31 Grade Eleven students and four teachers from the Prem
Tinsulanonda International School embarked on a unique and ground-breaking
project. They spent a week at the Paulong hill tribe village of Ban Pang
Daeng Nai near Chiang Dao, constructing check dams and preparing an
David with hill tribe children after introducing them to the world of
The origins of the project can be traced to the efforts
of His Majesty King Bhumibol, who launched an initiative to build check dams
throughout Thailand, and in this case, over 30,000 in the Chiang Mai
province. Villages suffer from low water levels in the dry season, and His
Majesty’s proposal serves to meet the need of keeping usable quantities of
water throughout the year in rural Thailand.
On the first day of dam-building, villagers and visitors
from Prem went to the local school, which served as a marshaling area for
600 Thai students who were trucked in from the surrounding area. After the
opening ceremony, Prem students helped to divide the Thai schoolchildren
into 100 groups, each with the responsibility of completing one check dam.
These dams were to be constructed along a two kilometer stretch of stream
that runs from the surrounding mountains through the village.
finished product of a hard day’s work - bamboo check dams dot the village
All the dams were built simply, yet effectively, using
natural materials. Workgroups sharpened bamboo poles with machetes and then
hammered them into the ground in two parallel lines. Longer bamboo poles
were then laid horizontally across the river bed and lashed to the vertical
sticks using, once again, bamboo strips. The newly formed frame was then
filled with rocks, dirt, and sandbags. With a hard-working team, one dam
could be completed in an hour.
student Alex carries a boulder to strengthen the dam at the village of Ban
Pang Daeng Nai.
Two groups of Prem students and teachers spent three days
each at Ban Pang Daeng Nai. They lived in bamboo huts, ate communal meals
outdoors, and worked side by side with the villagers. Under the guidance of
Track of the Tiger tour company, which has a close relationship with the
village and is working to promote “volun-tourism” in the area, Prem was
the first school to work with the people of Ban Pang Daeng Nai in such a
completing one of 100 check dams, Prem students enjoy the afternoon with
some of the village children.
The first group of Prem students built most of the dams,
and then surveyed an agro-forest trail to mark spots for improvement. When
the second group came in, they fortified the dams with extra sandbags and
stones. After completing this, they built bamboo railings and bridges on the
trail and carved out steps in the mountain dirt.
Janet and her students get down and dirty during their dam construction with
hill tribe villagers.
Students not only worked with the villagers, but lived
with them as well. After a day of lifting sandbags in the hot sun, Prem’s
Grade Eleven returned to the village to play games with the children of Ban
Pan Daeng Nai, teaching them how to play baseball. For everyone from Prem,
it was an all-encompassing experience. Although only an hour’s drive from
Mae Rim, this village was a world away.
One student, Nick Laine, remarked, “I never felt like an outsider. The
Paulong people were extremely friendly, helpful, and welcoming.” Being one
of the staff members on the trip, I felt that the most rewarding part of the
experience was working on a task from start to finish with people who are
from such a different background than our own. Getting sweaty, muddy, and
lifting sacks of stones together is being human together. Life’s lessons
aside, these 35 members of the Prem community worked for one special week to
bring vital water to a community here in the Chiang Mai province. According
to student Kinga Tshering, “It gave us immense pleasure to help the
villagers in our own small way.” That is certainly something of which to