One Man and a Piano

Expressing the artist in you

Expressing the artist in you

I was at the airport again today and had the pleasure to listen to a young man playing one of those ‘play me’ pianos in the public waiting area.  We had sat down to eat our packed lunch and placed ourselves next to the piano and talented pianist to enjoy the music whilst we ate.

Play me

Play me

Zoe immediately took her sandwich over to the piano and had a good look at what the man was doing.  She even started to move to the hypnotic tones of the jazz tunes being played.  I watched and wondered who first thought of this idea of placing pianos in public places for anyone to play?  The more I thought about it the more I loved the concept and continued watching to see what impact our pianist would have on other strangers in the waiting hall.

 

An American admirer

An American admirer

As I watched and also monitored Zoe, making sure that her busy fingers didn’t add any unwanted notes to a potential masterpiece, an American lady sidled up to the pianist and introduced herself.  She was quite animated and confident in her approach, immediately acknowledging the skills and passion of our pianist.  They struck up a common theme and chatted for a while, name cards were even swapped.  Meanwhile my oldest son had joined Zoe and the two of them had commandeered the piano as the two strangers were making plans.  I continued watching them talk at the same time cringing at the dreadful din being bashed out on the piano by Zoe and Jonah thinking I must intervene soon and save everyone from the terrible noise. Luckily the American lady suddenly shot off and the pianist re-focused his attention on the piano and set about on my two.

Twinkle Twinkle number

Twinkle Twinkle number

He asked them if they could play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and to my surprise Jonah started to play the favourite nursery rhyme. The pianist motioned Jonah to play a few octaves higher and then started to accompany him with a funky jazz bass version.  Suddenly my son was playing a Twinkle Twinkle duet with a random stranger and making heads turn in one of the busiest airport terminals in the world.

Patrick and a piano

Patrick and a piano

Isn’t it amazing how music and artistic expression and enthusiasm connects people. We only planned to be in the airport for a short while and never imagined meeting someone like Patrick – how do you plan for something like that – you don’t (but always look out for the opportunities).  I asked Patrick where he was going and what time his flight was.  He told me he wasn’t going anywhere, so I asked him if he was on his work break and if he did this everyday when he had the chance.  He said no, and that he had just seen his Japanese friend off and decided to hang around and the play piano for a couple hours.  We said a big thank you and good bye to Patrick and wished him all the best with his future plans (he is starting a film business).  We walked out of Heathrow Airport for the second time in one week but this time refreshed from the positiveness of personal connectivity and social interaction and privileged that we had met Patrick, the piano player.

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The Rice Challenge – An American Perspective

Contributed by Sara Menges

Proactive and Innovative

Proactive and Innovative

Thank you Paul Crouch for nominating me to do the rice challenge! And thank you to Robyn Fox for this wonderful idea of donating rice to raise awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in place of the ice bucket challenge. Since water is such a precious commodity and Los Angeles is facing a drought right now, I was especially pleased to be able to contribute to the ALS movement in this way.

With the Thanksgiving holidays coming up, I decided to donate my bag of rice to the Union Station Homeless Services (Union Station) organization. Committed to ending homelessness in the community, Union Station helps homeless men, women, and children rebuild their lives. Every year they also host a Thanksgiving Dinner-in-the-Park community event that provides holiday meals for homeless individuals, seniors, very low-income families, and those with no place to go during the holidays.

2013 Thanksgiving Dinner-in-the-Park Credit: SOSA PHOTO, www.pasadenanow.com

2013 Thanksgiving Dinner-in-the-Park
Credit: SOSA PHOTO, http://www.pasadenanow.com

I decided to call and ask if a big bag of rice would be useful for their kitchen staff and in preparing for the festivities. The response was very positive! The lady I chatted with on the phone loved the rice challenge idea and thanked me for thinking of Union Station. With this go ahead, I loaded my 50 pound bag of rice into a suitcase and rolled on down to the Adult Center I was advised to drop it off at. The staff at the center looked a little confused at first but laughter and smiles quickly proceeded after I explained the challenge.

Donating my bag of rice!

Donating my bag of rice!

This challenge was a joy to complete for the impact it would have on the center and for the impact it had on me. It never ceases to amaze me how therapeutic a random act of kindness can be. For the rest of the day, after the donation, I felt like I was walking on air! I also noticed a significant shift in the conversation I was having with my friend who accompanied me. Rather than listing all the problems he had to deal with that week, he was instead talking about the different things he could implement to tackle them more easily. It’s as if the whole experience allowed us both to reduce the stress levels in our body and flood it with more positivity instead. I guess Booker T. Washington had a point when he said “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”

To spread the message and joy that comes with this challenge, I am now nominating Cassie Pais, Elizabeth Williams, and Marissa Merrill. How will you donate your rice? Who will you choose to uplift? Can’t wait to see!

Thailand Reflections

Tan the motorbike taxi driver

Tan the friendly motorbike taxi driver

They often say that you won’t live anywhere better in the world as an expat than in Thailand, the Land of Smiles.  Having now lived and worked here for over 15 years I have definitely seen many people come and go, such is the transient nature of the expat and especially international teachers.  One thing that I have noticed is that people do usually return to Thailand, whether it is to visit friends, to holiday or to work again.  I had no idea what was in store for me or what to expect from the Thai people, their culture and their kingdom when I first left for Thailand in 1999.  I know that we will return, Thailand is our home, the place where I got married and also where my three children were born.  It is of course going to be difficult to leave and let go of the many pleasures that we have become accustomed to and take for granted but we also realise that it is time to re-connect with another home, we like to think that we are becoming a global family.

Love that Thinglish!

Love that Thinglish!

My oldest son likes to compare new countries that he visits with Thailand, to observe what is similar and what is different.  He is going to be in shock mid-November in the north west of England when the obvious differences hit him!  What makes Thailand such an amazing place is how easy it is, especially for families.  The Thai people are so welcoming and they love young children.  I will miss speaking Thai with them and getting myself into trouble as I get lost beyond the second sentences of a conversation.  I admire their appreciation and tolerance of a foreigner making the effort though, especially my local barber who I have had the same conversation with (in Thai) four times a year for the last eight years.

What a sandwich!

What a sandwich!

The Thai food is awesome of course but I have to say that one of my all time favourite discoveries on arriving in Thailand was Au Bon Pain.  The chocolate croissants are to die for and the steak and swiss cheese sandwich is mega – I couldn’t believe it when I found out they delivered as well!  I have had two of the sandwiches this week for old times sake and savored them as much as I did in the early bachelorhood days when they were part of the daily diet.  Au Bon Pain always got my mothers blessing as well whenever she visited as she always said, “they making a piping hot cup of tea.”

Ciao Khun John's

Ciao Khun John’s

The first place I ever drank a beer in Thailand was Khun John’s restaurant on the banks of Lake Mabprachan.  The Friday football lads took me there after my first sub-tropical kick-about and I had no idea where I was – I knew I was almost dying of heat stroke though.  The Heineken came in these huge bottles and seemed to be bottomless.  All I can remember is that I was told not to eat or drink after midnight as I had an important medical the next day.  The following Monday I got a note in my tray informing me I had failed the medical and had to attend another one that coming weekend.  I didn’t go to Khun John’s after football that Friday!  I have been many times since though as it is a family favourite eating place.  Any Thai food you want, it is tasty, quick and good value.  We went for the last time this week and coincidentally the waiter told us that Khun John has apparently sold up (after all these years) and it will become an Italian restaurant next month.  I can’t imagine Thailand without Khun John’s it has been a constant in our lives.

The shop that sells everything

The shop that sells everything

I am looking forward to the UK village shop again and buying a daily newspaper and a bag of Walkers Crisps (I have got to stop saying chips… and candies… and cookies) but it is not going to be Janya Mart.  There is something special about the Thai family shop that sells everything.  It is sad that a lot have struggled to survive since Seven Eleven has swept across the country but there are still a number out there and I always make the effort to use them.  Janya Mart is our local village shop and it is one of the best ways to connect with the local community and to use your Thai.  It is set up (like all other Thai family shops) to focus on social interaction with benches and tables outside and always an array of tempting snacks to choose from – it is the hub of the community.  You can buy a beer at anytime of the day, sit down on the bench and watch the Thai world go by. You can even drive your motorbike up to the shop and fill it up with petrol from a selection of bottles usually precariously placed on a wooden framed structure. Janya Mart has been a regular calling point for the last eight years and I will miss the interaction and constant smiling faces of both Janya and Nui who have witnessed our family grow and devour – God knows how many ice lollies!  I have explained to them that we are leaving on Monday but I am not sure if they have really understood, I will pop in before we go, wai, thank them and say goodbye.

If you liked this post you may also like this: 15 Years of Stuff

The Rice Challenge – a Scottish perspective

Post contributed by Karen Partyka

buying the rice

buying the rice

Over the last few months I had seen many of my friends and colleagues do the Ice Bucket Challenge but for some reason it did not feel right for me. I had read on Paul’s blog about the rice challenge that some people were doing instead. It started in Angola where water is scarce and it would not be appropriate to waste water so they changed it to the rice. Then last week Paul nominated me to do the rice challenge. I had seen Paul donate his rice but living in Scotland I knew it would be quite different. So first of all I looked online for local food banks and found one quite close. Unfortunately the first thing I saw on their website was an appeal for urgent items, there was 5 items and 3 of these were chocolate, brown and tomato sauces. I reflected on if you were truly desperate for food, would chocolate or brown sauce be one of your top things. I suppose it goes back to poverty in the developed world is a very different poverty than that in the developing world.

at the food bank

at the food bank

I bought my rice and visited the food bank with my mum, there was no big ceremonial handing over of the rice and the people working there were polite but not particularly talkative. I had wanted to find out more about who visited the food bank, what were their situations but this was not possible.

When I returned home I remembered seeing a woman being interviewed on the BBC a few months ago. Her name was Jack and was a single mum with a baby son. She had to give up her job as it was impossible to work and look after her child. She calculated that with the money from her benefits and her outgoing expenses she had £10 left each week for food. She took a different approach from visiting a food bank, she went to the library and started looking for recipes which were healthy but also kept within her budget. She then started visiting her local shops to find out what time they discounted their food each day and with this information she started to live her life with her £10 a week. Jack started her own blog with her recipes and has built her life from quite a humble start with her son but she demonstrated that working hard and being resourceful is the best teaching tool for her son.

Her website is http://agirlcalledjack.com

Jack and son

Jack and son

In comparison to this there are quite a few stories of families in the UK who are living on benefits but who seem to spend their money on unusual things in their circumstances. One example is a family with children in North Wales. They do not work and their only income is through benefits.  Each week they spend £15 on Sky TV, £32 on mobiles and £240 on shopping which includes 24 cans of lager, 200 cigarettes and a large pouch of tobacco. It astounds me that a family would spend so much of their benefits on lager, cigarettes and SKY TV.

I remember meeting a lovely man whilst I was in South Africa on the RSIS service project, he was the gardener at the centre. He was a gentle man who was a grandfather and was already in his 70s. He was very cheerful and did not ever give you any idea of worry or need in his life. But one day through general chatting he told me that he walked to work each day as it meant he saved the money of the bus. The walk was 3 miles each way, so 2 hours of walking each day just to save his bus fare. The money he saved was not huge but he told me that it all adds up. Would people in the developed world consider doing this to save a little bit of money, unfortunately I think not.

All people have to take responsibility for their lives and to better themselves. I wonder in the UK, do people just expect to be looked after. If there was no welfare state would there be a motivation that it is up to you to better yourself, not the government to provide.

It is a terrible thing in this world that in the developed world we have people in poverty, children in poverty and families visiting food banks but there are procedures in place to ensure a child will not die of hunger in the UK. If we saw a child living on the street in the UK it would be reported straight away. In many developing countries countless children live on the street and people walk by them each day as they slowly die of hunger without a second glance behind. Each year 2.6 million children die of hunger.

From ice to rice continued…

Jonah and Zoe giving their rice to Nui

Jonah and Zoe giving their rice to Nui

Who has their eyes on Nui’s ice-cream?

Our good friend in Angola, Robyn Fox, came up with the idea of the (bag of) rice challenge – instead of wasting precious water in Angola and doing the ice bucket challenge Robyn suggested donating a bag of rice to someone instead.  A wonderful example of thinking outside the box and being ‘innovative and proactive’, maybe we will see a GC Award submission from Robyn in the near future… an exemplar global mentor!

The girls getting their hair washed

I was nominated by Sarah Travis-Mulford to do the rice challenge after she had made her of rice to the Hand to Hand Foundation.  I have also been encouraging my two oldest children to do the ice bucket challenge ever since I nominated them in Sukhothai a number of weeks ago when I did the ALS ice bucket challenge – they have managed to avoid it all around the north of Thailand and Laos!  

Today they dipped into their own pocket money though and instead of suffering the shock of ice cold water agreed to buy a large bag of rice each and both chose to donate it to our friend Khun Nui.  We spent a lovely lunch and afternoon with Nui; Jonah’s highlight being ice-creams and Zoe’s having her hair washed and blow dried!You can read Jonah’s version of his rice challenge here.  He has now nominated: Morgan Howard, Ben Harrison and Nampetch Bennett for the rice rice challenge (see my nominations below).

I actually took my bag of rice to the Fountain of Life Children’s Centre last week and gave it to Kru Wannee.  I did explain to her what it is all about and I think she understood, I am sure it will all be eaten up and enjoyed either way.  Now it is my turn to nominate three people for the rice challenge and I choose: Karen Partyka, Sego Mokgothu and Sara Menges.  Three people in three different countries (Scotland, South Africa and the US), it will be interesting to hear back from them and finding out how they got on and who they have passed the rice challenge on to.

Kru Wannee accepting my bag of rice for the Fountain of Life

Kru Wannee accepting my bag of rice for the Fountain of Life

The Fountain of Life Children’s Centre with Kru Wannee

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The Fountain of Life Children’s Centre was the very first community partner that I was fortunate to engage with and learn from when I arrived to live and work in Thailand back in 1999.  It is a learning day centre for young children that do not (or cannot) go to Thai school, especially for children of migrant workers who have no ‘identity’ in Thailand. The centre was founded and is coordinated by the Good Shepherd Foundation, a group of amazing Catholic sisters who are dedicated to improving the education opportunities and living standards of children (and women) across South East Asia.

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The centre is largely funded by the Jesters Care for Kids, a community based group that raises funds and supports development projects specifically for young people in the Pattaya and Chonburi area.  The highlight of their busy calendar being the Jester’s Fair that takes place once a year in early September.

Sabrina at the Fountain of Life Children's Centre

Sabrina at the Fountain of Life Children’s Centre.

I have taken many student and teacher groups to the centre to learn with the children and staff there.  For a number of years part of our school induction programme for new staff involved a visit to the Fountain of Life and meeting the children and staff.  We always challenged the new teachers to immediately engage with the children and to find out who they are, where they come from and what their dreams are – language should never be a barrier or obstacle when learning through service and creating sustainable community partnerships.  The Fountain of Life also visited our school regularly and were included in numerous activities, projects and whole school events.  As part of the community partner programme at the school the Fountain of Life became the permanent learning partner and integrated into the curriculum planning for Year 1.

The Fountain of Life Centre

The Fountain of Life Centre

I have also taken many visitors to the Fountain of Life through work as well as personal friends.  Kru Wannee, the head teacher at the centre, is always very welcoming and understands the importance of community engagement and support.  The children enjoy meeting new people and learning where you come from.  They are always keen to demonstrate their English and sing songs or draw pictures with you.  The centre also makes a wide range of impressive handicraft items, for example cards, which are for sale and the proceeds support the running costs of the centre.

Kru Wannee on the left

Kru Wannee on the left

Kru Wannee is an amazing teacher and lead learner and another inspiring community leader whom I always look up to and try to learn from.  She has an extremely calm and reassuring manner and loves the work she does at the Fountain of Life for the children and her team of teachers.  She is a dedicated and passionate Thai educator and an amazing role model.  I asked her a few questions about her role and what education in Thailand means to her, please see below:

Why did you become a teacher? I would like to help poor children.  I love the children and teaching is a great job.  I really do love this occupation.

What do you think makes a good education? You must teach the children to do it themselves. Allow the children to have a good quarity of life and help them see the value of having a social mind and helping other people. Making sure that all the children can access education who are without  documentation or are from a different country.

What is special about the Fountain of Life Children’s Centre? All of the children have the right to development at the Fountain of life. The Senior staff and children have equality.  We give the power and opportunity and expect respect from the staff, parents and children. We work within a network to protect every child.

How can people support the Fountain of Life? Be a volunteer. Donate money in the bankbook and the office in Pattaya. Promote the center and tell people you know. Do activities with the children and take them on outings. Donate money for education.

What advice would you give people about living and working in Thailand? If you have time you can help us to play games  and sport  with the children and contact Sr.Jimjit or Sr.Joan. You can teach English or handicrafts once a week. Invite the people to visit the center. Contact other people to help the children and raise the funds to support us. Love the city and country you stay in and always help that area.

Nancy Gibson – she loves wildlife

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I have had the pleasure to work with Nancy Gibson, the founder of Love Wildlife Thailand, for a number of years.  This is a lady who is passionate about conservation and especially the welfare of our animal relatives.  Nancy does a great amount of work through education and working with schools and is always willing to visit and partner young people through environment based projects.  She is also an inspiring speaker and can engage large audiences as a key note or even spend the day working with children (and staff) of all ages as a facilitator.  If you are in the South East Asia region and are looking for a way to target your sustainable thinking and action Identity then get in contact with Nancy and the Love Wildlife team – they really do love wildlife!

Why did you start Love Wildlife Thailand?

Nancy: Wildlife was a passion of mine since I ended my pursuit to become a medical doctor in university. I had always been surrounded by animals my whole life and realised late in my undergrad that I wanted to work in wildlife. I did wildlife education for some time in the states and had the opportunity to get experience here in Thailand before going back to start my own “something related to wildlife” in the US. I had actually thought of the name before I moved to Thailand, but didn’t know what I really wanted to do with it at that point.

As I gained experience here working with wildlife vets I realised that Thailand needed more programs for wildlife education, far more than the US could ever need and decided to stay here and start my NGO.

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In what ways are you a global citizen?

Nancy: I have demonstrated being a global citizen by first and foremost, taking responsibility for my own actions and how I treat nature and the environment. Secondly, I would say that I continue to pass on the torch to the younger generation through the education programs I develop and through inspiring kids to do more. The Youth Ecological Network is an example of that, were I am creating an environment for students to take charge and own the programs within their schools and reach out to their communities to spread awareness and take action.

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Why do you think sustainable thinking and action is important in today’s schools?

Nancy: With the rapid deterioration of the environment and overuse from generations before (and even now), it’s definitely important to think sustainable in today’s schools. When we teach student’s to be responsible and make it a habit within the schools, student’s will often carry it on to their homes. This will in turn create a more sustainable future for generations to come. If we do not teach these things, our world will not be a very good place not too far in the future.

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How can schools and individuals work with and support Love Wildlife?

Nancy: Of course Love Wildlife always needs funding to survive and continue to provide programs that not only teach about the environment and wildlife, but also support the conservation efforts as well. Holding events to provide knowledge and outreach to the local communities are always a great thing to do. Many schools have jumped in on programs that they feel match their ideals or interests and have volunteered time to work on certain issues such as shark fin campaigns, dolphin issues and illegal wildlife trade. Supporting our new after school education program from grades 1-4 would (YEN Kids) also help in the sustainability of the organisation as well as give your students fun and interactive ways to learn about the many issues in wildlife.

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Nancy: Love Wildlife not only works hard at educating young students about wildlife, but push forward building a better future for wildlife in Thailand. We work closely with the Thai government in capacity building and improving the lives of captive animals.

Thanks to Nancy for contributing to the Global Citizenship Award website and sharing her thoughts.  Please do check out the Love Wildlife website and get involved, there is plenty to do!

See also Anita’s experience working with Nancy and the Love Wildlife team.