The Hill Tribe Orphanage Project and the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home
In 2001, David Venning – the Chairman and Founder of Rustic Pathways – stumbled across the Baan Rai School, which provides an education and support system for more than 300 Karen Hill Tribe children. Since then, Rustic has supported this school and come to love these children and the amazing teachers who sacrifice so much to give them an education and an opportunity for a better life. They are respectful, gentle, happy young folks with great spirits and broad smiles. Through no fault of their own, their opportunities have been extremely limited and their futures are often uncertain. These children deserve much more than what they have.
To celebrate our 25th anniversary in 2008, we began construction on a new facility that will eventually house 130 of these children. We also initiated a career-training project to brighten the future prospects for the next generation.
There are currently 23 Karen students living at the Rustic Pathways Children's Home and we are expecting to increase this number by the summer of 2013. One of the largest projects ever undertaken by our organization, the Hill Tribe Orphanage Project directly supports Karen students as they grow into responsible adults.
Rustic has also provided emergency funding to allow the school to build short-term housing for the orphans we have not yet been able to immediately accommodate at our facility. Rustic Pathways supplies accommodation, covers operating costs such as electricity and water, and provides several full-time supervisors at the facility to oversee the needs of the children. We also pay for the food, uniforms, and school fees for the students under our care until they have a sponsor, at which time their annual sponsorship fees (currently about $ 550) step in to cover food costs and school fees for the sponsored child.
Eventually, we expect to accommodate 130 students at the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home, which is located just a three-minute walk from the school.
Service That’s Fun & Really Changes Lives
High school students joining our Hill Tribe Orphanage Project will live in purpose-built accommodation on the grounds of our Orphanage facility and work closely with the Karen Hill Tribe students who live at our facility and attend the Baan Rai School.
Each day will be quite different from the rest, and your experiences here will introduce you to many aspects of life in this part of the world. A short walk from our house takes you to our host school, where you will teach a few English lessons each week. On some days you’ll get your hands dirty helping with the school’s organic farm, which provides rice and vegetables for the students.
Regardless of the service project, the goal will stay the same – to enhance the lives of these students and encourage cross-cultural experiences with our friends here. With each year, we have seen the remarkable improvements made by these students, and we believe that the sky is the limit. From tutoring English to developing the life skills training program that will help the students secure good jobs in the future, you will become a vital part of this community.
Join a Real Hill Tribe Village
Mae Sariang sits high in the mountains of Northwestern Thailand in one of the most beautiful and remote corners of Southeast Asia. Only 120 miles from the vibrant city of Chiang Mai, the town is surrounded by teak forests and rolling mountains that are home to numerous ethnic minorities (known as Hill Tribe people), including the Karen, Hmong, Lahu, Muser, Lua, and Lisu people.
You will be warmly welcomed to this beautiful corner of Thailand and quickly develop lifelong friendships. And our long-standing connections in the area will open fascinating cultural doors to you that are normally closed to outsiders. You may visit the homes of Karen students in the nearby villages, attend Karen ceremonies, and learn how to do traditional weaving. Sing along and learn Karen redemption songs, play pickup sports, and learn how to drive a water buffalo plow through the rice fields – it’s all just another day in Mae Sariang.
Each week, you’ll take a field trip to a waterfall or historical site. You’ll also have the chance to head out for some adrenaline-pumping adventures, which may include river rafting, kayaking, long-tail boating, and trekking through teak jungles to visit Karen villages.
You’ll Never Forget It
This project started with a vision in 1999, and we believe that the best is yet to come for the students of the Baan Rai School. Join us and become a part of this welcoming Karen community!
Want to continue your summer adventure? This program connects to our other great trips in Southeast Asia, China and India.
Day 1 (Tuesday)
Relax and prepare for a world-class trip on Singapore Airlines. Prior to your departure, you will have received your pre-departure packet, which will include your Rustic T-shirts, airline tickets, and important contact information.
Once you arrive at your international departure city, our Flight Liaison will help you get checked in to your international flight. Working with our Flight Liaison will be your Flight Leader, who will escort you all the way to Thailand! Our Flight Leaders are most often school teachers or good friends of our organization who happily fill this role for us each year. Once you’re checked in, feel free to relax and get acquainted with your new friends before boarding your flight to Thailand!
Day 2 (Wednesday)
Today is lost as you cross the international dateline. Fear not – you will get this time back on your way home.
Day 3 (Thursday)
Sawat dee, and welcome to Thailand! Upon your arrival into one of the world’s most modern airports, you will immediately get the feeling that you have arrived in a place that is far different from the United States. Thailand is known as one of the most welcoming countries in the world and is affectionately nicknamed the ‘Land of Smiles.’
As you exit the arrival hall with your friendly flight leader, you will meet our team of staff. They have been anxiously awaiting your arrival and will lead you up to the fourth floor of the airport, where you’ll have a relatively quiet place to unwind and meet new friends who have arrived on different flights or are connecting from different programs.
We’ll have ample space for you to relax, as well as a nice assortment of food and refreshments for you to enjoy. This may be your first chance to have truly authentic pad-Thai (you’ll like it, trust us) or one of the other traditional dishes (including vegetarian options) we have to offer. You can also expect to try a few delicious Thai fruits that you’ve probably never seen before but that you may quickly grow to love.
As soon as all of the incoming students have arrived at the airport, it will be time to get ready for your connecting flight. You will be on the same flight up to Chiang Mai as all students connecting to programs based in Chiang Mai. The flight will take about one hour, and you will land in Chiang Mai around 5 p.m.
As soon as you step off the plane in this cool northern city, you’ll notice that everything is different from Bangkok. The air is a bit cooler (though still sticky!), and the tiny airport is adorned with live orchids. After grabbing your bag, you’ll be met in the reception hall by our smiling Northern Thailand team of staff! These are some of the people who will be your hosts at the Hill Tribe Orphanage, and their warm energy will hit you right away – this really is a special group of people.
Once everyone has their bags, it will be time to hop in our VIP touring vans and begin the trek out to Mae Sariang. Although it will have been a rather long day for most of you, this final leg of the journey is an exciting time for everyone. This is the first time that you’ll see rural Thailand, and the beauty of this area is sure to take your breath away. The drive out to the Hill Tribe Orphanage is just a little under three hours. You will break up the trip with a nice dinner and be there before you know it!
Once you arrive in Mae Sariang, you’ll be greeted by the students who are doing multiple weeks at the project, as well as the students who live at this facility and the rest of our team of staff. Sit down for a snack and a cup of tea or hot cocoa and take in your new surroundings. Then take a well-deserved hot shower before bed. Welcome to Mae Sariang!
Day 4 (Friday)
Good morning, and welcome to the Hill Tribe Orphanage! You will wake to a whole new world that the darkness of the previous night hid from you. Looking out from the facility, you will see acres of lush rice paddies and a swift river adjoining the property. In the distance, a rolling range of mountains dotted with temple tops and pagodas will form the perfect backdrop to the scene.
At breakfast, the program orientation will begin, and you’ll meet the full team while enjoying some of the resident chef’s legendary cooking for the first time. After breakfast we’ll reconvene in the ‘big house’, a seemingly mythical teak-house and one of the largest of its kind in the world, where your leaders will bring up to speed on the family which you have now become a part of. Here you will learn about the background of the project, including the need in which it was grown from years ago when David Venning, the Chairman and Founder of Rustic Pathways, stumbled upon this wonderful village and people. This will provide a great introduction into the people you will meet, projects you will aid, and the powerful effects you and your peers can yield.
After a traditional lunch and a walk through the property learning some tricks of the jungle, you will change into appropriate attire for a visit to the Baan Rai School, where over 300 young Karen students study each day. Many of these students live in meager accommodations on the school grounds. Government funding provides them with an education, basic uniforms, and lunch at school, but beyond this, they have very little support.
Providing these students with better resources and a better quality of living is one of the main goals of the Hill Tribe Orphanage. You will also have a chance to see the classrooms, so you will be better prepared to return on Monday as a teacher. The project was initiated five years ago, and with all of the positive results achieved thus far, the community has really embraced it!
Since initially adopting eight boys into the facility, the need has remained high and we have been able to accept new children into the facility regularly. We now have 28 boys and girls living at the home full-time. As the project really begins to come to fruition in the coming years, the numbers will continue to grow. You should expect to spend lots of quality time with these adopted students while you are a guest at the Orphanage.
One of the things that makes the Hill Tribe Orphanage so unique is that the Baan Rai School – and the 300 wonderful Karen children living there – is just a two-minute walk from the Orphanage grounds. We have an outstanding relationship with this school, and it will be at the heart of your service here and the memories you take home.
This afternoon will be your first opportunity to jump into Karen culture. A short ride in our songthaew will bring us to the home of our long-time legendary director, Yutthana, where his mother will teach you traditional Karen weaving as it has been passed down through generations of Karen people. Just as it was from the buzzing metropolis of Bangkok, to the cultured city of Chiang Mai, to the quaint town of Mae Sariang, this will be another step back in time as crowds fade away and age-old traditions reveal themselves. After leaving your mark on a shoulder bag, we’ll head back to the Orphanage just in time to greet the students returning from school.
The morning orientation explains why this project exists, and when you see the children returning home your heart will fully understand too. After greeting the children, the games begin! Cultural barriers fall as you and your Karen teammates will join hands in activities.
Dinner provides more opportunities to learn about your peers on the other side of the world, and you may even be elected to participate in our dinner-presentations, a chance for our Karen students to practice public speaking. After dinner you’ll lead some name-games to set the tone for a great week ahead!
In the evening, enjoy the sunset across the river, go for a run, play pick-up soccer, grab a guitar, or write in your journal.
Day 5 (Saturday)
Although you’ve just arrived, today is the start of the weekend! Rising early, you will review the plans for the weekend at breakfast. First on the agenda will be a trip to the Saturday market, which is just a short distance from the Orphanage.
Only held on Saturdays, this market is one of the major weekly events in Mae Sariang. While it may not seem that impressive or exciting to you, the festive atmosphere is contagious, and you’ll soon find yourself having a great time interacting with the local people and perusing random items with your new friends. A little money goes a long way here, and our local staff will help you find the best deals and the tastiest snacks the likes of which you’ve never seen before. There will even be a scavenger hunt to get you in the mix even more!
After lunch at the Orphanage, we are off on the ROAD. This is our Rural Outreach and Development program. This ambitious project was established to address some of the issues facing the Karen villages in which our students come from. Here you’ll meet with village leaders, visit bamboo houses, coordinate camps for children who may have never seen foreigners before, all while within the breathtaking clouds of Mae Hong Son’s Hill Tribes. We’ll also get our hands dirty working to help alongside our Karen children and the beetle-nut stained smiles of the locals. 2011 saw the construction of a beautiful library in the Karen Hill Tribe village of Baan Rai Lor.
After a satisfying day of service and play, you’ll be ready for a good night’s sleep!
Day 6 (Sunday)
Wake up to the delicious smells of breakfast and the proud sights of your previous day’s work. After working up an appetite through a few hours of service, we’ll return to Mae Sariang for lunch where a Pad Thai feast will await. In the afternoon, you’ll enjoy the comforts, beauty, and people of the Orphanage. Share stories, play pick-up soccer, grab a guitar, exchange games and songs, and be present to your surroundings.
With Monday morning around the corner, it’ll be time to start your lesson planning for the Baan Rai school. Don’t worry; we have lots of experience with this! We’ll begin with everyone sharing experiences, techniques, and then our staff and 2-week students will tell what to expect in the classroom. You’ll learn how to make a lesson plan, a few tricks that will help break the ice and get things off to a good start, and some classic classroom activities. Our staff will be around to make sure you are ready for the day ahead.
After dinner you can lead some reading lessons or help tutor homework with some of the children.
Day 7 (Monday)
After breakfast and a quick review of your lesson plan, you will head off to teach at the Baan Rai School! This will begin as an exercise in speaking very slowly and carefully. If you’re careful and energetic enough, you just might find that they’re hanging on your every word after just a few minutes! Remember to go SLOW – repeat yourself often, wait for our Thai staff to help you, and don’t be afraid to be a bit silly. Once you have their attention, they learn very quickly! As this is likely your first attempt at really teaching a class (though you will be part of a team of a few students teaching together), don’t expect it to go perfectly. As with everything else, the more you practice, the better you will become.
After lunch, you’ll triumphantly return to Baan Rai School after an empowering morning of teaching, but this time you’ll be teaching OUTSIDE of the classroom. This is one of the students’ favorite activities of the year, and they love these informal, educational, fun field days.
You’ll return to the Orphanage for a bit of down time before you head out to the organic farm in the afternoon. After tending to these crops and seeing how they grow in their natural environment, you will help cook dinner in the evening. Everyone will help out, and if you’ve been enjoying Thai food, you should take some notes on how to prepare these meals so that you can ‘wow’ your friends and family when you return home.
In the evening, it’ll seem like you’ve learned a life-time of lessons about teaching so we’ll be sure reflect and build on those before preparing for Tuesday’s teaching. Once again, our staff will be sure help you along the way!
Day 8 (Tuesday)
This morning, you will have another chance to work on your teaching skills. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ve improved after only one day. Walking away from a great class is one of the best feelings in the world! As you walk out of the school for the last time you’ll be paraded with dozens of wais, handshakes, high-fives, and hugs, and with some of those faces you’ll remember them as your student, naughty or nice.
Over lunch you and your fellow teachers can exchange tales from the classroom, and then you’ll be off the visit one of the biggest Buddha’s in Mae Hong Son province, which overlooks the paddies and mountains of Mae Sariang. Make a donation to your birth Buddha (make sure you know which day of the week you were born on) for good luck, snap some photos, and then off to the market. Choose your favorite combination of Thai smoothie- maybe they’ll even name it after you- and dive into the market on a quest for our very own pizza ingredients, Hill Tribe style! The Orphanage has its very own wood-fire pizza oven.
Back at the Orphanage while waiting for the pizza dough to rise and oven to heat, try your hand at two of Thailand’s most proud and famous interests: Thai Cooking and Muay Thai. We all know about the indescribable fusion of Thai food, so learn for yourself how to put spicy, sweet, sour, and salty all into one dish! On the other side of the Orphanage, our legendary Muay Thai teacher and former national champion, will be demonstrating the art of Muay Thai. Thailand attracts some of the world’s most ambitious professional fighters for the chance to learn in the birthplace of this powerful martial art, and P’Geng is one of the best around!
Dinner will be a combination of your products: exotic pizzas and curries with your personal touch. Don’t worry, our chefs will help you the whole way.
After dinner, get excited for the festivities. For those only staying one week at the Orphanage, this will be your last night in Mae Sariang and we always go out with a bang. Dancing, karaoke, slideshows, bonfires, piñatas, you name it! The best ideas come from you!
Day 9 (Wednesday)
If you are going home or connecting to another Rustic Pathways program, you will leave the Orphanage today. Wake up early and say your warm good-byes to your new Karen friends, you will be heading back to Chiang Mai after lunch.
After a breakfast spent reflecting on the wonderful friends and memories of the week, we’ll take you up to a temple that’s been carved from a cave and protected my massive, overlooking Buddhas. Your program leaders will explain about temple etiquette and some of the symbolism that you can find in Theravada Buddhism and temples. A monk will conduct a sacred string ceremony wishing you safe travels and good luck, and you’ll have the opportunity to learn meditation directly from the Temple’s abbot, the head monk.
With good-luck in hand and peace of mind, we’ll return to the Orphanage to pack for Chiang Mai, take any final photos of your new home in Mae Sariang, and leave a note in our ‘Friendship Book’ for your Karen friends to read when they return home.
Tonight, you’ll have the chance to shop at the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar and enjoy a traditional northern Thai feast before heading back to our Chiang Mai Base House for the night.
Day 10 (Thursday)
Students going back home or connecting to selected programs will fly to Bangkok first thing in the morning. Students connecting to the Elephant Conservation Project, Come With Nothing, Intro to Community Service, or Ricefields, Monks, and Smiling Children will be able to sleep in and enjoy a day of touring in Chiang Mai while waiting for the other students to arrive.
All students doing another week at the Hill Tribe Orphanage will remain in Mae Sariang and customize an itinerary at the Orphanage or elect to go on the Refugee Camp side-trip.
An Important Note about Schedule Changes
Rustic Pathways reserves the right to change, alter, or amend the daily itinerary for this trip at any time. Changes can be made for various reasons including changes in flight or program schedules, changes in the schedules of various external tours incorporated in our trips, the addition of new activities into a trip, or the substitution of an old activity for a new activity. The itinerary shown here provides a good outline of the anticipated daily schedule for this program. As with any travel program, some changes may occur.
Basic Information That You Need to Know
Carry-On Luggage cannot weigh more than 7 kilos
Check-In Luggage cannot weigh more than 15 kilos.
If your bags weigh more than this, the airlines in Southeast Asia will charge you an excess baggage fee for every kilo over the allowed limit. In past years, we have had students incur SIGNIFICANT charges for excess baggage. These fees must be paid in cash at the check-in counter (no USD accepted), so this is a situation that we always try to avoid!
*As a general rule, DON’T BRING TOO MUCH STUFF! If you’re not sure whether or not you should bring something, you’ll probably be better off leaving it at home.
Important - A Note to Female Students about Thai and Karen Culture
In terms of dress, traditional cultures in the mountains of Thailand are very conservative. Despite the hot climate, you will almost never see women with their shoulders exposed, or wearing low cut shirts or short shorts. As we seek to respect and preserve the culture of the communities where we work, we strongly urge you to dress respectfully. Students must realize that when they dress improperly, they are embarrassing everyone around them. If students are not wearing proper attire, they will be requested to change their clothes or abstain from the service project of the day.
To DRESS RESPECTFULLY in Southeast Asia, please don’t wear short shorts and low cut tops while out in public areas. In most cases, shorts that cover just above the knees are fine.
FEMALES: The main concern in visiting these places is covering your shoulders and everything above your knees. If you don’t have this type of clothing, be prepared to buy a Thai-style sarong (wrap-around dress). Our host schools do not permit our students to appear in front of class unless they are properly dressed, and we always strive to be prepared before they single people out and provide them with alternate clothing. Two or three pairs of lightweight pants (linen, thin cotton, etc.) or capris, or a couple of sarongs will be all that you will need. Normal cut t-shirts (which cover the shoulders and are NOT low-cut) which are clean and not ripped are just fine to wear teaching.
MALES: Rules are much less strict for male students. All you need to worry about is making sure that your clothes don’t have stains, rips, or inappropriate language on them. Tank-tops should not be worn while teaching or visiting temples, and it is strongly preferred that you shave and shower before you teach a class.
Here are some basic guidelines to use while packing
Southeast Asia is a hot region, so there is no need for any heavy clothing. You should expect daytime high temperatures to be over 90 degrees Fahrenheit most days. As most of our programs are outdoors, you should expect to work up a sweat, so plan on wearing clothes that will keep you cool.
The sun can be quite strong, so all students should be prepared with a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses.
Experienced travelers know that over-packing is one of the worst things you can do on a trip, and this is particularly true in this part of the world. You may want to bring one suitcase/bag for the essentials, and if you need to pick up another cheap suitcase/bag on the way home for new clothes and souvenirs you pick up along the way.
You are not going to the Moon!! If you forget something on the list, you can always buy it once you get here - for a lot less money than you would pay at home.
You will almost certainly be adding to your wardrobe while you are on your trip.
Items to be packed in your checked baggage
T shirts: 7-8 lightweight shirts (make sure to bring a few which cover the shoulders for temple visits. you should try to pack some lightweight, breathable t-shirts if possible. As stated above, Thailand is very hot and cotton shirts tend to hold moisture…)
Long sleeve t-shirts: 1-2 lightweight (for the flight)
Pants or skirt: 1-2 pairs
Socks: 3-4 pairs
Shorts: 3-4 pairs (long shorts or Capri style shorts are needed for service! You don’t want to have the whole village staring at you wearing very short shorts while doing service – it makes everyone look bad!)
Swimsuit: 1 suit
Footwear: 1 pair of lightweight, comfortable shoes. Hiking boots are NOT needed, and neither are high heels. Students connecting to service programs will need basic shoes to protect their feet.
Sandals: 1 pair. Sandals with straps (Chacos, Tevas, Keens, etc.) are ideal. Or basic flip-flops can be purchased everywhere in Southeast Asia for under $1.
Hat or bandana
Sarong: Can be purchased at markets in-country (guys and girls wear these in Burma)
A small travel towel: Can be purchased in country (Quick-dry towels are best, and don’t bring white!!)
One nice casual shirt for Final Dinner (not too fancy)
Rainproof, Lightweight Jacket - If your jacket does not pack very small don’t bother bringing it! Most local people use only ponchos and umbrellas which can be bought for very cheap. When it rains, it rains so hard that jackets won’t begin to keep you dry.
Basic items such as soap, shampoo, razors, toothpaste, etc., can be found in many places along the way on our trip. You can bring a small amount from home but large amounts will not be necessary, it will just make your bag heavier.
Insect repellant (1-2 bottles 35% DEET)
Hand sanitizer: This does not take the place of washing your hands, but you should carry sanitizer with you. (1-2 small bottles)
Tampons (difficult to find in Southeast Asia)
Deodorant (if you are particular, otherwise this can be purchased here)
Contact lenses and accompanying paraphernalia - if you use contacts, bring all of your chemicals with you
Pictures! Make up a small album! Pictures of mom, dad, boyfriend/girlfriend, dog, strange neighbors, school buddies, etc. - People you meet will be really interested in where you live, what your house looks like, what your parents and grandparents look like, what your school looks like, etc. This is a great way to break the ice, break the language barrier, and have some fun.
Any fun, engaging games that are easy to explain» Musical Instrument (Guitars and Harmonicas, other portable instruments) - if you play an instrument at home and it fits in your suitcase easily, bring it along. (Frisbee, mini football, hackysack, etc. – anything fun to do and easy to carry.)
*Remember, if you not sure, leave it at home. Laundry is easy enough, and people are usually surprised at the good and cheap stuff you can find when you’re here.
Notes About Gifts and Donations
Students, staff members, and our host family all love receiving gifts from our students, and they certainly go a long way toward helping people in this humble part of the world. We generally encourage students to bring things that will be easily shared and that will last. As you have seen noted above, the airlines which we use within Thailand are quite strict with their baggage allowances, and students who bring more than 33 pounds of baggage (total – not per bag) will be charged about $3 per kilo. For this reason, we advise choosing your donation items/gifts carefully, and avoid items which aren’t worth their weight. Many simple items (pencils, paper, soccer balls, medical supplies) can be bought in Thailand for very cheap, so it is likely better to bring some extra money to buy these items in country if you’d like to donate these types of things. If you have any questions about the relevance of certain donations, please contact us.
For the children at the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home and at the Baan Rai School and The Refugee Camp Side Trip – The children living here really don’t have many possessions, and they are actually just fine with this. For them, expensive possessions which cannot be shared by the group are almost selfish, and might even make them feel a bit embarrassed. Therefore, we always encourage gifts which can be shared and enjoyed by many people if possible. Simple games, blocks, and small engaging items like hacky-sacks, Frisbees, etc. are always quite popular. They also love receiving t-shirts and hats from your home town, old backpacks, used cameras, and other things that you may have lying around the house. They also like music CDs, movies, and other popular things which our students have shared with them over the years. Even just small tokens like magnets, key chains, stickers, and patches really go a long way. Most of them have never had the chance to travel abroad, but our students bring the world to their doorstep and these small souvenirs help places far away feel that much closer to them.
Used (but not over-used) clothing and shoes are always much appreciated. In particular, quality shoes (from running shoes to old soccer cleats – cleaned up a bit) always make great gifts. As always, just make sure that you don’t over-burden yourself by bringing too much stuff – anything you are able to manage will go a long way.
*If you are packing nothing else for your stay here, make sure that you bring your kindness and your gentleness, and a big smile. These are unusually kind and giving people living in a culture that puts great value on the nature of a person's heart and little value on material possessions. So before packing your material gifts, prepare your thoughts and your heart to live in a place that places infinite value on thoughtfulness, laughter, generosity of spirit, and showing care for others.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is unique about the Hill Tribe Orphanage Project?
This is perhaps Rustic Pathways most ambitious global project, in which we have now supported over 35 Karen Hill Tribe children access education with many more on the way. In this quintessential humanitarian service project, this is your opportunity to make real relationships with real people in a real place and do some real service, and while having a really good time.
What do students usually like most about this program?
Our students typically love this program and come back year after year because of the relationships they are able to build with their peers from across the world. Students are often inspired and empowered by the opportunity to teach in a real classroom and venture into a Karen Hill Tribe villages for service. All of this happens in one of the most pristine and breathtaking places in the world.
Who are the Karen people?
To answer this question would be a massive generalization. That being said, all Karen people are awesome. The Karen strike most people as very hard-working, fun-loving, genuine, and caring. The seemingly brutal task of harvesting rice flies by as jokes and stories are exchanged. It is a great privilege to soak in their subtle wisdom and ways.
The Karen (pronounced Kah-REN) are a distinct ethnic group who have settled primarily along the Thai-Burmese border region. There is an estimated 4-7 million Karen people in the world today, with perhaps 300,000 in the mountains of western Thailand making them the largest Hill Tribe in Thailand. Here, they have long been marginalized by Thai society and most of their villages still lack basic services, including schools. Some are in the precarious and terrifying situation of being stateless without any legal form of identification. These Karen youth are growing up in quite a different world than the one their ancestors knew. The challenge facing this new generation is great as they are being tasked with maintaining their traditional heritage and identity while also assimilating into a new culture.
What service projects will I be doing?
Rustic Pathways plays a large role in supporting the local school, Baan Rai. We have supported various projects, and continuously help them in the classroom. A large part of your service, and realistically some of the most meaningful service anyone can do abroad, is teach English. English is an incredibly valuable asset for these children. English exposure and practice will without a doubt open opportunities for them. Back at RPCH, it’s a good time to sit down with a student and continue their ongoing English lessons or just have a chat. Additionally, we will venture out on the ROAD, our Rural Outreach and Development project, aimed at aiding some of the Karen Hill Tribe villages in which our students come from.
Can I teach English?
Yes, and it will make a difference in these students lives. Our staff will help you with the fundamentals: making a lesson plan, themes, activities, and ways to break the ice. Ultimately, this will begin as an exercise in speaking very slowly and carefully. If you’re careful and energetic enough, you just might find that they’re hanging on your every word after just a few minutes! Remember to go SLOW – repeat yourself often, wait for our Thai staff to help you, and don’t be afraid to be a bit silly. Once you have their attention, they learn very quickly! As this is likely your first attempt at really teaching a class (though you will be part of a team of a few students teaching together), don’t expect it to go perfectly. As with everything else, the more you practice, the better you will become.
Where will I stay?
Everyone sleeps in traditional, Karen-style bamboo houses along with the children living at RPCH. The houses are stilted amongst golden rice paddies, and have wrap-around balconies overlooking rivers and mountains. There is one house for boys and male staff, and one house for girls and female staff. Each house has smaller bedrooms (2-3 people) and larger bedrooms (4-6 people). Karen people almost never sleep in a room alone, so expect to share a room with at least one other person. Comfortable sleeping pads, pillows, blankets, and mosquito nets are provided!
How often can I do laundry?
Doing a quick load of hand-wash laundry is a great way to start the day- the weather’s cool, gets your blood moving, a sense of accomplishment before most people have their coffee, and the clothes will be dry by noon. But, if you need those extra 15 minutes of Zzz’s, we have 2 washing machines on the grounds as well.
Are the mosquitoes a problem?
There are mosquitoes. They’re usually not too bad, but you will want to have a light weight long sleeve shirt and long pants for the evenings. Also bring a small bottle of insect repellent containing DEET.
What can I spend my allowance money on?
You’ll want money to buy hand made crafts in the villages and at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. There will be all kinds of souvenirs and fun stuff to buy, so budget some money for that. You also may become victim to the Thai cultural trait of constantly buying ‘Ka-Nom’ – little snacks or sweets. You may want to donate some school supplies, sports equipment, or clothes to the kids at the Children’s Home and the school. These things can be bought in Thailand.
What is the weather like?
It’s hot and humid in the day and a little cooler in the mountains at night. Daily downpours are short and give way to sunny skies. Be prepared for heat and dampness. Synthetic fiber clothes are great because they dry fast and don’t get as mildewy as cotton.
How often will I have access to email and phones?
Phones and email will be accessible daily, although we encourage our students to use the internet only for a limited time, and only for corresponding with their family and friends.
Your time here will be far more valuable interacting with the people and environment around you.
Who will the staff members be on the trip? How many staff members will there be?
Each trip is staffed by a combination of western (American) and Thai leaders, and in most cases each team will include a nationally licensed guide, a western man and a western woman. We have both local and Western staff in Mae Sariang year-around to ensure our commitment to the community. We never have fewer than one staff member for every five students.
What kind of food will I eat? What if I have certain dietary restrictions?
We’ll eat a wide variety of Thai and ethnic food, as well as a good deal of Western food. Thailand is famous for its food, and this trip will awaken your tastes to flavors you didn’t even know existed. Almost all dietary concerns can be accommodated, but please alert us of any relevant restrictions beforehand just to make sure. Vegetarians Welcome!
What water will we be drinking?
We will be drinking all bottled water. Bottled water is safe and readily available.
Where is the nearest healthcare?
Mae Sariang has a hospital with reliable medical care that caters to hundreds of Westerners every year. For the short time we will be in more rural areas farther from top-quality medical care, our staff will have a clear plan and route to the nearest healthcare depending on the severity of the situation.
Is your staff qualified in First Aid?
Because safety is our number one priority, all of our programs have staff that is certified with First Aid and CPR training. Many of our guides are also qualified Wilderness First Responders, EMTs, Wilderness EMTs, or Life Guards.
What immunizations do we need to get for the trip?
Rustic Pathways does not make recommendations regarding immunizations. You will need to visit your local travel clinic and discuss your specific itinerary with a physician so that they can make medical recommendations for you. For general information about travel around the world, please see the Center for Disease Control website at http://www.cdc.gov
Will there be a flight leader to this country?
All flights departing from and returning to the United States will have flight leaders. In the event a student is connecting from another country, they may or may not have a flight leader. In such instances, we generally have coordinated with the airlines to escort the students from check-in through customs, and delivered to a verified Rustic Pathways staff member.
How does this program connect to other programs?
All of our programs within Asia connect seamlessly. All trips begin and end on Thursday, thus allowing for easy connectivity and convenience.
Did you know?
For generations, the Karen people of this region told tales of Bangkok, the lowland capital of Thailand, flooding and people migrating to the mountains of Mae Hong Son province. Well, Mae Hong Son still has not seen an influx of Bangkok migrants, but Bangkok did see some flooding in 2011. Coincidence? You be the judge....