Life of Pai: RakDek Summer Camp

© 2009 From Laos with Love

Nestled among the misty, rolling hills of northwestern Thailand – close to the Myanmar border – is the tiny village of Pai in Mae Hong Son Province.

Here, you will find one of RakDek/TLSDF‘s field offices, where they have implemented a program called Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC).  Some of the children have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS; a few were living with the disease themselves.   

© 2009 From Laos with Love

The challenges these children face are numerous: they are ostracized by peers who have little to no understanding of HIV; they struggle with poverty and self-esteem; access to health care is very limited; and many of them are members of various ethnic tribes in Northern Thailand.  The last issue is a political one – it means children are not granted citizenship by the Thai government, even though their families have lived in this region for several generations.  At the time of my internship, TLSDF and other organizations were fighting to change this law; however, I am unaware of any progress.

Among ethnic groups, lack of citizenship is the primary factor underlying access to education (non-citizens are not eligible for free public schooling), healthcare, and employment.  This in turn drives the poverty rate and exposure to risk factors for HIV infection.

***

To save money, we drove to Pai instead of flying, which meant I had to relive the experience of riding up a rural mountain road.  I took Dramamine, but not before I was already carsick.  The whole time, I struggled not to embarrass myself in front of TLSDF’s director by puking in the back seat.

I had the opportunity to work with OVC on my first visit to Pai, during the children’s school break.  (The second trip was for a community conference.)  Myself and a German girl who volunteered for Cultural Canvas Thailand were to lead English learning activities.

View from my guest house
© 2009 From Laos with Love
One of the many games we played, resembling “Simon Says.” The loser has to sing a song (“Pee-Pee Po”) and dance around like a chicken.
© 2009 From Laos with Love
© 2009 From Laos with Love
Learning English words for fruits while making fruit salad.
© 2009 From Laos with Love
Handmade musical instruments.  Notice anything funny? Images of the Jamaican flag and marijuana are very common in the tourist shops. The children have no clue what it means.
© 2009 From Laos with Love
We made plaster figurines and held a contest to decide whose was best.
© 2009 From Laos with Love
A leader of the community from the Karen tribe teaches us how to use natural products to make soaps, and also how to identify medicinal plants.
© 2009 From Laos with Love
A local soldier teaches us how to make a kite.
© 2009 From Laos with Love

The children were simply delightful and, at least for those few days, seemed to have no cares in the world.

***

Pai is a hidden gem, although increasingly recognized by tourists.  It reflect’s Northern Thailand’s richness in art and culture, concentrated in a dreamy little pocket of earth.  I loved the melding of different cuisines, from Western to Indian and even Rastafarian. Some of the best pastries I’ve ever tasted in Thailand are found in Pai. I also first tried mango lassi there.

Awesome seafood restaurant.
© 2009 From Laos with Love
We ate way too much. I wouldn’t touch the raw shrimp though.
© 2009 From Laos with Love
Pretending to drink a glass of Beer Chang, even though I hate beer.
© 2009 From Laos with Love

Of course, the scenery itself is enough to pull me back to Pai, reminding me of Muang Ngoi in northern Laos.

© 2009 From Laos with Love
© 2009 From Laos with Love
© 2009 From Laos with Love
© 2009 From Laos with Love

With love,

from Noony

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10 thoughts on “Life of Pai: RakDek Summer Camp”

  1. Such beautiful photos, Noony. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into village life at Pai. I noticed colors are everywhere–on the buildings, classrooms, and even signage. I imagine it creates quite a bright and uplifting environment, especially for the children there.

    1. Yes, the colors really do brighten the mood. I have to give 100% credit to the TLSDF workers who live at that field office most of the year. Their commitment to these children is nothing short of inspiring. It was a really humbling experience.

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