All posts by peteringle

I am a Professor of Special Education at Westminster College in Salt Lake City,Utah. I am currently the Director of the Learning Coalition for the college. I am fascinated by lots of things.

Religion in Thailand

Buddha

Wat Prathat Doi Kham – Temple of the Golden Mountain in Chiang Mai

 

Of the nearly 69 million people living in Thailand, the U. S. Department of State notes that the predominant religion practiced by about 94% of those 69 million people is Theravada Buddhism. 5% of Thai people are Muslim and the remaining 1% practice a wide range of other religions and atheism.

According to the Buddhist Society, Theravada Buddhism is the Southern School of Buddhism that is rooted in the scriptures of the Pali Canon. There are many different divisions of Buddhism practiced across Asia but Theravada is the type of Buddhism typically practiced in Thailand as well as in Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia.  Compared to Mahayana Buddhism, which is seen in Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Mongolia, Theravada is thought to be more like the original form of Buddhism started in India. It is a more strict adherence to the teachings and rules of Buddha about monastic activities. Nearly every village and town in Thailand have a monastery. What the focus of the monastery is, however, varies based on the town.

 

Buddhism has a goal of reaching self-enlightenment through meditation and the development of morality and wisdom. The Buddha, Siddharath Gautama, is looked to as a teacher but not worshiped like a god. There are no personal gods in this religion, as all of the focus is on the individual reaching the state of nirvana, the state in which there is no longer greed, hatred, and delusion and their pattern of being reborn to suffer worldly pains is broken. Those who reach this level are considered “enlightened”.

 

Islam is the only other major religion to see a significant following in Thailand. Despite a very diverse population, most Muslims residing in Thailand are Sunni. Although for the most part the two main religious groups, Muslim and Buddhist, have gotten along fairly well, there have been expanding tensions between the Thai government and Muslims in Southern Thailand.  Attempts by Muslim separatists to form the Islamic Patani Darussalam have resulted in violence. Roughly 18% of Thailand’s Muslim population resides in the southern provinces of Songkhla, Satun, Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, a region that was once a part of the Islamic Sultanate of Patani, a Malay-Islamic Kingdom that existed from 1516-1902. The fall of the Sultanate and subsequent annexation by the Kingdom of Siam saw a long period of exclusion, oppression, and scapegoating of Malay-Muslims in the 20th century, and an assimilation campaign that sparked heated nationalist sympathy. While official stance from the Thai government has become more accomodating in recent years, decades of repression and nationalism have culminated in the separatist insurgency of 2004 that has spurred armed violence in the south of Thailand for over a decade. Both ethnic and religious tensions play a major factor in the ongoing conflict, necessitating a more inclusive and diverse narrative in the spheres of politics, religion, and history.
Sources:

Amaro, A. (n.d.). The Buddhist Society: Theravada Buddhism. Retrieved from https://www.thebuddhistsociety.org/page/theravada-buddhism

BBC. (2009, November 17). Religions – Buddhism: Buddhism at a glance. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/ataglance/glance.shtml

Differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.biographyonline.net/spiritual/buddhism/theravada-mahayana.html

  1. S. Department of State. (2005). Thailand. Retrieved from https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/2005/51531.htm

Hunter, M. (2015) The Islamization of Thailand. Asian Correspondent. <https://asiancorrespondent.com/2015/07/the-islamization-of-thailand/#C8ZXEMko82HxVbPw.97>

 

Kalasin Day 1

In Kalasin, on Saturday the 19th of May, we attended the traditional welcome ceremony conducted for visitors. The ceremony was particularly momentous due to our group being the first western visitors to come to the village in which we’re staying and be a part of the ceremony. It was overwhelming to be the subject of such attention, and to realize the extent to which our visit is an honor to the community. Receiving visitors in the U.S. is enjoyable and a compliment to both one’s self and one’s home, but in Thai culture and this relatively small community, hosting visitors holds far greater social significance.

Our arrival in Kalasin was the first time that many of us felt that we were in a completely different culture with different values and experiences. Arriving at the village was overwhelming. Before the trip we had been warned that our presence would attract attention but we didn’t know what that meant until arriving. We were greeted by the entire village waiting for us with fresh flower necklaces and were quickly rushed to the center of the crowd for the welcoming ceremony.

The ceremony itself consisted of a man acting as a monk representative performing  Buddhist incantations in ­Pali, an ancient language reserved for use in religious ceremonies. A central component of the ceremony was a white string passed around the most inner circle which we grasped between our thumbs. Even without great depth of knowledge of the significance of each component, we felt the emotional and spiritual significance of the process deeply.

After the incantations and group ceremony had finished, all the villagers were given a bundle of white strings to walk around and tie onto our wrists to symbolize blessings and welcoming us to Thailand. Each villager had their own style of giving a blessing. Some were serious, some shy, some were even silly and joking around with each other. Even with the formality of the ceremony, we were met with an introduction to the unwavering kindness of Thai people.

Initial Impressions Ban Toon Ting School

By Emily Halliday and Naomi Shapiro

After a four-hour van ride from Chiang Mai, all 29 of us hopped in the back of back of four-wheel drive pickup trucks for the last 45 minutes up the muddy, potholed, mountain road.  Upon arriving, Han and Peter mentioned how much the school has changed since their first trip here, 5 years ago. Many new buildings, such as the girl’s dormitory, have been built, and new roofing has been installed on many of the classrooms. Since this is Westminster students’ last year here, we were told to think about what we expected the school to be like. In reality, it was much better than many of us would have thought. The school looked to be in good shape and because of that a lot of us were unsure about what work we would actually be able to do there. The digs were very comfortable.  We all slept in dormitory like quarters which we called the “Gum Drop Villages”, because it was two large rooms with gum drop looking bug nets over all of the beds.  We were very excited to get settled in for our next 5 days at the school.

Gumdrop Village

In order to accommodate families living in more remote areas, Ban Toon Ting School is pretty isolated.  Although the school’s location is designed to serve the largest number of people possible, accessibility is still an issue because there isn’t organized transportation for the students.  Those who live the farthest away board at the school during the week, but others make the journey there and back each day.  One afternoon while we were staying at Ban Toon Ting, we walked with the kids to one of the villages that the school serves (about 1.5 miles away).  Just like in the U.S., once the bell marking the end of school rings, a mass of kids head for home.  A few get picked up by parents or siblings on motorbikes, but most are part of the horde walking.  All of the students were between kindergarten and 6th grade.  I was a little bit surprised by how small some of them looked.  They seemed far too young to be walking by themselves, but then I realized that the older kids were all looking out for the little ones.  As we walked with them, I was grabbed by the hand by a pair of second graders.  We picked flowers and jumped in puddles as we made the trek to the village.  As we passed different houses, kids peeled off and waved goodbye.  It was kind of like a big walking school bus.

Ban Toon Ting

 

HIV/AIDS Hospice

Lop Buri: HIV/AIDS Hospice

By: Kaycee Gilson & Hailey Muilenburg

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•HIV and AIDS•

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that causes destruction of the body’s immune system and defenses. If left untreated, HIV can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is the most severe stage of HIV. HIV/AIDS can not be cured but there are treatments to prolong life and provide comfort. HIV compromises immunity and ability to fight infections which may lead to terminal infections and cancers. HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breastmilk. Common routes include vertical transmission (mother to infant) and horizontal transmission (sex between partners and IV drug use). Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is used to treat an infection but it cannot cure the patient of the virus. These drugs are often very costly and have many negative side effects. Efforts like this facility strive to prevent the spread of HIV by educating the public and reducing the stigma surrounding the illness.

•Purpose•

The HIV/AIDS hospice provides a safe community and environment for those with HIV/AIDS. The center serves to improve the patient’s physical, social, and spiritual needs. The center also aims to educate, raise awareness, and decrease stigma about HIV/AIDS.

•Museum•

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The first part of the tour was to the HIV/AIDS hospice museum. Fourteen donated human bodies occupied this space, ranging in age from childhood to adulthood. The museum contained ashes of over 10,000 individuals with HIV/AIDS. The ashes in the museum are a final resting place for individuals whose families refused them. The oldest of the remains are 20 years old. The bodies have been donated by the individuals to serve as a source of education and awareness. The museum housed mostly male and transgender individuals, but also included women and children. Prior to ART there were 1 to 2 deaths per day. Since the induction of ART, there are 1 to 2 deaths per month. Overall, the clinic has seen a decline in the number of individuals passing away with HIV/AIDS, but also a reduction in the number of new admits. The main focus of this museum was to provide education and awareness about HIV/AIDS.

•Clinic•

This hospice center has a maximum capacity of 150 people.  It is currently hosting 144 people. The center is divided into six sectors: male, female, family, end-stage AIDS, volunteer, and monk. The clinic covers all medical care including transportation and ARTs. There is one nurse and one doctor on staff. The patients receive weekly visits from the physician that resides in Bangkok. All other patient needs are taken care of by volunteers. If the hospice reaches capacity there is often a waitlist for those new admits. Individuals may be admitted by family that is unable or unwilling to provide care or if they are unable to provide care for themselves.

•Our Thoughts•

There is a lot of stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, which is largely contributed to lack of education and cultural beliefs. The AIDS hospice provides a community free of social stigma and judgement that allows for collaboration among a select population. The patients did not seem “put off” by their location, but rather the status of their situation. The facility was kept clean and the patients seemed to be well cared for. The museum brought a lot of emotions to the surface of the students and created a very powerful statement about the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS. A facility such as this one would not be possible in the United States: medical expenses would not be covered by the government and the facility would not be open for the public to tour.

Health clinics at Ban Toong Ting School

By: Nicole Roberts & James Bacigalupo

Along with the service projects at the Ban Toong Ting school, we were also able to help aid the Thai Nursing students with health checks. Health checks are extremely important, especially when done on the children of an area because they can tell a lot about the overall health of the community. Two of the most important areas of health to check are height and weight. Abnormal height or weight for a child can determine a great majority of health issues in a community. While helping the nursing students, we assisted in taking the height and weight of every student at the school. We then proceeded to check the body for scrapes or abrasions, or anything abnormal with physical features. Next, we would asses any of the scrapes or abnormal physical features and clean them up. Continue reading Health clinics at Ban Toong Ting School

Ban Toong Ting School

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. Continue reading Ban Toong Ting School

Temple visits

By: Karsten Gillwald & Melody Van De Graff

Thais perform Buddhist worship at various holy sites throughout the country. We visited several of these sites ranging from traditional “wats” to simple worship sites.  A wat is a monastery or temple in Southeast Asia. All temples have a representation of the Thai Buddha in one of the seven positions (?), an open area in front of the Buddha for worship, offerings to the Buddha and some other form of decoration. Some temples had little more than this, while others were incredibly ornate and complex. Continue reading Temple visits

Abstract concrete

By Toby Koch

Finally. I was there. After months of anticipation and weeks of traveling I was where I wanted to be; at the Ban Mae Tuen village. I had imagined my time here would be spent searching for water sources that could only be reached by bushwhacking through jungles that Bear Grylls himself would shiver at, drawing out architecturally flawless blueprints for future projects, and conducting in depth community based health assessments with advanced techniques unknown to the common man.

Okay, maybe not quite that drastic, but a man’s mind can be prone to wander. Instead, I found myself hacking away in fascination (and no small amount of frustration) at a giant puddle of gelatinous cement soup, trying to keep it in some kind of pile, accompanied by a few members of our group and an entourage of Thai men hacking away along side me. I, being the all-knowing American, thought to myself, “this is ridiculous, there are ratios and procedures and other fancy stuff that needs to be followed in order to make cement set properly. This pile is random, there are still clumps of dirt in this cement and every bucket of it that we pour unto this porch is different.”

As we continued to add a few more rocks here, some sand there, and buckets of water everywhere; I had an epiphany. “Building this porch doesn’t mean diddly squat. In the end, its just a porch to a cafeteria. It will more than likely hold just fine.We didn’t fly half way around the world to build a porch. We came to build relationships with this village and this school. To show them that we care about the world and the people in it, and that their culture, class and ethnicity shouldn’t be seen as a hindrance, but an opportunity to expand the way we see the world. We are here to show that we don’t know best, that we are equals and that they have as much to give us as we them (if not more).”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Despite my past service experience around the world, I still knew nothing. Perhaps I never will know, but suddenly that pile of gelatinous cement soup suddenly meant a lot more.

First Days in Bangkok

by: Elise Reckinger

We have spent the last three days in Bangkok.  The first day we explored the mall next to the hotel. The mall had seven stories with a food market and numerous boutiques and even a water park. Bangkok is a very busy city. Everywhere there are many people moving and the streets are full of people. Everybody seems like they are on a “mission.” The  mall is crowded and the streets by the hotel are filled with markets that sell food and clothes. The prices at the mall are relatively cheap: 30baht is 1 dollar. It was been hard communicating with the Thailand people but we have learned to say:

Thank you, or Khoop-khun and hello, sa-wat-dii.

The next day we visited Wat Po and the Grand Palace. First, we visited Wat Po. Wat Po is known for their reclining Buddha. The reclining Buddha is 46m long and 15m high. It illustrates the passing of Buddha to Nirvana. On the feet of the Buddha there are mother of pearl inlay ornaments on the feet, displaying 108 different characteristics of Buddha. In the Thai culture, the feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body while the head is considered sacred. While in the temple we had to sit with our toes tucked away from the Buddha statue otherwise it would be disrespectful. We also had to wear clothes that went below our knees , no hats, no shoes and out shoulders had to be covered. After we explored the Buddhist temple, we took the took tooks to the grand palace. The took tooks are like a Taxi for going short distances. The outside is very decorated with bright colors. While on the took took ride we noticed a few things about Thailand driving culture. The roads are packed with cars and chaos. Everyone is tailgating which is normal here. Nobody honks and everyone is aggressive drivers and there are narrow lanes. We rode the took took to Grand Palace on Coronation day which is a Thailand  international holiday.  In Thailand the country is ruled by a king and queen and the current king is King Rama IX.

On the last day in Bangkok we met the Thai students that we will be traveling with for the rest of the month.  We spent the morning playing funny games that helped us learn the students names and majors. The majority of students are nursing majors and one woman we will be with is a nursing professor. By the end of the morning we already shared plenty of laughs and began learning names.

What We Don’t Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Service

Before we leave we want you to read two articles.

What we don’t talk about when we don’t talk about service by Adam Davis provides some good questions to ask yourself about why you do service and what you get out of it. Throughout the experience we will be questioning who is benefiting? And how are they benefiting? It will be important that we ask ourselves this in a variety of places, with different people, and with different types of service. You will be writing in your journal about this and we will have at least one group discussion on this topic.

Adam Davis essay