Lending a helping hand in Thailand

Six days. Eleven volunteers. Countless service projects. Countless smiles on the faces of villagers in Thailand.

Through a program from Rustic Pathways, an organization that provides travel and service opportunities, Mr. Panlilio and ten students from Walnut High School traveled to Thailand during winter break to conduct service projects. They lent a helping hand to villagers in Udon Thani to improve their housing and food quality.

“You feel like you helped someone’s life improve while your self-esteem also raises. It really touched my heart how happy and thankful they are. No matter what we did, they would always smile at us and be nice to us,” sophomore Jasper Wang said. “Some of them, when we went to their houses, you can clearly see they’re struggling, like they don’t even have proper clothing, some of them are injured on the bed, their half of their body is paralyzed, but they still tried to get up and talk to us and make us feel like we’re a part of [their family].”

One of their goals was to help the villagers become more self-sustainable. The volunteers built fish farms, a fishnet and a bridge and brought catfish to a family. They planted mango, apple and banana trees on a small farm to provide the family with fruit to either eat or sell.

“I learned to appreciate my world more, like I thought about all the people in Thailand who are not as fortunate as many of us, and when I got home I was like, ‘Wow, I am extremely spoiled.’ And the Thai people who don’t really have as much as I have look a thousand times more happy than I could imagine the majority of us could look. It taught me to lose my materialistic properties,” senior Nathan Lin said.

The volunteers also built a portion of a house that will be finished later when other groups from Rustic Pathways visit and complete their service projects. Afterward, they plastered the walls of an elder’s home to ensure that it would be less susceptible to rain damage.

“The idea of getting to meet these people and doing the type of service that you don’t really have the opportunity to do here is very different, and it was something that made me wanna go,” junior Lauren Lau said. “The thing about building the house was that we left with a peace of mind that the house will be finished and that a lot of things take time.”

As part of a project called “Meals on Flip-Flops,” Mr. Panlilio and the students cooked Thai food and personally delivered it to families, particularly those with the elderly or disabled. They sat down and talked, forming bonds with the people they were helping and getting to know them better. For another project called “Teaching and Tutoring School Vocab”, they taught fourth graders at Kut Chap Elementary School basic English nouns, verbs and adjectives. On the last day of the trip, the villagers gave the volunteers their blessings and considered them part of their family.

“I believe we cannot judge people by its appearance. When you see them, they might be really old and may seem like they’re a little bit grumpy, but when you actually talk to them, they show their other side of themselves, and it really makes you wanna smile too,” Wang said. “I was just mainly thinking that this is a really great opportunity for a Walnut student coming out of our personal space and go help out internationally, not only with our community but with a village that has been struggling a lot.”

By Ethan Cheng, Staff writer
Photo courtesy of Lindy Chen

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