Singapore Office CSR Social Outreach Program, 13th to 15th October 2017, Chiang Rai, Thailand.
On a Friday the 13th, dismissing any superstitions associated with the day, seven kindhearted and adventurous Expedians from the Singapore office left behind their OneNotes and Trello boards, and embarked on a weekend journey to Kiew Karn Village, near Chiang Rai, in northern Thailand, with the sole purpose of helping others.
The excursion started out with some slightly stressful but entirely amusing turbulence, as one of the party had mistaken an R for an M, and had booked flights to Chiang Mai rather than Chiang Rai. Luckily with the power of the Expedia app, his was quickly remedied, and all was allayed.
Two flights and a 1.5 hour transfer later, we arrived at our accommodation for the weekend, Lanjia Lodge (available on Expedia here). A beautiful, rustic lodge high up in the mountains, with four quaint houses and, in turn, four traditionally decorated bedrooms, and an open communal recreational area. Lanjia means ‘peaceful’ in the local Hmong language, and the namesake lay way to the two evenings ahead that we spent there.
Lanjia Lodge is an eco-sustainable lodge and social enterprise that employs local tribal people – the Hmong tribe and the Lahu tribe – and utilises local materials and produce wherever possible. Further, part of the revenue is fenced off for community based projects aimed at improving the welfare of the local people, as well as preserve local tribal culture.
After a restful and ‘langjia’ night, a few of us rose early to view the foggy sunrise across the valley, observing the intense reds of our solar sustenance, ascending above the neighbouring Laos in the background. The roosters and native wildlife contributing added aural sensation to the already surreal experience.
After breakfast, we had a briefing from the Himmapaan team, including a fascinating history lesson on the diversity and distinctiveness of the Thai tribal people, descending from surrounding countries such as Myanmar and Laos, but also from Asian ancestors further afield in southern China.
We then headed down the mountain a while to reach our project site for the day, a quaint plot of land with the mountain river flowing behind it, and a somewhat steep hill beyond that.
We proceeded to select strong and semi-mature gooseberry trees pre-grown in a nursery for our planting project that morning. The trees would take five years to grow and the gooseberries would eventually be consumed by the local community for nutritional and medicinal purposes.
Deceptively heavy, the trees were also tremendously sturdy, surprisingly, and we were able to carry them via their immature trunks in batches of 4-5 per hand. Up the hill we went, activating our quads and glutes to the max! A plot of land within the dense forest was chosen for us to plant our floral friends, and we dug holes and massaged out the roots of the trees before introducing them to their new homes. All this whilst attempting to avoid being consumed by the overzealous and never satiated mountain mosquito population.
The local guide offered for us to have a break after having only planted a few trees each, but the team proclaimed they were here to help and insisted on powering on, eventually planting a staggering 150 trees!
After a well deserved rest over a picnic in the field, we began our next project of building a dam in the adjacent river. The dam would help prevent flooding during heavy rainfall especially during monsoon season, as well as provide much needed irrigation for the surrounding farmland.
The team naturally formed two taskforces, without direction required, the years of cross-functional collaboration in the office obviously paying off, and more so, having the powerful shared goal of doing good and helping others.
One team ascended the hill again, a small way this time, to dig up and collect soil in large woven rice bags, and carry (or drag) them down the hill to the river, where the other team then added rocks from the riverbanks to the bags to create heavy barricades that would be used to block the flowing river.
The local Hmong and Lahu team built the dam structure out of surrounding bamboo, the shorter segments becoming vertical pillars hammered into the soil within the riverbed, and the long segments becoming the horizontal supports, together creating a solid trellis structure that the filled rice bags would bolster.
We then formed an unspoken human chain together with the local team to carry rocks downstream that were placed on top of the bags to provide a final solidifying layer for the dam.
Exhausted, wet and covered in dirt, we had achieved something meaningful together that day as a team. Not quite your typical day in the office!
The group had also purchased some stationary and educational games for the local school down the hill from the lodge, so dropped these off to the hardworking teachers and enthusiastic children who were playing around the school on the weekend.
We also found some time to visit a neighbouring ancient village, Chiang Saen, and a couple of glorious temples. One with a gigantic stupa that towered over an open air temple. The other being a substantial, yet invigorating, hike up a few hundred steep stairs paralleled by serpentine statues along the way, where we were rewarded with an intricately decorated gold-plated temple, with small bells that gently rang in the early evening breeze.
From misspelt destinations to minivan games; inabilities to sit cross-legged to giant flying rhinoceros beetle dinner guests; and blessed bananas to sleep talking through walls; a tremendous weekend with such kind and amazing Expedians. An invigorating and rewarding experience for all.
Thank you to the staff at Lanjia Lodge and Himmapaan, for providing a truly memorable experience and for going above and beyond, and thank you to the wonderful Expedians who made this all happen!