Rural Training Center, Thailand (RTC-Thailand)

Attention Winter 2007 Volunteers

May 14, 2006

January 2007 seems a long way off. But the Thailand Winter 2007 Volunteers should be thinking ahead and planning for the future. Determination and perseverance are the keys to attaining long-range goals. Gregory Lee, RTC-TH co-founder made several independent trips to Thailand 5-years prior to organizing and conducting his first Thailand volunteer effort in 1999. The current Winter 2007 program is a direct result of this persistent effort. Amazingly, until marrying Saifon 4 years ago (she is the other RTC-TH co-founder), he had no direct connection to Thailand.

For many volunteers, the $2000-$2500 trip cost is a major hurdle. ?“But it all depends on the perspective and the persistence of the individual participant,?” say the Lees. ?“We work on some very basic principles: mutual respect, mutual benefit, and we function as a non-profit---we are not chasing after dollars. If we can reduce the trip costs, the savings go directly to the participants. Without them, we don?’t get full benefit for the project.?” The goal was to price all trips at about $100 / day (to include international airfares, Thai domestic transportation, room / board, tips, entrance fees). The only additional costs for the volunteer might be for a passport and personal spending during the trip. ?“Last summer (2005) the project was an 18-day trip for $1900,?” according to Saifon. ?“It?’s hard to find a group package tour at that price.?”

The Lees advice to potential volunteers is to ?“set your goal to go and stay focused.?” For example, the Winter 2007 trip is being planned for Jan 3-20, 2007. That means by Dec 1 or so, full payment may need to be completed to assure booking the international airfares. With 199 days to go (as of the press date of this article, 14 May 2006), based on the $2500 price (to be conservative), you need to save $12.56 / day. If you use the lower figure of $2000, you need to save $10.05 / day. Setting a smaller target each day is more attainable than looking at the total of $2000-$2500.

?“What it comes down to is ?‘How badly do you want to go??’?” say the Lees. It?’s all about desire, motivation, determination. ?“Pinch pennies, scrimp, cut out the snacks, do without things that are absolutely unnecessary. You have to critically assess what is a want and what is a need.?”

All volunteers should begin to get a passport or check to see it will be valid for 6-months AFTER the project. Medical preparations (vaccinations, etc.) should be started ASAP. Some vaccination series take a while to complete. "You don't want to wait to the last minute to find out you have a reaction. Why start the trip off with feeling sick?" said Saifon. [Note: Trip preparation information is in the Preliminary Trip document in the PDF section of this website.]

One frequent question posed to the Lees is why they don?’t seek outside or government funding for their projects. ?“The world is full of people with good intentions seeking funding for their projects. The funds are limited. With so many people chasing the limited funds, we figure we choose to use our time and energy on the project and people. We don?’t mind spending our own money on what we believe. If you wouldn?’t spend your own money on your own idea, how can you expect others to give you their money to spend for them??”

Both Greg and Saifon grew up instilled with a similar basic idea: working toward your goal. ?“In so many instances, when people get things for free, they tend not to value or appreciate it as fully as the things they had to work hard to achieve. So our projects are designed this way. Using the concept of mutual respect, mutual benefit, all project participants ?“pay?” according to what they can afford. For most Americans, their higher standard of living makes them more capable to earn the international airfare. For most Thais, with a much lower standard of living and earning power, it is easier to provide room / board, materials, time / labor for the project. No one gets a free ride. All RTC-TH staff are unpaid volunteers. About the only people in the RTC-TH with a salary are the family living on the demonstration farm---and we pay their salary out of our own pocket,?” say the Lees.

Small wonder that the Lees have so much credibility when talking about the RTC-TH and the projects. This is clearly not a job. It?’s a lot of work with no pay. You certainly don?’t get rich doing this. So why do they do it? ?“I am not sure exactly how to explain it,?” replies Gregory. ?“I like to be useful. Using my knowledge in a practical way and sharing it to empower others to improve their lives gives me satisfaction. I suppose that is why I got into teaching.?” For Saifon, the RTC-TH is a bit more personal. The RTC-TH is based in her home village. Her father was a farmer. His long fight with cancer ended in death and a huge debt for the family. ?“We almost sold the farm to try to pay the bills. My mom and sisters were convinced it was the only way. I convinced them to keep the farm,?” recalls Saifon. ?“After doing the 1999 project and learning more about the environment, I got more and more convinced that the training Greg was doing was a good way to help other poor rural family farmers. His grandfaher left China during the famines trying to find gold. Poor starving farmers can be found everywhere. We can't change the world, but we can help some of these farmers, so that's what we do. We began to implement some of his ideas on our family farm. It has now become a focal point for the RTC-TH effort and serves as the demonstration farm where others can come to learn. If nothing else, they can see the results of what we do. Sure, we don?’t have a perfect set up, and we still have much to learn. But even with the small base we started with, everyone in my family sees the difference in a few short years.?”

?“The key,?” say Gregory, ?“is to not chase after money. Small farms are seriously under capitalized to compete with agri-businesses. Striving to feed your family, self-sufficiency, is really the goal. Sustainability comes into play to the farm can continue over the years for the family to continue. It is all about family life. It isn?’t about money. Money is like time; you will never have enough of it. But you only get one life to live, and you can enjoy it more by being comfortable, eating good food in the company of your family. All of this is wholly consistent with the basic 5 sila of Buddhism. In that sense, Thailand is a good place for us to try to start this effort.?”

What?’s in it for the participants? Well, everyone comes from a different perspective. And there are many facets to the RTC-TH projects. Education is at the heart of the RTC-TH. Included in that is a sense of sharing and caring. For many Americans, the international cross-cultural exposure like this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Gregory has led a number of international trips for the LA Geographical Society. People returning from the trips marvel at the educational value, the thorough organization, and for many experienced travelers, total amazement of going places off the beaten path to make contact with local people and never seeing other tourists in the area.

Jeff Bancroft (a former student of Lee?’s, who help organize / conduct a trip to Egypt) conjectured: When you consider that many Americans don?’t have passports, you have to wonder about those who do. Take away the diplomats and government travelers, subtract the military (they have special passports), and those with passports becomes an even smaller number who are actually travelers. From that perspective, the world view from the US is very, very limited indeed.

Dr. Teresa Keeler, an English Professor at Pasadena City College summed it up very simply: ?“If you have a chance to travel with this man [Gregory Lee], do it!?”

Note: Preliminary Winter 2007 trip information is available in the PDF section of this website.

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