Wednesday, February 20, 2008

February 13-15 -- ABCRM Thailand Mission Team Projects in Chiang Rai and the Akha Village of Sansuk

Wednesday, February 13

Today, the two sub-groups of our ABCRM Thailand mission team (the “Crafts/Teaching Crew” and the “Construction Crew”) started working on their respective mission trip projects arranged by Chuck and Ruth Fox for us to do for the rest of the week to help Akha people that the Fox’s minister to in various ways. For the Crafts/Teaching Crew projects the rest of the week included –

o Beth Cook (with her previous experience in library management) helping Ruth’s Family Learning Center school staff to order and classify books for their library spread over several bungalow offices and classroom teaching purposes. Beth became friends with many of the FLC staff and students in doing this project, including IM-ABC Short-Term Missions volunteer Sandy Martin from Indiana. This was a full-time task through the end of the week for Beth that she thoroughly enjoyed.

o Carmen Ferguson working full-time from today Wednesday through the weekend in the Fox’s home-office to help them by updating Excel spreadsheets containing information the Fox’s need to send to ABC-IM staff members at Valley Forge This is office work that the Fox’s have needed to complete for some time due to time spent on their Chiang Rai ministry activities such as the Akha Crafts Store management. Ruth was elated that Carmen could do this work on her behalf.

o Barbara Fuller finding her calling during our Thailand ABCRM mission trip by doing Ruth’s suggested project of teaching Akha women staying at the Chiang Rai New Life Center (located next to the Fox’s home) to do many types of knitting using the knitting needles and yarn Barbara brought along with her on our trip. Barbara was amazed how quickly these Akha women learned how to make scarves, booties, and other knitted items in just a few days. She’s showing Chuck Fox a few knitting stitches she taught the New Life Center women in the photo on the right.

o During the February 13-17 mission trip project time, Beth, Carmen, and Barbara (along with Karen Van at the end of the week) helping the Akha Crafts Center staff do various tasks, such as rolling the new craft-item material purchased with part of the $4500 in ABCRM funds provided for our mission trip in-country projects on to rolls used for material storage. Our mission team Crafts/Teach Crew became friends with all of the Akha Crafts Store women (Iew, Mio, Pisamai, Luta, Ami, and Duen). No special team-building was needed to make this happen!

For our mission team’s Construction Crew (Bruce Cook, Carl Ferguson, Karen VanValkenburgh, and Kerry Hassler) now are staying in the Akha village of Sansuk along with Chuck through the rest of the week. Today they saw the “before” conditions of the Sansuk school’s eating area, kitchen, and dormitories that will be greatly improved through the use of some of the $4500 in ABCRM mission trip funds provided for our mission trip, including –

o Putting in of a new eating area and kitchen concrete floor (about 1800 square feet in total) to replace the current flooring where some areas are simply dirt. The open wall spaces in the eating area and kitchen will be filled with concrete block and bamboo lattice by Akha village workers as part of this project. These facilities are used every day to feed all of the Sansuk school’s 57 elementary- and primary-level students.

o Replacement of current old wooden eating tables with new formica-topped tables, as well as replacement of old shelving used to store eating plates with new shelf units. These tables and shelves were designed and constructed by Chuck Fox again using part of the $4500 of ABCRM mission trip funds provided for our in-country mission trip projects.

o Replacement of the wood tabletop of the kitchen’s food-preparation table with a new top that will improve the sanitation of the food that the Akha school students are fed.

o Painting of school dormitory bunk-beds by our mission team’s Construction Crew using paint paid for out of this mission trip’s ABCRM in-country project funds.

o Putting in bamboo framing in the boys’ and girls’ dormitories to support mosquito netting to protect the students from getting mosquito bites while sleeping. Although malaria and yellow fever are not a problem in the Sansuk village, the students’ health will be generally improved by this mosquito protection especially during the summer rainy season.

o Building of a covered porch area near the girls’ dormitory where they can dry their clothes on clotheslines during the rainy summer months instead of hanging them under an edge of a nearby thatched roof.
The Construction Crew met the Sansuk village Akha “headman” Tuliwat for the first time on Wednesday, as well as the Chiang Rai AKHA Foundation staff members, Chiang Rai University student volunteers, and Sansuk Akha adults who would be helping with the ABCRM mission trip projects. Tuliwat was the “project leader” for all of the various projects Chuck Fox had planned with him for our in-country mission trip projects, and our Construction Crew members are acting as their “labor servants” to help get the job done. In this way as it should be, the Sansuk school improvements the ABCRM mission trip project funds are paying for (and the Construction Crew labor we’re donating) will be “owned” by the Sansuk Akha people, not by our ABCRM Thailand mission team.

During this Wednesday morning, the Construction Crew learned how we will help construct the new concrete flooring for the school’s cafeteria/kitchen by carrying sand and stone in plastic buckets from where it was dumped about 50 feet from the construction site, and then help when needed to help mix the sand and gravel with Portland cement bags with hoes and shovels to create batches of concrete that each cover about 100 square feet. The mixing of the concrete by hand was very messy and tiring, and a lot of this work will be done by the AKHA Foundation staff and university student volunteers. Finishing of the concrete surface will be done by Akha workers from the village who are experts at doing this specialized work.

About 10 o’clock in the morning, the first concrete batch was mixed on the cafeteria floor and spread into one corner of the corners. Our Sansuk cafeteria/kitchen renovation project is underway !!!

Thursday, February 14
As the Crafts/Teaching Crew continue to work on their Chiang Rai projects under the direction of Ruth Fox, the Construction Crew continues to complete the Sansuk school cafeteria/kitchen project by helping to make more batches of concrete, carry concrete blocks used for the new kitchen walls being constructed by Akha workers, and painting the school dormitory bunk beds. It’s been a lot of work, but thankfully the weather has been relatively cool in the 50’s and 60’s under cloudy skies.

As the Construction Crew is sleeping in Sansuk guest homes with no heating, it’s been very chilly in the night with temperatures falling into the 40’s, but Chuck has brought along sleeping bags to keep us warm, and our Akha host families also provide us with warm blankets. We wake up every morning to the sounds of multiple roosters competing to see who has the loudest cock-a-doodle-do. Thanks to Chuck’s pre-trip suggestions, all of our Construction Crew have brought along ear-plugs to help sleep through the morning rooster-crowing.

The Construction Crew mission team members are now staring to make friends with the Sansuk school kids who normally walk to school about ¼ mile away \ at 7:30 a.m., and return in the afternoon from a full day of academic and Christian studies at 4:30 p.m. We have all found these kids are absolutely beautiful and delightful, at all times respectful to us and all adults they interact with, active in their play outside after school without having any video games or toys other than shared badminton and soccer sports equipment provided through ABC-IM funds.

Even more amazing is when the Sansuk school girls from grades 3 through 12 treated our Construction Crew team members to a display of their native Akha dancing after supper in the Sansuk village community building that was built several years ago thanks to ABC-IM funds. These beautiful Akha young women are made even more beautiful when the wear their elaborate Akha outfits that they make themselves usually in about one month, starting around the age of 10. They performed various types of traditional Akha dancing for us, including one dance where three or four each interlock a leg in the center and hop on the other leg in a small circle. They invited our Construction Crew team members to dance with them on Wednesday evening, but we were sorely lacking in our Akha dancing abilities! Chuck said that the young Akha women dancing for us every evening after dinner is a real treat since they are normally very shy about dancing for foreigners like us. It is almost impossible to not have a strong sense of Christian love for all of these Akha school kids that we see every day!

Friday, February 15

Today at the Sansuk village, we reached an important milestone in our Akha school cafeteria renovation project as the last batch of concrete was mixed to complete the new floor! We are now helping the AKHA Foundation, Chiang Rai university volunteers, and Akha workers to finish the new kitchen concrete flooring. One particularly difficult part of the kitchen project is to break up large rocks with a 20-pbound sledgehammer to level out one corner before new concrete flooring is spread over it.

Everyone working on this project (especially the Sansuk village “headman” Tuliwat) is very happy with our school cafeteria renovation project so far, with the new kitchen concrete floor to be completed on Saturday. The Construction Crew also continues to paint school dormitory bunk beds. During the afternoon, we took a work-break to learn how the Akhas make “mochi” by pounding raw rice put into a stone bowl with a large pole. It’s hard work to smash the rice into a chewy paste that the Akha then cook over a stove or open fire to eat after dipping small portions of it into a bowl of sugar. The Akha students and adults love it, but we non-Akha Construction Crew members can’t each much of this mochi at a time.

Also, our Sansuk village project team has now completed the frames for mosquito netting in the boys’ and girls’ dormitories. Chuck’s being tall (about 6 feet-6 inches) was quite an asset in securing the bamboo poles to the rafters as part of this project. The Akha kids are delighted when the see the new netting and also new bed pads after they return from their school day. Monday evening.

Also today, the construction of the clothes-drying porch next to the girls’ dormitory was completed by the Chiang Rai AKHA Foundation workers and Chiang Rai University student volunteers. Great progress is being made on our Sansuk mission trip projects!

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