Rural Training Center, Thailand (RTC-Thailand)

Gearing Up to Go: Thailand Volunteer Pre-Trip Meeting

Nov 20, 2006

The RTC-TH / ESSI Thailand Winter 2007 volunteer team is gearing up for the 3rd year of REEEPP (Rural Environmental Education Enhancement Pilot Program). Saifon ang Gregory Lee will be leading (at press time) a team of 9 volunteers (in alphabetical order): Andy Arboleda, Melissa Kalel, Tuyen La, Saifon and Gregory Lee, Jennifer Redke, Erika Rodriguez, Margarita Rodriguez, Robert Rodriguez, Vienne Vu. This group of 10 volunteers has some interesting statistics:

The volunteers range in age from 7 to 60 years old (once again, demonstrating that the RTC-TH and ESSI work with youth of all ages!) This aspect of diversity is typical for both ESSI and the RTC-TH tend to be mixtures of, not only ages, but also of ethnicities, genders (60% female, 40% male), students and non-students, experienced and novice international travelers.

There are 6 returning REEEPP volunteers comprising 60% of the group. This is a good indication of the inherent quality. Having returning REEEPP volunteers gives added stability and continuity to the project. This helps to build the credibility of the project.

About 30% of the volunteers are certified NWF Habitat volunteers (1 Habitat Host, 2 Habitat Stewards). Their participation directly supports the commitment of the Na Fa Elementary School teachers to continue the REEEPP Habitat project.

Five of the volunteers (40% of the team) are Greg?’s Lee?’s former students. Four students took his classes at PCC (2 are currently enrolled).

Los Angeles Geographical Society (LAGS) Members make up 30% of the volunteers. The roots of the current REEEPP effort trace their roots back to the 1999 Summer volunteer project Greg led to Thailand. A follow-on effort in 2000 also involved the LAGS. So it is good to see the LAGS is represented in REEEPP.

More than half of the current volunteers have also served with Earth Systems Science Inc. (ESSI. Both Greg and Saifon were key leaders in ESSI until resigning their positions to spend more time developing and leading the RTC-TH. The presence of 4 other ESSI members on the volunteer team shows the strong collaborative spirit bonding the RTC-TH with ESSI.

Each volunteer agrees to use part of their checked baggage allowance to bring things for the project. ?“Normally you are allowed 2 checked bags. We ask the volunteers to carry 1 bag for the project. This helps us avoid paying shipping costs for project materials. On the way back, they [the volunteers] have the 2 checked bag allowance for all the treasures they acquire during the trip,?” said Safion Lee, trip co-leader.

?“Due to the request to focus on spoken English, we are seeking donations of children?’s books suitable for ages K-6,?” said Greg Lee. ?“We?’ve already gotten books from some of my former students and faculty colleagues. It is good to see people willing to share what they have with the students in Thailand.?”

Saifon and Greg are the Advance Team and will be leaving a few weeks ahead of the group. ?“We need to interview new host family applicants and inspect the homes,?” stated Saifon. ?“We want the experience to be mutually beneficial to both the volunteers and host families. The review / inspection doesn?’t necessary disqualify families, but we want the volunteers to know ahead of time where they will stay and what to expect. We also need to advise the host families about potential culture differences to avoid misunderstandings.?”

?“This is a two-way street,?” commented Greg. ?“We are preparing a photo roster with brief biographical notes from the volunteers. The host families get to know something about the volunteers before they meet. It?’s only fair. One of the fundamental tenets of the RTC-TH is ?‘mutual respect, mutual benefit.?’ So the advance work is necessary to prepare for smooth sailing.?”

The Advance Team also finalizes the activities and schedules with Na Fa Elementary School. This is to assure the activities meet the real needs of the students and teachers. ?“Once the activities are finalized with the school, the list is sent back to the volunteers. We want everyone to be comfortable with their participation. When everyone is working in their comfort zone, they do well and the project is a success. All of this makes it much easier for people to ?‘self-select?’ (volunteer) with us,?” says Greg.

Another vital function for the Advanced Team is to finalize the trip logistics. Rising fuel prices has forced price increases to cascade through the economy. The estimated budget for the trip is constantly being monitored. ?“We had to ballpark the trip price for the volunteers. The economic conditions are so variable now, but we are trying to avoid increasing the trip price beyond our estimate from a year ago,?” commented Greg. ?“Inflation in Thailand has been a roller coaster, the sudden change in government, and the recent floods in the north have all played a hand in destabilizing prices and the economy. So once we are on the ground with a firm group number [at press time, some volunteers were still deciding], Saifon can complete the negotiations and that will help lock down most the trip prices.?”

Erika Rodriguez from ESSI will lead the volunteers from Los Angeles to Thailand. She is in charge of the US logistics and coordinating the volunteer departure. There may be about 8 bags of project materials to take over.

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