Sawadee ka!

My name is Sophia, and I am an Occupational Therapy student at the University of Queensland, in Brisbane, Australia, and I have recently completed the Health Promotion Challenge in Mae Sariang, Thailand. Since my post-challenge blues have well and truly sunk in, let me take this opportunity relive the highlights and tell you all about it...

The second I met my Health Promotion group of four girls in person for the first time at the airport, I had a good gut feeling about this trip. Throughout my two weeks in Mae Sariang, I made so many new friends, saw so many stunning landscapes, and had the opportunity to facilitate a program that promotes social, emotional, and physical wellbeing in the community.

Within the workshops we facilitated, the participants in schools were aged 6-21, some of these children being novice monks at the temple schools, and then with adult and elderly members of the community in the hill tribes. To get into the some of the specifics, our two weeks looked like approximately eight days of workshops across five different locations. Two temple schools, a town school, and two hill tribe communities. As for the days we weren’t in workshop mode, we completed our cultural orientation, and language lessons prior to starting our workshop program, completed the rewarding community clean up in some beautiful locations, and spent our weekend off in Mae Sariang and around.

We fortunate to see Mae Sariang from every angle; visiting beautiful temples, walking the streets on our town tour, taking night-time trips to the amazing 7/11 (trust me it is a site to behold), Thai tea from Phi Pang’s nearby café, the Rotee runs, and many more little adventures that I will cherish. So, it is safe to say, my gut feeling was correct.  

There is something very special about being so inspired while simultaneously having the opportunity to inspire others.

Walking into unfamiliar classrooms felt a bit daunting at times, but we felt very welcomed into the community and embraced the challenges that a language barrier can present. My favourite part of our workshops in the temple schools and town schools was an activity where we asked the participants to draw a picture of themselves in the future and present it to their peers. The activity aimed to increase confidence and prompt the learners to reflect on their own futures, and drawing is a great way to non-verbally communicate. We completed this activity ourselves alongside our learners which made it feel very personal, and with some help from our lovely translators, Poomii and Toffee, we were able to share and explain who we were as health students and give the learners a chance to reflect on their futures in a way that was meaningful.

Before I had the opportunity to participate in this challenge, I didn’t really have a good understanding of what it meant to be a Global Citizen. Whilst working alongside the Future Sense Foundation Thailand hub, I had the chance to meet some incredible role models of Global Citizenship...

The team at the Thailand hub were passionate about what they do and had a deep understanding of the impact that our program could make at an individual and community level. Through their knowledge of international development as well as their close relationships with the local communities, our group mentors were able to guide us to ensure our workshop plans were directly related to the Sustainable Development Goals developed by the UN. I will take this opportunity to say a very big thank you and express my gratitude to the Thailand team for their continual support, patience, and kindness. You made my experience in Thailand so special and inspired all of us to be better Global Citizens.

Now, to summarise in my own words what it means to be a global citizen post-challenge, global citizenship is about making a meaningful impact to a community in a way that is relevant to the needs of the community, sustainable, and promotes equity. 

In a time where it is sometimes difficult to feel present, Thailand has mastered the art of mindfulness, and it was a privilege to be able to experience this through my challenge Health Promotion Challenge in Mae Sariang.

Something I will never forget is...

How in our community workshop, one of the girls in the Paramedic Challenge led a group of about 25 elderly people from on of the hill tribe communities through a meditation and mindfulness practice. We asked everyone to close their eyes and we played some relaxing classical music. We were in a big open space, a rotunda type structure, with plenty of noise and distractions from the nearby road and small medical centre. I remember sitting there, cross-legged on the floor, feeling a bit restless, and peaking one of my eyes open. Every single one of our workshop participants had their eyes shut. They were fully committed to, and comfortable, completing this meditation, with it being translated through our lovely Health Program leader, Mork.

Every day of my program, I was able to wake up and feel a sense of connection to the places I was in, as well as full focus on the workshop we were facilitating, and all of my life back home just fell away for two weeks.  

As someone who has had some prior travel experience, I can say I have never felt more comfortable in a new place so quickly than when I was in Mae Sariang... 

Maybe it was kindness of the people I met. 

Or the fact that even 7, 802 km from home, I was surrounded by other Aussies in the hub.

Maybe it was the beautiful weather.

All I know is that the second I saw at my first sunset in Mae Sariang, I knew that I would hold this part of Thailand close to my heart, and that saying goodbye in two weeks’ time was going to be very hard. 

If I could give some advice to a first-time traveller who is venturing overseas, I would say that the journey is not always going to be smooth, and that is okay. If my challenge taught me anything, it is to just accept that things may not work out like you planned, and that you can learn to adapt (always have a backup plan!). Take everything one day at a time, one challenging moment at a time. You find support wherever and whenever you need it through Challenges Abroad and the Future Sense Foundation 

I will never be able to fully sum up this experience with words but what I can say is that it is some of the most fun I have ever had, and I have never laughed and smiled so much on a trip before.

It gave me the chance to develop my personal skills in communication, teamwork, confidence, and adaptability. I met so many incredible people, and I cannot wait to come back to Thailand and visit Mae Sariang. If you’re someone who is looking for something that will get you out of comfort zone while simultaneously bringing you so much joy, friendship, and learning, a Challenges Abroad Program is the place to start