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Service Learning on Doi Inthanon

The hill tribe people in northern Thailand settled in the mountainous regions of the country over a period of many years. They mainly came from Burma and China, and have lived and eked out a simple living in these remote areas ever since. Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand not far from Chiang Mai, was settled primarily by the Pga-gan Yaw, one of the four main subgroups of the Karen people. All four of these groups have very different languages and cultures, though there is some overlap.

The hill-tribe people in Thailand, and specifically the Karen in this case, have always had challenges to make a living and support their families. Over the past 2 1/2 years with the Covid pandemic, these challenges have become extreme.

Initially the non-profit "Road To A Better Life,” got involved with service work in the hills of Thailand, to assist in fundraising and the purchasing of mobility aids for people who needed help to just get around.

The catalyst for this non-profit organization started 73 years ago when our family first arrived in India and our mother contracted polio. She was completely paralyzed initially, then moved to a wheelchair for a year, and braces for 3 years. She walked with a cane for most of the rest of her life. In addition, the exposure to all the hardships and suffering of millions of people in India had a profound impact on the direction life would take for us.

Jumping forward to the present time, and often in collaboration with organizations such as Chiang Mai International Rotary Club, the work continues to help the sweet people in the hills of Thailand to “Have a Better Life.”

  • We have provided food for a Shan nursery school near the Burmese border for a year;

  • Supported education for several high school and university students;

  • Distributed over 100 canes and wheelchairs to people who needed them in various villages on Doi Inthanon and other places in northern Thailand;

  • Built several houses and bathrooms; and,

  • Provided support and a large “communal house” for the victims of a serious fire that destroyed four houses in a village where we have worked for years.

Recently we bought a large washing machine for folks in a village where two grannies, one 86 and the other 88, are incapacitated. Their caregiver needed a way to wash clothes not only for them but for the whole village.

Roti, our Karen partner, in conjunction with Doi Inthanon community leaders, and Bonnie Kaplan, the video guru and fundraiser extraordinaire will continue to support these communities in any way we can.

A goal for the future is a Karen Community Center on the mountain, where villagers can display and sell their beautiful weavings, conduct meetings and ceremonies, and where tourists can trek to and learn about the intriguing Karen (Pga-gan Yaw) culture and the beautiful environment in which they live.

The Karen people on Doi Inthanon continue to work hard to support themselves and their communities. They never complain and keep smiling in spite of the hardships that life throws at them.

Service work and helping those who are less fortunate than we, as we know, is a very satisfying pursuit. However, it shouldn’t really be called “service work,” but rather “service learning,” because as many of the students I’ve had involved in this type of thing, have said, “What these people have given us, is far more valuable than anything we have done for them.”


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