Diary of a Thai immersion

Cardoner Project participant Lewis McNamara sends the following reflections from Chiang Rai, Thailand, where he will be on immersion for the remainder of 2018.

The four of us, Kieran Craven, Will Druce, James Dunlop, and myself, are situated 15km from the Mekong River at the Golden Triangle, at a Jesuit Education Project, the Xavier Learning Community.

Lewis McNamara (back row, right) with students in Thailand.

Lewis McNamara (back row, right) with students in Thailand.

This community was established last May as a way for the youth of remote ethnic minorities to gain a university education and degree. The community currently works with about 40 students, with these numbers set to double with a new intake of students in the coming May.

These students study English subjects as well as Thai studies, computing, and science. We Cardoner volunteers arrived at the school two months ago and have been assisting since. We act as teachers assistants in the English subjects and conduct nightly tutoring as well as English activities.

As the project is constantly expanding, there is also always work to be done on the construction sites and the farm; three or four afternoons a week are spent in the farm or helping to build a new hydroponic facility.

Being a part of a community like this is unlike anything I have experienced. The diligence and work ethic of the students is really special, not to mention their generosity in welcoming us into their community. As soon as we walked into the school it felt like we were friends with these students. They were so warm and friendly and it didn’t take long before we were chatting away in English.

The dynamic is quite unique in that we are teaching students older than ourselves, yet they are more than willing to learn and are keen to help us in what we don’t know. It is a really special symbiotic relationship.

We were even lucky enough to travel to one of the student’s villages to meet his family and stay there for a night. This village was situated about two hours out of Mae Chem, on land classified as a national park, as the government does not grant these Karen communities land of their own despite granting them a mailbox.

The villages were extremely rudimentary. This simplicity amplified the beauty of the mountains amongst which the village was nestled— even more so, the beauty and generosity of the people.

It is experiences like this that highlight the purpose behind the work you do and the friendships that you build along the way. The word community is engrained in all that these people do and it is a really special way to live.