Today we left Bangkok and took an hour flight to Chiang Mai. It was so different from Bangkok. It was cooler, the air was clean, and the landscape was breathtaking. Life is more slow-paced here; we were ready for the change of scenery! We were able to go to PDA to learn about their family planning program. Thailand experienced a 3% population growth rate, which would cause the population to double after 27 years. At this time, talking about sex and birth control was considered a taboo subject. This organization provides sex and birth control education to Thailand's rural population and distributes free condoms. They also operate a restaurant called "condoms and cabbages" that has fun products to buy to promote condom use. The population growth rate has since decreased to about 0.03%, and birth control is now widely accepted in Thailand.
In northern Thailand, there are many tribes that live in the hills. They have their own unique customs and beliefs and are self-sufficient. We visited a hill tribe known as akha. The people were so nice and welcoming! The village was composed of simple hut structures and the livestock wandered about the village freely. Our native guide bought treats for the children of the village and let us distribute them. The children were so happy and thankful--it was very touching. A few vans pulled into the village when we were there. An important local monk donates and distributes food to the villagers once a year, and we were lucky to be there on that day. Monks are highly respected in Thai culture. To receive a gift from a monk is an honor, and the villagers got down on their knees and paid their respects to the monk before receiving their food. We were very fortunate to be there while during this time and were inspired by the monk's humility and generosity. He talked with us after all of the food had been distributed and invited us to the local temple to see the orphanage there.
The temple was on the peak of a hill and was lit up with lights that we could see from a distance. We were escorted to the orphanage to hand out treats to the kids. The orphanage was a single room about the size of a garage. There were 19 boys and 3 girls that lived there, some HIV positive. The monks help to take care of them, but they are largely self-sufficient. They cook their own food, maintain their hygiene, and take care of one another. The older children take care of the younger children, ensuring that their basic needs are being met. They were excited about the treats we brought and even sang us a Chinese "thank you song." We spent some time holding and playing with the children. There were tears shed as we left the orphanage and the children. Our visit with the village and orphanage was inspiring. The monks talked briefly with us about the power of serving others and caring for all people.
Megan E. Cusick