Budding Potentials ~ Mae Hong Son (Part 1)

“Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.”

(Variously attributed to Charlotte Whitton or Maori Proverbs)

Sun-seeking Mexican sunflowers: Budding, Blooming and Fading

Budding, Blooming, Falling

Have you ever noticed that the people who achieve the most good for their community or for the community at large “Just do it!” They don’t fuss, or brag or grandstand; they just get on with the job at hand, behaving as if working for the good of others is a natural, normal thing to do.

What has this got to do with the quote I started with or with the Mexican Sunflower pictured, you might well ask?

Well, this last weekend I was privileged to accompany a number of hard-working under-recognised people (Thai and otherwise) on a whirlwind round of student-scholarship interviews and school-project visits in the northwest border province of Mae Hong Son. The projects and scholarships, which all aim to help seriously disadvantaged children in ‘The Hills’ continue their studies if they wish to, are funded by various institutions and individuals and managed through “THEP -Thailand Hilltribe Education Projects” and “ISGF – International Support Group Foundation”.

Communities in the remote Hilltribe areas tend to be quite small and marginalized. Although most now have some form of school in the vicinity, these schools are seriously under-resourced and usually do not include the higher grades. Historically, most children in these areas left school early, at least in part because they had no other choice, and either worked in the rice fields with their parents or moved to ‘the big city’ as unskilled labour. Projects like the ones I visited fund dormitories, canteens and other facilities at the larger schools so that children from outlying areas have the option of ‘boarding’ in their area instead of travelling great distances over virtually impassable roads, or dropping out completely.

Although education in Thailand is ostensibly free, this does not include the cost of books, extra-curricular activities, transport or accommodation, etc. While these costs may seem small, to subsistence families receiving very little in the way of government support, they are prohibitive, and many bright children are forced to leave school early. The individual scholarships help students from extremely disadvantaged families cope with these expenses and complete their basic education.

Thailand Hilltribe Schoolyard

Misty Morning School Yard

Thailand Hilltribe School Dormitory

Ready for the “Unveiling” ~ The New Dormitory

Old Yellow Cement Mixer

Cement Mixer at the Ready for the Next Project

Man cooking outdoors, Hilltribe boy with cup

Cooking Up Breakfast in the Village

Hilltribe family squatting around a cooking fire

Family Breakfast of Spicy Fried Green Beans

Wooden House on Stilts

Modern Karen Hill-House

Squating Karen Man with traditional tattoos

Karen Elder with Traditional Protective Tattoos

Karen Boy ~ Children in Karen Dress walking to School

Watching the Big Kids go off to School

Karen Women in Traditional Dress

Morning in the Schoolyard ~ Mother’s Club

Karen Baby in a carry-sling


Karen Children in Traditional Dress

Lined Up to Greet the Visitors

Karen Girl in Headdress

Karen Girl

Karen Boy in Blue Tunic

Karen Boy

Karen Boys in Blue Tunics

Boys will be Boys!

Karen women eating Beetle-Nut

Beetle-Nut Break

Group of Karen in Traditional Dress, and one Westerner in western dress

A Happy Community ~ New Dormitory and Other Goodies

Fish Soup with Chillies on Top

Some Like it Hot!

Karen woman with baby on her back

Watching the Baby

Kitchen area in a bamboo Karen House

Typical Simple Karen Kitchen

Brooms and Baskets in the Storage Area in a Poor Karen Farmer

Storage Area in a Poor Karen Farmer’s House

The main purpose of our trip was to check on the progress of scholarship recipients and the various projects, but it wasn’t all work! We joined the many people who travel north this time of year to visit the fields of wild Mexican Sunflowers which turn the hills around Khun Yuam a golden yellow. Walking up the mountain (Doi Mae U-Kho), I thought of the quote from that extraordinary educator Hellen Keller: “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow.”

Pink and yellow flowers on Mae Hong Son hillsides

The Hills are Alive!

Embroidered Hmong textiles

Hmong Market Colours

Curved road in the Mexican Sunflower fields

Mae Hong Son Curves

Mexican Sunflowers

Turn your Face to the Sun!

Like the buds of these cheerful flowers, the children we’d been visiting were full of bright potential… How they will turn out, is anybody’s guess.

If you are anything like me, you get on with your daily life, doing “good” in small bits when it is relatively easy: donating here, direct deposits there, sponsoring children through big tax-deductible organisations, buying bits of bushland for animals, gift shopping from WWF and Oxfam, fund-raisers, charity walks and runs, and periods of unpaid work. Small stuff, really, considering how lucky most of us are! Hopefully, each small drop helps fill the bucket… but the need is still so great.

I personally am thrilled to have found an organisation whose work is congruent with my beliefs, and I plan to do more (watch this space!). In the meantime, if you want to help the easy way, I’m sure they’d be happy to take your money.

“We may have found a cure for most evils; but we have found no remedy for the worst of them all — the apathy of human beings.” – – Helen Keller

  • gabe - November 18, 2010 - 11:23 pm

    Very good and thought provoking. Like it heaps!ReplyCancel

  • Patama - November 19, 2010 - 11:22 pm

    My friend works at Mae hong son and he always told me how beautiful it is 🙂ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - November 20, 2010 - 4:50 am

      It sure is, Patama! You need to go and visit your friend one day. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Susan Race - November 22, 2010 - 10:41 am

    Thank you Ursula for the special comments and recognition. We were lucky to have you along on the trip. The photos are beautiful.ReplyCancel

  • Karen Gray - November 22, 2010 - 11:18 am

    I have seen many THEP projects firsthand. They are remarkable and make a huge difference to the life of hilltribe people in Thailand. Thanks for sharing.ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - November 22, 2010 - 11:56 am

      They are great, aren’t they Karen! We had a terrific trip.
      Thanks for having me along, Susan. 😀ReplyCancel

  • Kathy Barnett - November 22, 2010 - 1:33 pm

    THEP. Has made it possible for many of us to help others while sharing and living in this beautiful country. No wonder some of us cannot leave. Thank you Susan and Khun PanwadeeReplyCancel

    • Ursula - November 22, 2010 - 2:40 pm

      Thanks, Bill – glad you enjoyed it!
      Too right, Kathy! It’s a great place to be. 😀ReplyCancel

  • Bill - November 22, 2010 - 2:14 pm

    Beautiful, beautiful. Thanks for sharing your trip with us Ursula.ReplyCancel

  • Lynda - November 23, 2010 - 9:31 am

    I have enjoyed a couple of THEP visits in the Mae Sariang area with Susan and seen the completion various projects in villages and schools that have been funded by different voluntary charitable groups. What a difference it has made to the lives of the children and their families. Your photos brought back fond memories of my visits.ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - November 27, 2010 - 1:23 pm

      So glad you like the posts, Pia. โชคดี//Good luck on your continued journey!ReplyCancel

  • Fiona Mckeever - December 6, 2010 - 5:58 am

    I really hope to join one of Susan’s trips before I leave Thailand next July. Many of my BWG friends have had first hand experience and tell me it is the best way to see real Thailand.

    Please let me know when you are going up to Mae Hong Song again.


    • Ursula - December 6, 2010 - 4:25 pm

      Hi Fiona,
      I, too, hope to be able to go again soon! I’ll pass your note to Susan. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • […]  I’ve talked about this collection of projects before, after my first visit, in my posts of mid- and late-November last […]ReplyCancel

  • […] Projects, one of these charitable organisations. I’ve been on these trips before (see: Budding Potentials, Building Futures, and Schools), and what always impresses me – other than the beauty of the […]ReplyCancel

  • […] had a lot of enthusiastic response to last week’s “Wander”; clearly the good works that are happening in Mae Hong Son province, in Northwestern Thailand, […]ReplyCancel

  • […] to visit schools deep in the hills of Mae Hong Son. I’ve talked about previous trips (Budding Potentials, Building Better Futures, Schools at the end of the Road, and True Colours) in several previous […]ReplyCancel

  • […] Education Projects. I’ve mentioned THEP and the work it does several times before (Budding Potentials 1, Building Better Futures, Schools at the End of the Road, True Thai Colours, and For the […]ReplyCancel

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