The following post comes from volunteer Joelle Stewart:
Over the past couple months I’ve been working on marketing the scarves that are made through Warm Heart’s weaving partnerships to outlets in Chiang Mai. Right now, because our weaving operation is still fledgling, one of the most cost-effective ways of getting our production out there is selling to the masses of tourists who pass through Thailand’s second largest city. So far, after doing some research and good old-fashioned door-to-door canvassing of local businesses, I’m happy to have added three more shops to the two venues that we were already selling to before I got here.
A work day to Chiang Mai starts with a two-hour bus ride in a hand-me- down Chinese bus from the 1960’s. I haven’t taken a photo here yet but they look sort of like these ones from Hong Kong. I’m pretty sure the bus ran a lot better when it was newer and I’m guessing the doors probably closed, but who needs AC when you get great air flow without doors?
Once I’m in Chiang Mai I work through sections of the city and neighborhoods with the help of Aom who translates and connects with the locals. Thais are so polite that I sometimes think they understand more English than they actually do. So far we’re concentrating on the gossamer cotton scarves which are made by weavers at a temple in Phrao. We can purchase the yarn used in these scarves at any time in a wide variety of colors.
Ultimately the goal isn’t just to sell these pretty scarves. The real story is behind the scarves where we’re trying to make a real difference in the lives of the families of those involved in their production.
During my year here, I’m looking forward to adding the beautiful eri silk scarves that WH has made in the past. Unfortunately, that production is much more precarious: you need silk to make silk scarves and production is at a standstill for several reasons, the most important being the last batch of silkworms died mysteriously. But those scarves are too gorgeous to give up. We are still moving forward with some test batches of silk yarn and will do some dyeing with natural materials in the next weeks.
Eri silk scarves
I’ll post more pictures as the work with the textiles moves forward!
Goodbye to Everyone at Warm Heart
The following post comes from outgoing volunteer Eliza Gardner-Brunton:
I write this as I sit in the intern office at Warm Heart, finishing up the last of my work here. It feels very much like a normal day but I am consumed with thoughts of ‘last times’. Not the last time I will work on a public health project, and certainly not the last time I regret my own lack of computer skills or search frantically for missing paperwork. But this weekend is the last I will spend with the family that Warm Heart truly is.
Although I can acknowledge the facts intellectually, it has not really hit me yet that after three months, I will lie in bed listening to ‘my’ little girls awake and start their day for only two more mornings. Only three more times will I answer the campus-wide call of ‘GIN KHAOOOOOO’ (‘meal time’). Two more showers accompanied by frogs. One more movie night. Numerous trips to and from my room being nipped at the ankles by the puppies, but only two more bedtimes in the little girls’ house. How many more times will I hear a tiny voice calling ‘P’Ellie, P’Ellie!’? How many more dances and tickle wars with the girls? How many more drops of sweat from watching and worrying as the little boys seek their thrills?
This extends to the rest of the family as well. How many more times will I joke with P’Pai about her being my surrogate mother? And how long after returning to my biological one will she stop worrying about my laundry-incompetence and whether I am warm or cool enough. How many more times will SiPan try to teach me how to use a Thai broom properly? (With only two days left, the answer is probably still more than once).
I will soon be back in Melbourne wrestling with my own younger brother, rather than pretending to ‘let’ Karakate win our nightly battles (she is unnaturally strong!). I will spend my free time with my Melbourne friends, instead of teasing Nit and Neuw about boys. P’Jiang will not bring a smile to my face every time I see him, with his teasing attempts to get me to eat unholy amounts of chili, or his utter devotion to the children.
At home I will go running without 10 children and two dogs in tow and I will not be living out of a suitcase. I will not have to buy massive supplies of yoghurt at every trip to a supermarket nor will I fret about water or electricity outages. But I will spend every day missing the times that I did.
I could have written about public health issues in the Phrao valley and hill tribe villages, or the unique challenges of working in Thailand or at an NGO, but I leave that to the experts. I have certainly learned invaluable lessons about public health here, working with limited funds, in a country whose language I don’t speak, with people whose interpretations and outlooks are drastically different to my own.
But for all the practical lessons and skills that I attained during my WH internship for which I am deeply grateful, it’s the personal connections, the uniquely awe-inspiring and incredibly loving, laughing, supportive and functioning family that Michael, Evelind and PJ have built here which makes it so hard for me to leave.
P’Pai and Devon, another WH volunteer that she’s adopted
So although they may never read this blog, I say goodbye here to:
The staff of Warm Heart: Not only Evelind, Michael and PJ, but also the office, construction and farm staff and especially SiPan, P’Pai, P’Jiang, Sudah, Wah, P’Tai, and my beloved Aom. Thank you all for accepting me as one of your own and allowing me to be a part of this incredible environment. I have felt loved and cared for every second of these past months.
And to the children: How I will miss each of your unique personalities and indestructible spirits. Every day here has been fun and beautiful, because of you. Just to watch you go about your days makes me melt with happiness and adoration. You are all crazy and hilarious – in the best way possible. You will never remember every intern and volunteer that passed through Warm Heart, but know that each one has been touched by your ways and has loved you. Now go do your homework.
I know that I am just another intern on my way out, but know that I will remain an avid follower of Warm Heart if only from afar. Long, long after I’ve had my last piece of banana bread from the Phrao market, Warm Heart will remain in my own heart and thoughts.
Some of my WH girls
And now I can hear the call for gin khao yet again. Two more to go.
Warm Heart’s New Office
The following post comes from volunteer Aaron Stewart:
It has been two and a half months since we arrived here in Phrao and began working with Warm Heart. We’ve been so busy that I haven’t had a chance to explain the projects we’re involved in and the day-to-day work that goes on here in the organization.
One of the first projects I have been working on and managing has been the build-out of our new offices on the Warm Heart complex. Part of my work is keeping things on schedule so that we can get the infrastructure done during the dry season. The three new office buildings have bamboo structures and the walls are made from mud bricks which are made on site.
My other big job was to spec out and build a new office communications network as, for the first time, all Warm Heart operations will now be in one place. The biggest challenge was coming up with a solution to run data cables from the point of entry in Michael and Evelind’s home located 250+ ft away to the new office site. After much deliberation I decided that running the cables overhead in a protective tube with a steel wire for support was more fixable in the future if something breaks and less work in the present than digging a four-foot deep 200 ft long trench to the new site.
Rigging the cables
We now have a functioning network capable of supporting eight office staff on desktops and up to 20 users on the new wireless network. I feel very happy about this as it will enhance the operations of our organization and make collaboration easier on other development projects for the mountain tribes and the people of Phrao
My new temporary office space.
A Day in the Life
The following post is from Brandon Dobro:
Evelind usually orients all of our new volunteers, with some assistance from me. We got three new volunteers this week and she’s in Hong Kong, which means it’s all on me.
Agi (pictured, on the right) and Jess both just received their MBAs in France and took part in a case study analysis on Warm Heart and decided to come visit and try to help on the ground. They’re only here for a week, so we really have to use our time wisely. Varuna (or “Tan,” pictured on the left) is an amazing designer from Bangkok who will be with us for two months, working on making jewelry and handbags out of recycled materials.
Yesterday was spent picking Agi and Jess up at the Chiang Mai airport, introducing them to Warm Heart’s initiatives, meeting with Michael to get the “big picture” to figure out what they’ll work on, giving them a tour of the grounds, training them to use the motorbikes, and getting them settled into their living arrangements. The day went pretty smoothly until I got a call from Agi at 10pm, saying that their house didn’t have any running water and they couldn’t shower or use the bathroom. Of course, of all weeks, the landlady was away visiting a relative, so there was no one available to take care of the problem right away. This is what it’s like to be Evelind, the co-founder of a small NGO in a foreign country: constant problem-solving. All day, every day. This is quite possibly the biggest lesson I’ve had here - learning to think on my feet at all times. I don’t think there’s a skill I value more highly, so I’m really happy with this part of the experience.
Giving Jess (with helmet) and Tan the much anticipated motorbike lesson.
Fortunately, Agi and Jess have worked in developing countries before and know that sometimes shit happens (and sometimes, it doesn’t). They held out and we were able to fix the problem in the morning.
Today was more running around, figuring out how we wanted to spend the day together and how to make it happen. I was able to borrow Wah for the entire day and had him drive us into Phrao where I took them to the market so that Tan could search for potential recycled materials, to Wat Toon Ruang (one of our weaving co-op partners), to the WH office, and to Padaeng (another co-op). The day was completely strung together as we went along, but somehow it all managed to work out. Amazingly, it usually does.
Unfortunately I have a task list that is growing longer and an hourglass that is running out. Michael and Evelind always say that they get most of their “real” work done between 11pm and 2am. I’m quickly learning why. The rest of the day they have to deal with employees, volunteers, visitors, and a hundred issues that bubble to the surface. This is the life of a social entrepreneur. There truly aren’t enough hours in the day.
What Makes a Community
The following post comes from volunteer Brandon Dobro:
Recently PJ, Warm Heart´s third founding director, mentioned to me that on Saturday he was heading to Mae Pang, a nearby sub-district where Warm Heart frequently works, to help build a house for a man in need. Without waiting for more details, I asked if I could go along. Most of my efforts as of late have been concentrated in the areas of organizational operations or working with the kids. The thought of going out and doing some manual labor with members of the community really appealed to me.
I arrived at the site a few minutes before PJ and was amused to see the villagers’ looks of confusion as an unknown white guy showed up offering to help. Besides lunch, that was the only time that people stopped working. Their limited English and my limited Thai kept the initial introductions to a minimum until PJ arrived to explain why I was there.
“That man over there used to be a monk,” he said, pointing to an unassuming man in the corner. “He’s been living with a friend here in Mae Pang for the last few months. Everyone is coming together today to build a small house for him and his sister so that they have a place to live on their own.”
Above, I am attempting to make a bamboo floor panel, with PJ going back to fix my work.
I couldn´t hold back my Western skepticism. “Wow, that’s pretty great, but…who’s paying for it?”
“Oh, the community came together to pool money and resources together,” he explained.
I was shocked. The men were all day laborers who had not only decided to commit their entire weekend to helping build this house, but also to help pay for it with their hard-earned and very limited income.
When I asked PJ if this was common, he said that it was. Still skeptical, I asked if it was because the man was so highly respected. “No, that’s just the way it is in Thailand. If you see someone in need, you help them. It’s seen as the right thing to do,” he said.
Certainly there was no one there taking pictures or handing out t-shirts for the volunteers. There wasn’t a big NGO that came in with engineers to pour money into the community. None of that. This was simply a story of a small community coming together to help someone solely because it felt responsible to care for a fellow man.
I’ve witnessed a lot of acts of compassion while in Thailand, but this was definitely the most impressive. But it also made me sad. Occurrences like this might happen in America, but they’re the exception more often than the rule. And when they do happen, they’re often packaged with bright lights and ulterior motives.
I’m pretty neutral about stating which country, America or Thailand, is better, as I am not sure in what sense one society can be “better” than another. I think that both countries have a lot to learn from each other. But one area where I think Thai people definitely have the edge is in their deeply rooted understanding of selflessness and its correlation to individual well-being. Whereas Thai people generally view the two as being intertwined, I think a lot of times Americans see one as a trade-off to the other.
This distinction is illustrated the most by how each culture spends its free time. In my experience in Thailand, people seem to view their free time as a chance to participate in community-building activities. In America, we spend a good chunk of our free time watching TV or maybe shopping or going on day trips. While none of these activities are inherently bad, they don´t do much towards advancing our understanding of interpersonal and societal well-being. Also, we need to learn that altruistic activities can be satisfying in themselves, whether or not anybody hears about them.