Byram teen takes community service interest to Thailand

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  • Kaitlyn and newfound Thai friends Photos courtesy of Kaitlyn Andoelna

  • Kaitlyn at the Patara Elephant Farm with her elephant for the day

  • Working at the elephant farm

  • Painting in Chiang Rai

— When the opportunity arose for Lenape Valley Regional Junior Kaitlyn Andoelna to spend almost a full month in Thailand on a community service trip, she was all in! Accompanied by 23 other high school students and trip leaders from across the country and Canada, the good will ambassadors set out for the experience of a lifetime. The program, offered by Westcoast Connection 360, would have Kaitlyn and her fellow travelers exploring Thailand, north to south, up close and personal for the experience of a lifetime.

Spending the first few days immersing themselves in all things Thai, Kaitlyn and her new found friends visited some of Thailand’s most beautiful temples and holy sites, including the Grand Palace. While further familiarizing themselves with the Thai culture, customs, religion and the fabulous cuisine, the global adventurers also learned about Thailand’s history from their guides as they took advantage of several local modes of transportation including the skytrain, canal river boats, buses, vans and the famous Thai tuk tuks (think wacky races!). After getting the feel for the Thai culture, it was time to roll up their sleeves and get down to business.

The group set off for, Chiang Rai, located in the northernmost region of the country, and made the Ban Huaymaesai School, their first community service stop. After spending their first day sprucing up a very long wall/fence with some bright and much needed paint, the group was rewarded tenfold when they spent the next day engaging and interacting with the Thai children. “The children, like the Thai people as a whole, were so kind and respectful to all of us, and very appreciative for all of our services”, said Kaitlyn.

Community service project #2 would take the global ambassadors to the much more remote and rustic area of Mae Salak. This project would require the epitome of teamwork as well as challenging physical labor. Faced with 40 bags of cement a huge pile of sand, the group would be paving a playground/courtyard for the Lahu Tribal Village. Working in assembly line formation, the students worked diligently and efficiently without any of the modern conveniences of their homeland, according to Kaitlyn “I’ve never had a workout like it! The fruits of their labor were evident in the eyes of the villagers, who showed their appreciation by inviting the group to join them in a meal together, as one big happy family.

From here it was on to Chiang Mai for the third leg of the community service project; this time Kaitlyn and her fellow trip mates were challenged to teach English at an elementary school. “I have a whole new respect and appreciation for teachers and all they do. Keeping young kids engaged and having fun is not easy.”

The group wrapped things up in Chiang Mai with a day at the Patara Elephant farm, where each of them were assigned their own elephant for the day, baby elephants and all! Aside from feeding, washing, riding and playing with their elephants, they group was educated on the changing role of the elephant over time. “This was the ultimate highlight of the trip. It was the kind of experience that you know will last a lifetime, it was amazing.”

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