From Hope to Renewal
In December of 2004, the tsunami that hit Thailand's Andaman coast claimed the lives of over 8,500 people, causing untold damage to Thailand's natural beauty and decimating Thai infrastructure. Years later, much progress has been made in the rebuilding effort, but a slowing in press coverage and donor fatigue threaten to leave many key repairs unfinished. Last summer, a group of 12 students from the GU Thai Society and the SFS Asian Studies program were sponsored by Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Air Asia, and individual donors in a trip to the Phan-Nga province to perform community service and assess the region's remaining assistance needs.
Volunteering helped change my understanding of the world
Fuadi Pitsuwan (SFS '08), President of the Thai Society and a native of Nakhon Si Thammarat, led the effort. Over a year of fundraising and preparation went into their trip. In the first phase of their trip, the students formed two groups: one to teach English and another to assist Thai and Burmese workers in a massive construction effort building 56 new houses for those displaced by the tsunami. The volunteers spent their free day assisting with the restoration of a mangrove forest.
Phase two of their trip took the students to Bangkok and the Phayathai Home for Babies, an orphanage for abandoned children afflicted with HIV/AIDS, many of whom are never adopted. Caitlin Ryan (SFS '10) believes that it was here, in Bangkok, that the lessons of the trip really began to sink in: "in a world where about half the global population lives on less than two dollars a day... this is a call to action."
Robin Chan (SFS '08) believes that though "at the beginning of our program we were told "volunteering is about changing the world," at the end of the program I realized that volunteering has also helped me change my understanding of the world. Georgetown encourages us to pursue mentis vita pro vita mundi;and we got to put that in action this summer."
Upon returning to Georgetown, the Thai Society has continued to fundraise for the Phayathai Home for Babies and plans to make its summer volunteering trip an annual occurrence.