Two years after his Justifi trip to Thailand, Josh came back as a madrich (leader) and couldn’t believe his eyes.
When he left Tom Karen’s center in the small village of Ban Huay Sak one hour north of Chiang Rai, there was one classroom which could hold about 20 kids, an outhouse for a toilet (that means a very deep hole dug into the ground, surrounded by a small wooden hut) and a few books, toys and one 1970’s Yamaha kids keyboard for the kids to play with.
On his return, there was a second classroom full of books and maps and educational posters, musical instruments and art supplies, there was a restroom building with three toilets and a shower, there was the foundation for a new classroom, and the walls were covered in pictures of the summer camps and weekly lessons that Tom’s center now provides.
Tom Karen himself cannot believe what has taken place in such a short time.
“Before I met Jamie and Justifi, I was just a tour guide trying to find work showing foreigners around Northern Thailand. Now I am getting to live my dream, helping my community to get educated, running English, Chinese, math and science workshops, working to prevent the our children from getting trafficked to bars in Bangkok and neighboring countries, creating programs for the elderly and sponsoring orphans in their education through the support of monthly donations from Justifi alumni. On top of that my wife is now on the local council representing women’s rights and I have gone back to university at 42 years of age to get a degree in English!”
People often challenge us saying ‘how much difference can a short term volunteer trip make? Really, you can’t be doing much good for the locals.’
At which point I smile patiently, offer them a drink, and spend the next half an hour filling then in on the facts on the ground. Having been back to Thailand year after year, and experiencing it with my own eyes, I can inform them that although one group may just come in and leave having helped the local builders (who wouldn’t have had work if we weren’t there) lay the foundations of a classroom, or having painted some chairs or taught an English class which may not feel like a big deal at the time, when taken as part of a much larger ongoing project each bucket of concrete, each new English phrase learnt, eachsmile shared between volunteer and school kid, each brick in the wall helps build a strong, stable and self-sustainable edifice which is making a huge difference in many people’s lives.
You see, a brick on its own may indeed not be much use, but when it becomes part of a wall, when one person becomes part of a team which goes back to the same villages, the same schools year after year, a significant impact is made on the lives of those who stand to benefit most, which in turns effects the lives of their children and children’s children for many years to come.