I apologize for not updating sooner, we have been staying really busy with music and, I am excited to say, are almost ready to release our new EP along with some other cool things!
As you know, I recently went with a group from my school to Thailand. It was a wonderful experience and I’m hoping to get some of the pictures up on Facebook soon! I was with a group of 7 students and one other leader. We travelled first to Bangkok where we got to see first hand some of the issues that go along with poverty and other social problems. We visited a center called the Mercy House, a community center and orphanage that specifically reaches out to families that are effected by AIDs. They also have after school programs and supplementary education programs that help keep children off the street and get them back in school.
One of the other really significant organizations that we visited was the Zero Baht shop. This was a place built in a community that had been living under a bridge but then was displaced by the government to a patch of land outside the city. One man in the community saw the need for better food, education, etc. He also saw the huge amount of garbage that was building up in the community. So he created a system that basically allowed people to bring their garbage to this store and exchange it for credit. It was then built up more to include a community garden where community members could bring organic waste and exchange it for produce and eggs. This system has grown and ended up working out really well. The people who run the store have the garbage collection down to a fine art. They separate the garbage so that they can resell it to the recycling centers. Because they separate it first, they are able to get more money for their labor. They have also found ways to make handicrafts out of garbage that can’t be recycled or isn’t worth as much. For example, to make a profit off of magazines, they have to collect a whole bunch of them. Instead, they found a way to make paper beads out of those magazines and now are able to sell jewelry for a much higher price. The money they make goes towards buying goods to stock the shop and also towards the community. They place a huge emphasis on education. It was so encouraging to see that this organization was completely run by the community. They had no government help or involvement and they want to keep it that way. This is a very sustainable, effective model that can be taken and used in other poverty-stricken communities.
The majority of our time in Thailand was spent in the northern part of the country in an area called “Phayao.” We stayed at the Phayao Center, a YMCA shelter for children who are at risk of being trafficked. The gravity of what these children have gone through hit us almost immediately. Not only were we asked to not take pictures of individual children or of one of us and only one child, we were asked not to post any of the children’s pictures on Facebook or other social media sites (hence the lack of children for a lot of my soon to be on Facebook Thailand album). The time that we spent there was incredibly insightful and educational. We learned a lot about human trafficking as well as the individual stories of some of the children. To keep it short, most of the children were girls who came from families in poverty. Many had family members who were in the sex industry and were at risk of being kidnapped by neighbors, friends or even parents and sold. While we learned a lot that made us incredibly sad, we had many joyful times as well. We were able to experience cultural nights completely planned by the children. We also created one for them which they absolutely loved. My students worked hard and played hard and I couldn’t be more proud of them. I think that they really grew a lot. We built the concrete floor of a pig house and let me tell you, it was really hard work! We carried gravel and sand back and forth in bucket lines, mixed concrete by hand and then moved that in the buckets to the pig house area. Despite the two days of working in the hot sun with really sore muscles, there was not a single complaint. On the last night, the children planned a going away ceremony and from what we were told, it was better planned and the children practiced harder for it than any other past group. We were incredibly honored and by the end, almost everyone was in tears. The boys were the only ones who hardly showed any emotion. For them it was more a “Really… is this really happening now?” They were good sports.
Of course while we were there we were able to experience a lot of the culture. We visited a really strange temple on the last day which there are lots of pictures of. It was built pretty recently and is not very conventional. On the inside of the temple (where we weren’t allowed to take pictures) various cultural symbols from around the world were painted on the walls. My guess is that they were meant to illustrate the worldly pleasures that tie us down. I haven’t ever seen Spiderman or Batman put in that context before. It was quite interesting. We also experienced a lot of food. By the end, I was finally used to it. The spiciness was often more than I could handle, and I think my body was pretty annoyed with me because of the lack of sleep and stress I had put it through the couple of months beforehand. We were also able to visit a Thai museum and see a lot of interesting cultural things and hear the history of the country.
Overall, the experience was wonderful, the people were lovely, sweet and kind. I was glad to get back to Japan and the cleanliness, safety and order that comes with it. However, I was deeply impacted by my trip to Thailand and am hoping to go back again in the future!
Thanks for reading all of that, for something a little more fun, watch our first installment of the EP promotion! It’s a video for our song “Erasing the Ending.” I hope you enjoy it!