By: Rachel Wong and Liz Behrens
Upon arrival at the Ban Toong Ting school, the group had been briefed about the possible conditions of the school and surrounding village. We were prepared for anything! However, after a bumpy ride in the back of a pickup truck through the lush green mountains, we stumbled upon our home for the next five days, and we were shocked. Not only was the school absolutely beautiful, being isolated on the top of a mountain, the conditions were far better than initially anticipated. We were warmly welcomed by the students and teachers.
The school houses around twenty children whose homes are too far to commute daily. In total, the school provides education for up to eighty local students. The students range from kindergarten to sixth grade. Each morning begins with the children cleaning the school grounds, eating breakfast, singing the national anthem, and saying prayers. It appeared to us that the school day was less structured than that of the U.S., but the students were more self-sufficient and respectful. The children who board at the school eat all three meals, sleep, and shower at the school. Depending on how far away the child’s family lives, the frequency of returning home differs from weekly to monthly.
After we arrived at the school, Peter and Han talked to the school officials about what pressing needs the school had. The projects that were decided upon included: health assessments for the children as well as the village, scrubbing and reusing roof tiles, building a new roof, painting, reconstructing a playground, and visiting and working with the satellite school nearby.
Being the first foreigners to visit their village, we were faced with the challenging yet rewarding experience with the children. In the beginning, the children were hesitant to warm up to us, understandably so. After the welcoming dinner the first night, we made our best attempt to include them in some karaoke and dancing. It was an amazing feeling to have the children befriend and trust us. In the following days, the relationship with the kids grew more and more. Although completing the projects was fulfilling, it was the connection with the students and teachers that made this the most incredible part of the trip for many of us.
When it finally came time for us to part ways, the goodbyes were emotional and hard. Many of the Westminster students vocalized that they wished we could have stayed longer. During this portion of the trip, the idea that service is a two-way street came to surface. The impact that the children had on us students was seemingly more than the influence that our service had on the entire school. We were welcomed as part of the community and were treated as honored guests despite the fact that the village’s needs were greater than ours.
All in all, our time at the school was an unforgettable and eye-opening experience. We can’t speak for everyone, but this village has changed our perspective on education, health, and especially gratitude. We are thankful for the opportunities that this village and school has given us.