Rural Training Center, Thailand (RTC-Thailand)

The Passing of a Volunteer: Robert Rodriguez

Apr 26, 2008

We mourn the passing of Robert Rodriguez, a two-trip American youth volunteer in the REEEPP (Rural Environmental Education Enhancement Pilot Program at Ban Na Fa Elementary School.

The details of his passing are not as important as the memory that he took time and made an effort to be part of doing something good for others. Robert came into REEEPP through his sister, Erika Rodriguez who was a long-time volunteer in many community service projects. Erika mentioned that her mother always encouraged family members to be active in their community and to serve as volunteers.

REEEPP began during the formative stages of the RTC-TH (Rural Training Center-Thailand) under the auspices of ESSI (Earth Systems Science, Inc.) in 2004. The pace accelerated when the first American volunteer team came to Ban Na Fa Elementary in summer 2005. This was the first time that Robert, Erika, and Andy (Erika?’s son) came to Thailand. (Other American volunteers included Connie Beck, Elaine Davis, and Dominic Varona.)

The American volunteers readily made many new friends at the school and in the village. During this trip, Robert learned about Thai culture and developed an appreciation for the country and Thai people. This cross-cultural exposure was one of the many goals of the trip.

Robert, Erika, and Andy returned as volunteers in Jan 2007. This time they were joined by Margarita Rodriguez (the mother of Robert and Erika). Many cultures have a strong family focus, and the Thais were impressed by the fact that almost an entire American family volunteered for REEEPP. (Alex, Erika?’s husband was back in Los Angeles working to support the effort and paying the bills.)

During both REEEPP visits, Robert participated in various activities intended to encourage Ban Na Fa Elementary School students to speak English. Interactive games, story reading and telling, hikes, and other activities brought native English-speakers into a small rural village in a remote northern Thai province. Though the projects were limited to one week each time, those were very memorable moments for everyone, Americans and Thais. Since there were no hotels in the area, the American volunteers stayed with village families who volunteered to host the Americans. This added contact enabled further cross-cultural exposure.

?“Travel is a special kind of education.?” This slogan was used on many trips organized by the REEEPP leaders, and it certainly applied to the REEEPP volunteers. The added benefit was the simple fact that these American volunteers traveled nearly half-way around the world, and their travel brought a ?“special kind of education?” to Ban Na Fa students and residents.

Robert?’s young life came to an end at age 21. They say that there never seems to be enough time to get things done. And certainly, to have life end so early is sad. But rather than dwell on the sorrow and the details of his passing, we prefer to think of the time well spent. So in bidding Robert farewell, we send our thanks to him for spending some of his time helping us in REEEPP and trying to make the world a better place. May he rest in peace.


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