A group of 96 Australian Year-9 students from Firbank Grammar School in Melbourne took part in an experiential learning programme in Thailand from July 25 to Aug 13.
Team spirit and a willingness to share built this functional sala, bringing smiles to everyone’s face. STACIA DAVIS
The study programme is a major component of the school's curriculum and was organised in partnership with the Prem Tinsulanonda International School in Chiang Mai.
Apart from cultural and environmental learning, the programme also included a community service activity in which the Australian students built a sala (a Thai-style open-air shelter) for Ban Pang Hang School, Ban Pha Taek branch, a small school for hill tribe children in Chiang Mai.
Four of the Australian students shared with us how the experience has profoundly changed their views.
"Throughout the four days that we worked, our bonds with the children deepened as they came to know us. One of the most touching moments was when they volunteered, in their lunch break, to help us. Also, one day, parents came in to build the frame of the sala while we were busy building tables and chairs. Thailand is the friendliest country I have ever been to, and I am extremely grateful that I have had the opportunity to help in some way. Now I have come to understand that little things in life can make a big difference. What I enjoyed most about the community service was the interaction with the children and their immense gratitude for the gifts we had brought for them. In return, they have given us their love and many unforgettable memories," said Maxi Worboys.
Australian school girls learn that small actions can make a world of difference. STACIA DAVIS
"My favourite part of the whole experience was interacting with the children. I will never forget the smiles on their faces as we handed out stickers and balloons. Being in Thailand has triggered in me a passion for giving joy to those less fortunate than I. It has been a truly unforgettable experience," said Sarah Mitchell.
"During the four days of community service at a local hill tribe village, I had the opportunity to help construct an eating area for the local primary school. We constructed several benches and tables for the children. The work was intense, but seeing their expectant faces throughout the day was very rewarding, and it made the work seem easier. I can look back with pride when I recall that the children can now share what we have created with their teachers, family and friends.
"Working at the school," he continued, "has made me realise that anyone can change someone else's life for the better forever," said Annabel Dick.
"As we hoed the dirt, we could see the children's faces pressed up against the windows looking excitedly at the progress we were making. At lunchtime, the children would come outside, eager to help us dig into the soil, carry buckets of dirt or help us with the current task at hand.
"Although building the outdoor eating area was hard work and our spirits fell at times," admitted Madeleine Holland King, "the smiles on the Thai children's faces as they looked each day at the progress that had been made and the participation of the families connected with the school who gave up their time to help build the sala have made it all worthwhile," echoed Madeleine.
Maxi, Sarah, Annabel and Madeleine are all 14 years old and are in Year 9 at Firbank Grammar School in Victoria, Australia.