Located in the far northern part of Thailand, Chiang Rai is known as the “Gateway to the Golden Triangle” – the meeting point of Thailand, Burma and Laos. Founded by King Mengrai in 1262, this town was intended to be the new capital of the Lanna Kingdom. Only 34 years after its founding, however, the capital was transferred further south to Chiang Mai. Thus, Chiang Rai declined in importance. Today it is one of the fastest growing towns in Thailand, attractive as a trekking base for tourists as well as a sought-after location for second homes for wealthy Bangkok residents.
Mae Yao is a sub-district in Chiang Rai, a rural area populated by around 12,000 people, 80% of whom are highland ethnic minorities, also referred to as “hill tribes”. This is a collective term for the various tribal people who migrated to Thailand towards the end of the 19th century, having been pushed out of their native homes in Tibet, Burma and China by civil war and political pressures. The six major tribes of Thailand are the Mien, Hmong, Lisu, Karen, Lahu and Akha; the population of Mae Yao is dominated by the latter three groups. Each of these ethnic groups has its own distinctive heritage, clothing, language, religion and culture. Prospects for their future is challenged, as they contend with destructive results of the upheaval in their traditional way of life and competing pressures for land.
GCN will work with the Phasert village, located in the Tumbon Doihung Ampur Muang Chiangrai Province, which serves a population of 310 people in 46 families. The population is comprised of Akha Lisor and Lahu hill tribes; all of whom are employed either as subsistence farmers or day labourers. The village is about 28 kilometers from the Muang district (the town center). The community has requested partnership on the construction of a new community center. Currently the villagers lack a suitable place to meet and hold meetings and activities. In collaboration with the Mirror Arts Group of Thailand, GCN has committed to construction of a new community center.
GCN’s community relations in Thailand are facilitated by a non-governmental organization named Mirror Art Group (MAG), which has invited GCN to partner in their efforts to help the peoples of the Mae Yao sub-district “make a better life for themselves while still retaining their cultural identities." The Mirror Art Group believes that "with a strong, active community the hill tribes can make the transition to a beneficial coexistence with lowland Thai society and combat such issues as drug abuse, erosion of culture and trafficking of women and children.” Mirror Art Group works directly with the many hill tribe communities on projects of the villagers own direction. To learn more about MAG, please visit their website at http://www.mirrorartgroup.org.
The GCN experience is time in the host community, which allows for plenty of time to get to know the local community in your own way. Often team members like to explore the surrounding area for an occasional day trip. There are many opportunities to partake in cultural ventures depending on one’s interest. This picturesque region is well known for its trekking. Additional attractions include many unique wats (Buddhist temples), visits to other hill tribe villages, viewing of handicraft production and wonderful hill tribe market, among many others.
If you want to expose your children to other cultures in a way that is more real, in-depth, personable and memorable – by working in community with them rather than just traveling – this is the way to really learn about another culture.
We were exposed to something few of us get to experience. Most often we simply drive through communities. This time we got to meet and really get to know people, and they were so generous. We got far more out of the experience than we gave.
Kathy P., Rock Point, AZ (family of 4)
This was our best family vacation and a phenomenal experience. I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to do this with my children. My children realized that although the people in the community we visited didn't have a lot of material possessions, they had some things we didn't. The community members were funny, loving and generous.
The group experience was what made it so great. The team leaders were remarkable. They never passed judgment and treated my children like full members of the group, so they acted that way. The experience made them more confident and more excited about taking other travel adventures.
Marcy G., Xiloxochico, Mexico (family of 6)
Volunteering in Tanzania was a life-changing experience that opened my eyes not only to the needs of our fellow global citizens, but also to the lovable and exhilarating culture of Bukoba.
Megan age 19, Bukoba, Tanzania
GCN wasn't just a volunteer trip but instead a life altering two weeks that helped me discover myself.
Shannon age 15, Bukoba, Tanzania
Our GCN sponsored program in Tanzania wasn't a vacation but rather a deeply moving experience our family will cherish for a lifetime.
Sean, Dad, Bukoba, Tanzania
Working side by side with my husband and children, helping, reaching out, and learning from people in a culture vastly different from our own together as a family was one of the most valuable experiences of my life. We are already planning our next volunteer vacation.
Karen, Mom, Bukoba, Tanzania
This experience changed all of us. Nothing can compare with it. It's made my kids into global citizens. Before we left for Kenya, I was concerned that my kids were getting spoiled, but the trip showed them how happy people were, even though they had so little by comparison. They also discovered how much more important it is to have experiences instead of things.
My kids are so mature now as a result of the trip. They have a new and broader world view.
Nancy F., Maili Tatu, Africa (3 time repeat participant with 2 kids)
I took each of my two granddaughters on a trip when they turned 13, as a rite of passage. It was tremendously bonding for us. It deepened our love and our relationship, but it also sensitized the girls to different cultures and helped them gain an understanding and empathy for others.
One of my granddaughters was extremely wary. She said, "I don't know how to do this and I don't want to be there." But by the end, she was begging to stay. She had formed some amazing friendships. It was quite a transition.
My advice to families considering this kind of trip is this: Even if you have some hesitation, trust that the experience will be transforming for your child and for your relationship with your child. My two granddaughters are totally different personalities, but the same positive transformation happened for both.
We had so many one-on-one reflective conversations about what we were experiencing and learning. It's a different and more intimate way of being with children.
The team members were incredibly kind to my teenagers. The leaders were such good role models -- caring and inclusive.
Meg V., Rock Point, AZ 2003; La Push, WA 2007
The truly amazing thing about this community is the pride, character, and sense of respect you feel being with them. They carry themselves with esteem. Being with them, you know they will not only survive, they will succeed, collectively using the resources available to them for the good of the whole.
Joyce, Pennsylvania; Kenya Participant
With the beauty, the simplicity, the strength and comedy of this place, each day becomes an adventure to be anticipated.
Gladys, Ontario; Kenya Participants
I learned much more that GCN is about the process of building long term relationships with communities, not necessarily about the process of "building!" It was truly priceless to be allowed to be on the 'construction site' with a bunch of indigenous people in Mexico. Tourists DO NOT get that opportunity-nor should they. We all believed WE TRULY MADE A DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF OTHERS.
Diana, Colorado; Two-time Mexico Participant
I have just this last hour arrived back home after what can only be described as an experience of a lifetime, the people at Jampaling were wonderful and I return with a feeling of accomplishment, and everlasting respect for a group of people who work so hard with such limited resources to achieve their goals.
David, Ontario; Nepal Participant
As a GCN volunteer you expect to fill the role of giver, giving of your time, efforts, money and heart. During a recent trip to Nepal, I felt more like a wide receiver for a pro football team, with countless blessings being passed my way! It started before I even left with support from a bunch of people, some of whom I don't even know, my sponsors through fundraising.
Cherril, New York; Nepal Participant
A positive growing experience that will unfold as time moves on. I do appreciate the warm hospitality of the local Navajo people and thank them for all they did to open our eyes and heart to their life, culture and values.
Jerry, Minnesota; New Mexico volunteer
It has become the most meaningful thing I've experienced in my life. It was more than a casual cultural exchange. I never felt like a tourist - I felt like I was coming home.
Ted, New York; New Mexico volunteer
The trip to Rock Point was a wonderful experience for me. Our team really "connected" and are talking among ourselves of doing other trips together! We all agreed we haven't laughed and sung songs like we did there for a long time. The Navajo people are wonderful, and we were able to share songs, dinner with them and they with us. We were able to complete the projects they had for us and still have lots of time for culture exchange.
Lynne, California; Arizona volunteer
My goal was to get lifted out of my personal and professional rut, to have my head and heart spun around and to land more solid and grounded. For the most part this happened.
Nancy, Vermont; Guatemala volunteer
Because of a scholarship provided by Global Citizens Network, I was able to spend two weeks volunteering in Guatemala, in a rural village called Llanos de Morales. This was my second trip volunteering in a developing nation (I went to Nicaragua two years ago), but my first time working with GCN. My experience was unforgettable and I would recommend it to anyone!
The best thing about the trip was getting really close-up pictures of horses. The hardest part of the trip was leaving Chirapa
Tana-Isabel, Washington; Peru youth volunteer
I wanted to be "in the middle of nowhere" and enjoy it as well as learn about the Quechua culture. My comfort zone has expanded and I enjoyed getting to know the people!
The most inspiring moment for me was receiving a genuine Quechuan percussion instrument as a gift from the community. It showed me that the community valued my presence and it is something that I will never forget.
David, University of Minnesota Participant; Peru volunteer
As I zipped into my sleeping bag, I reflected on this totally crazy, awesome experience, and in many ways wondered how (why) we are having so much fun. This is -- by far -- the best trip we have ever taken as a family and perhaps even my best trip ever. Everything is an adventure. We are living it rather than observing it. Amy S., Chicago, Guatemala volunteer