Hokey Pokey – A classic but it works! The novices loved seeing the teachers be silly and getting a chance to be silly themselves. Plus it is a great way to review body parts. (Hint: We reviewed body parts before the song by using a human model and having the novices identify and stick labels to match “arm”,”leg”.. etc.)

Who’s the Best – Split the students up into even teams (and equal mixes of age and English ability) and let each team pick a name. The instructors create a list of “challenges” for the students to do, and each group chooses one person to come up and do the challenge and the “judges” award points to each team. We even added group challenges for teams to win points together. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins. Examples of challenges include: count backwards from 20 the fastest, most pushups, best animal noise, best whistler, and best Gangnam style! For team challenges we gave the teams a word scramble, and to list all the ASEAN countries. The novices had fun with the friendly competition and were excited to play against their friends.  You can incorporate any challenges to fit your theme and can have a mix between English related challenges as well as fun and goofy ones.

No Bananas in the Sky – This activity was added by an ATMA SEVA volunteer with experience teaching at summer camps and was a fun song to sing with the novices. We taught the lyrics: “There are no bananas in the sky, in the sky, there are no bananas in the sky. There’s a sun and a moon and coconut cream pie, but there are no bananas in the sky, in the sky.” Each word has an action attached to it and after teaching both the song and actions, you remove a word each time and just do the action until you are not singing and then add the words back in one at a time. The novices picked up the song right away and all the teachers joined in too! Definitely a great addition to the evening games.

no banana song

Teaching the song!

Advice for planning an English camp: 

  • Be sure to prepare materials ahead of time and bring extra pens, pencils and paper. Also bringing music is a good idea for games, sing-a-longs, and to play during down time or liven up an activity.
  • If cooking food with the students, prepare utensils and food stations ahead of time and let each teacher/volunteer know their roles. The novices are pretty self sufficient but still needed guidance and supervision.
  • Have a back up plan! If the power goes out, you run out of materials, or what you planned for 30 minutes only takes 10, be ready to have some simple backup games and/or group activities. Stick to your schedule as much as possible to stay organized but be flexible to adjust games, activities and timing based on students understanding of the games, content and/or unexpected challenges – especially in Thailand!
  • Remember to take lots of small breaks for the students to relax a bit and the teachers to regroup and go over activities for the day.
  • Tailor your games and activities to be appropriate for the age and ability of your students and keep rules in mind when working with novice monks (can’t eat after 12, no “touching”, games not too physical, etc.)

Overall we had a great experience and are excited to go back for another camp very soon! A big thank you to Yao and Lawrence for organizing the camp and to the monks and novices of Wiang Haeng!

Stay tuned for the photography corner about this camp and if you have any questions or comments about planning games, setting a schedule, or anything else just leave a comment below!

Katherine Devine