Trip Gives Student New Perspective on Life

A recent trip to Thailand gave Kacey Palidwar a close-up view of the daily struggles of life in another country.

While born and raised in Nipawin, she is currently a student in the Architectural Technologies program at the SIAST Palliser campus in Moose Jaw. In December 2010 she participated in a two-week trip by 15 students to Thailand to help rebuild a school and teach computer skills at another school. They also delivered supplies to children at different schools and visited a refugee camp.

“I’d want to say it changed my life, but that is so cliched,” she said. “It definitely opened my eyes to what I only thought existed in movies.”

As a result of their busy schedule during the trip and everything she experienced, Palidwar said it took her a while to make sense of it all.

“It really took like a week after I got home to understand it all and put it all together,” she mentioned. “I definitely have a different perspective on the world, how we live our lives over here and what other countries are going through and experiencing.”

This was the second trip by SIAST students to the town of Mae Sot in western Thailand. Due to its location on the border with Myanmar (Burma), the town has a large population of Burmese migrants and refugees. The previous trip in December 2009 resulted in the creation of the group Global Students Helping Students, which is coordinated by SIAST Architectural Technologies Instructor Reg Forbes.

The intention is that students will undertake an annual trip to Thailand to use their skills to the benefit of others. The activities of Global Students Helping Students are carried out in close cooperation with Global Neighbors Canada Inc., an organization working with orphaned and displaced children in Mae Sot.

Prior to their trip, Palidwar and her fellow students raised $15,000 towards the reconstruction of Hlee Bee School, which accommodates about 200 children.

“The previous one was flooded out, it pretty much just fell right over because it was made of bamboo,” she explained. “If we hadn’t intervened they would have no school at this point.”

The new building is a more sturdy concrete and steel structure. The construction work was already completed when they arrived, but the students assisted with the finishing touches. They painted the walls, built desks for the computer lab and set up the six computers they donated to the school.

“We got to meet all the kids and the teachers, it was a really good experience,” she said.

The students used the additional money they raised before their trip to buy cameras for a school in the Mae La refugee camp. Each student also brought along a suitcase full of items such as food, clothing, soap, towels and sheets for distribution.

“At most of these schools the kids were orphans, so they don’t have a whole lot,” she said.

They did distributions at Shwe Tha Zin Learning Centre, Ah Yone Oo School, Sky Blue School and New Light School, which was the school built by the previous student group in 2009. They also visited Wide Horizons, a post secondary school, and Agape Orphanage and Learning Centre, which is very close to the Burma-Thailand border.

At Hsa Thoo Lei School and Orphanage the students taught their technical programs in two sessions to the Grade 11 and 12 learners. They showed them how to draw a basic floor plan in AutoCAD, how to import it into Google Sketch Up and how to create a 3-D rendering from that. The local students also learned how to use some aesthetic techniques in Photoshop.

Despite knowing a fair amount of English, Palidwar said it was still a challenge to communicate with these students.

“It did not hinder their excitement to learn,” she noted. “The best part of this experience was when the kids yelled out ‘Teacher, teacher! Will you help?’ We got a lot of satisfaction out of teaching these kids some technical skills that will put them ahead in the work force.”

At the Mae La refugee camp they visited Henry’s School and Arthur’s Orphanage. According to Palidwar there are about 45,000 registered Burmese refugees in the camp, but a similar number that is not registered.

“It was supposed to be a temporary camp, but now it has been there for over 20 years,” she said. “There’s a lot of people in a small space and only so many are registered, so a lot of them are considered ghost citizens.”

Witnessing people’s struggle to survive has changed her views about her own lifestyle and life in Canada in general.

“I found it hard to enjoy the things I normally enjoy and to just get back into my life from beforehand,” she said. “We just have it so good in Canada that you never think that there’s anything worse out there. … We’re very, very lucky to live in the free country that we have.”

By Matthew Liebenberg

See the Original Article in the Nipawin Journal here: