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13 Jan 2018
20% discount for returning volunteers

Haylee Gillies 00001We arrived at the Song Kwae Pattana village on a humid Tuesday morning to find the village roads bustling with Government officials and university students. There were people everywhere, with music playing throughout the entire village. Needless to say, it was the opposite of what we were expecting to find. The one thing we all had in common though was our assignment; to build a check dam. The check dam would assist in slowing the flow of water through the river during the raining season.

After finding a shady hut to leave our bags and water we wandered off uphill where the water was flowing and the base for the check dam had already been built. With the large number of people visiting the village there wasn’t a great deal we could contribute at first but it didn’t take long for the man in charge to assign jobs to Joe and Ricky.

After settling into their role cleaning out the dam area and lifting materials, the rest of us headed off with our leader Pi-O to find work. Our task for the reminder of the day was to cut bamboo, after strict instructions and guidelines to using a machete and weave it around the base of the trees throughout the village. Wondering what use the baskets would provide, Pi-O explained that the villagers use this base to fill with leaves and scraps to make fertiliser.

Before we knew it, our weaving was complete so we headed uphill to check on Joe and Ricky at the dam. Walking back up through the middle of the village we found it quite deserted. Unsure of where all the people form earlier had gone we continued the trek up hill to find one of the longest production lines we had ever seen. At the start of the line, people were lifting rocks out of one river and passing them along the line to where the damn was being built. There were at least 50 people in the line including locals, the government officials, university students, and us.

Stage one of the check dam was finished soon after, which meant it was time for our first bucket shower experience before dinner. Surprisingly, the bucket showers were quite enjoyable and certainly refreshing after spending the day working under the scorching sun and walking up and down hills. We joined everyone for dinner in the middle of the village. Pi-O had told us earlier in the day that there would be a performance after dinner but nothing prepared us for what was coming – karaoke night. We pulled up some chairs, made friends with locals and visitors and enjoyed the singing and dancing.  

The night provided much entertainment with Ricky and Theo both performing during the night. Halfway through the karaoke we were surprised by the local villagers in their traditional clothes for a performance. Their traditional clothing was beautiful and after their first song and dance, they pulled us all from our chairs and taught us some of their moves. Slowly, almost everyone in sight joined in on the dancing.

By 9.00pm our group was sitting their yawning, exhausted from the day of work but we were sleeping in the houses opposite the entertaining area and had heard it wouldn’t be over until midnight. Shortly after sneaking off to bed though we welcomed a power outage and the party finished early.

We were woken numerous times throughout the night to the not-so-soothing sounds of roosters, so we rose early for breakfast and to get on with the day ahead. Today’s jobs were to finish the check dam. We started off by mixing cement but as more people joined us and the materials were running out faster than the inside of the dam was filling up we were soon reassigned; to carrying materials up the hill. We carried countless bags of sand, rock and cement up the hill to where the dam was being built. Taking on the advice and direction of the locals, we carried one bag at a time and rested when we needed.

Before we knew it, it was lunch time. We had one last lunch with our new friends from the government and university before they went back to the city. A lot of photos were taken as for many, this was the first time they had worked with foreigners. Now that the check dam was finished we had a new job. We met some of the locals at the big dam wall where they had already started to release water. Once the damn was emptied of water all the kids were jumping in the mud trying to catch fish and crabs under the rocks. While they were hunting and gathering, we started to fill sand bags with some of the older locals from the village. The sand bags were then used to raise the height of the dam wall.

After we’d finished it was both the end of the working day and time to check out the nearby sights of a stunning waterfall. It was a steady 1.5km walk uphill but the scenery was certainly worth it along the way. We all jumped in headfirst and fully clothed to cool off. It was then time to head back for our second round of amazing bucket showers and to learn some Thai cooking from the master chef herself, Pi-O.

The village runs on hydro-electricity, and because we drained the damn earlier that afternoon we were left without electricity. After eating our dinner by candlelight, we headed off to bed early for a good nights’ sleep. But, sleep didn’t last long as the roosters kicked in again well before the sun had come up.

Our job for day three was to build another check dam for a nearby village. First we prepared our breakfast and then lunch for the day, which took much longer than we had planned as we all wanted to help and learn from Pi-O. We walked to where we would be working to find two men had already made a start on the dam. This dam was different to the first - the first was made largely from rock and this one was made mostly from bamboo.

Once again we found ourselves mixing cement and carrying heavy bags of sand, rock and cement uphill. But after our first day we knew just what to do with the cement and got better with every tub we prepared. This check dam wasn’t as big as the first and we finished this in the one day before heading back to the village for a shower, and another delicious dinner prepared by Pi-O.

Our last day was something pretty special planned by our homestay families and Pi-O. After breakfast we packed our bags and headed back up the hill towards the waterfall, but this time at the creek crossing we got in the water and followed the water uphill rather than staying on the track. A short way up we found the young boys from our homestay piling rocks and sand to stop water flowing through one section. Using buckets, we scooped water out of this section and the kids jumped in to collect little fish and even a couple of crabs. After a short time fishing we continued up to the waterfall. At the waterfall, we watched intently as machetes were used to chop bamboo into kitchenware to cook our lunch. A small fire was started, chicken was skewered to bamboo and more bamboo was filled with egg and pork. The food was then placed over the fire to cook. While the food was cooking we enjoyed a splash in the water to cool off.

We all sat down in some shallow water and ate the incredibly delicious and flavoursome food for lunch. While we ate our homestay dad filled some bamboo with water and boiled it on the fire so that after lunch we could have a coffee. He made us each a coffee cup from bamboo. There really isn’t anything you can’t do with bamboo!!

After lunch and coffee it was time to head back to the village, pack our belongings and leave. We said our goodbyes, exchanged gifts and had a big family photo.

This experience was very special and it was incredible to see how a local hill tribe live. The hardworking nature of the villagers, as well as their big friendly smiles and can-do attitudes is something we will all take away with us and continue to look back on fondly. We ate plenty of delicious food and worked hard during the day, making the bucket showers at night even more rewarding. And even though we felt bruised from the hard, wooden floor of our homes and tired from the rooster-interrupted sleeps we would not change anything about this experience. Thank you to Song Kwae Pattana village for welcoming us into your homes, to Pi-O for guiding and inspiring us, to the Mirror Foundation for the opportunity and to IVHQ. 



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