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!




Photography by: Katherine Devine

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

Photography Corner – Wiang Kum Kam

If you stay in Chiang Mai you might want to sit in one of these lovely carriages for a stroll around Wiang Kum Kam!

Wiang Kum Kam ruins are the recently restored remains of King Mangrai’s capital. It was flooded and abandoned more than 700 years ago.  Wiang Kum Kam is located near the Ping river.

Hope you enjoy the photos!!!


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

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  ATMA SEVA has been working with Stu since 2009 on various projects and look forward to many more collaborations!


Where are they now? – Anton

In this edition of ‘Where are they now?’ we checked in with Anton, a former volunteer with our Wat Doi Saket project who is from France.  Read his answers below to hear more about his time in Thailand with ATMA SEVA and what he’s been up to since returning home to France.

Anton after his English class at Wat Doi Saket with teacher Natch.

Anton after his English class at Wat Doi Saket with teacher Natch.

1)  How did you first get connected with ATMA SEVA?  Why did you choose to volunteer with the Wat Doi Saket Project?  

Initially, I was just looking for an internship somewhere in Southeast Asia; the country and the activity of the organization did not matter as long as their mission was in line with my own philosophy. I found a short message written by programs director, David, on a forum so I contacted him to learn more about ATMA SEVA.  After hearing about what this experience could be, I immediately said “yes”. For me, the appeal of the program was being able to explore Asia in a rural and traditional area while also teaching kids. The idea of living in a Buddhist temple was also exciting, and even if I am a mostly convinced atheist, I knew I would discover new points of view and ideas about life with the monks, which is exactly what happened.

2) Tell us a bit about your time at the temple and teaching at a Thai government school. What were some of your favorite moments? 

Anton with teachers, volunteers, and children after his school play production.

Anton with teachers, volunteers, and children after his school play production.

At first, it was hard to adjust to the temple schedule with a lot of free time, teachers living in the temple, and often changing class times.  I like teaching and it was quite pleasant to teach in these places. I had a lot of freedom in the classroom and I could talk about whichever subjects I chose. The hardest thing was that so few people spoke English at that time in both the temple and the school.  This meant that I really had to make an effort to learn the Thai language, which is difficult to learn, in order to integrate and communicate.  Despite the challenge, it was really interesting to get into it, and very valuable for my work with the kids. Some of my favorite moments were bonding with the kids in both the government school and the temple. I also really enjoyed a theatre project I worked on at the government school.

3) What was it like being the first volunteer?

Intense! I was glad to be the first volunteer and help to continue building relationships with these monks and teachers who are continuing partners with ATMA SEVA. It was a challenge to figure out how to communicate and work with so many new people, but I enjoyed sharing our ideas about education and teaching.  I hope my work has been beneficial and that the links between ATMA SEVA and its partners continue to grow and strengthen.

4) How did you find your transition back to France after being in Thailand for several months? 

Anton with a teacher from a Thai government school

Anton with a teacher from a Thai government school

Actually, after Thailand, I spent two months in South America and then five months in Quebec.  The whole year was crazy for me. The transition between Asia and South America was really a shock because these two cultures are quite opposite in many ways: quietness and meditation, “soft human contact” for Asia; intense social life and passionate feelings for South America. The difference was pronounced and it was incredible to see how diverse human life and culture can be.  Once I got back to France, it took me about a year and a half to get used to French people again and appreciate them, but that’s part of traveling!

5) What are you doing currently?

I am actually finishing my master’s degree in political sciences in the cultural field. I am on an internship in the French countryside, working on a theatre project involving an equestrian show mixing classical text and modern direction with hip hop music.  I manage the administration of the project by looking for funds, places to perform, and setting up partnerships to communicate about the project.

6) What are your plans when you finish university? Would you consider any more work internationally?

My plans are still tentative, but I would like to finish this project that runs up to summer 2014, and find another job in the cultural field. After this, I would like to go to Quito, Equator, for a master’s degree in video documentaries. Eventually I’d like to get back to Montreal, a city that I love, and spend a part of my life there.

Anton with some mons from Wat Doi Saket

Anton with some mons from Wat Doi Saket

7) What did you learn from your time in Thailand volunteering with ATMA SEVA? 

I learned how to integrate to the unique Thai culture and how to communicate with people who don’t share a common language. I learned about how to teach effectively, what life is like in a Wat, that French food is not the best in the world, how to drive a motorbike… and more! I learned so many things that I can’t list them all!

8) What is your advice for anybody interested in volunteering or traveling abroad?

First, make sure to get enough information about the country and the organization that you are considering working with. I didn’t do as much research as I should have. I was lucky that ATMA SEVA was a good NGO, that David was so helpful and that Thailand is such a welcoming place. I have a few friends who landed on an unfriendly territory, and had a bad international experience. It’s good to know a little about where you’re going and what to expect before committing to work abroad.

Once you’ve arrived abroad, I recommend forgetting about what you know or think you know. Everything is relative, and it’s really dangerous and inappropriate to think your culture and your ideas are the one correct way. Understanding a country and its people doesn’t depend on simply the language or politeness, but on your capacity to think as others do and understand perspectives other than your own.  Always keep in mind that your views derive from a history you did not choose. Meeting different people is a great opportunity to challenge your ideas and beliefs in a search for your own personal truth. And don’t forget to have fun with the people you meet and enjoy your time!

Anton helping set up for a temple festival at Wat Doi Saket.

Anton helping to set up for a festival at Wat Doi Saket.

Photography Corner – Wat Lok Molee

Located just north of the Old City, Wat Lok Molee is a lesser-known temple in Chiang Mai, recognized for its large stupa, hidden charms and unique grounds full of statues, relics and mosaics.

The first structures were built in the 14th century and is said to have housed Monks from Burma who stayed at the temple to help spread Theravada Buddhism to Thailand.  The Stupa, one of the largest in Chiang Mai, is left unadorned and reminiscent of the old Lanna Kingdom. The spectacular Stupa holds the ashes of Phra Muang Kaew and his family, the Lanna king in the early part of the 16th century who commissioned the building.

This Wat is definitely worth a trip for its architecture, calm atmosphere, and the statues and figurines throughout the grounds. From a carved wooden elephant statue, Vishnu statues, and wall mosaics, it is easy to spend time just walking around. Although this temple is not often visited by tourists, it it still a beautiful temple that is worth the trip outside the city walls.


Photographs by: Alexis Taylor