On the mountainous Wiang Pa Pao District, southwest of Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand, sits the Doi Wiengpa Witaya School. Practically a life-changer for 600 underprivileged children who attend kindergarten to secondary school, it also brought new revelations to over 40 CapitaLand volunteers who visited the school this July. They were there on a five-day volunteer expedition to make a difference to the children’s learning environment.
Ang Teck Yong, CapitaLand Mall Asia, Singapore shares, “I have lived for 40 years. Yet on this five-day trip, a nine-year-old girl taught me about contentment and how to care for the elderly. She walks 8km to school every day and back just so she can stay with her grandmother and look after her. We often get caught up with our first-world problems and forget what really matters in life. Because of this trip, I began to reflect on the priorities in my life.”
Working Across Communities
Doi Wiengpa Witaya School was built to provide basic education for the hill tribes of Chiang Rai with the hope that the new generation can rise above the nomadic lifestyles and their forefathers’ dependence on opium production.
In July 2014, CapitaLand’s philanthropic arm, CapitaLand Hope Foundation and Ascott Thailand donated new bunk beds and bedding for the school’s 70 boarding students. Going beyond donations, CapitaLand always encourages its staff to give back through volunteer work. So, a team of volunteers from Singapore, Thailand, China, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam spent five days in the village to improve the school’s facilities.
“Through this expedition, I gained better understanding of the company’s CSR initiatives. It is really fulfilling to be able to give back to the community,” Catherine Dela Cruz, The Ascott Limited, Philippines.
On the cards was school refurbishment work: leveling the ground near the kindergarten and casting new concrete flooring; painting and drawing murals on the walls; painting fun motifs on the pavements; and painting various parts of the school including the library, multi-purpose hall, and toilets. For many, it was the first time they were involved in such refurbishment works. But it was hard work that no one minded.
“We can donate money and give food but coming down here and spending time with the children is an experience that is irreplaceable,” said Lam Sui Chang, CapitaLand, Singapore.
Interacting Across Communities
Proving that culture and language were no barriers, the volunteers conducted art and craft sessions for the children. They taught them how to design picture frames and recycle bottles into cheerful decorative items. They also ignited the children’s imagination by introducing them to architecture through the use of colourful blocks.
“Though I was unable to communicate with the children, I could see from their eyes and happy faces that they were thankful and appreciative of the things that we had done. The expedition was really meaningful. All CapitaLand staff should participate,” said Ingrid Xiong, CapitaLand China.
The team brought gifts for the children as well. They gave out school bags filled with stationery, school shoes, and socks. Volunteers also served the children a hearty, well-balanced lunch.
“It was an unforgettable opportunity to be part of this expedition where I was able to do my part to improve the lives of the children. It showed me that the world can be a better place if people help each other,” said Baranee Pakdeeraprued, The Ascott Limited, Thailand.
Perhaps what the children enjoyed most was the Sports Day, a morning of games, friendly competition, and music and dance performances with the volunteers. The entire compound rang with their cheers and laughter and the camaraderie was evident, judging from how hard the teams worked to out-do each other.
Making Friends in the Community
The volunteers also took time to visit the children in their homes, bearing gifts of daily necessities and groceries. Though the homes were modest, the hospitality was first-rate and the volunteers came away humbled and touched.
Wilson Teng of The Ascott Limited, Singapore shares, “To get to one of the child’s homes, we had to travel for 20 minutes by a 4WD vehicle which traversed the hills and muddy terrains. After that, we walked for another 10 minutes before we arrived at her house. I cannot imagine how a 10-year-old girl walks this same route every day starting from 6am to get to school. Welcomed by the family and their neighbours, we sat on the simple bamboo flooring layered with straw mats where the family talked about their daily routine of working in the fields. Despite having only basic necessities at home, they are certainly rich in spirit and love. Meeting this family reminded me not to take things in my life for granted. I hope the girl fulfils her aspiration to be a teacher when she grows up.”
For the volunteers who gave of their time and efforts, they came away with the realisation that the five days spent in this small rural community in Thailand have left a lasting impact on the lives of its people. This is very much in line with CapitaLand’s credo ‘Building People. Building Communities.’