The number “5” Translates into “Ha”. During a lesson, Drew, another volunteer started writing the number “5” over and over again. All the students started saying “Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.”

So I made it back to Mae-La. This time I brought over 2 new volunteers, April and Beth. We hopped on a bus about 9 in the evening and hopped in the back of a truck a little past midnight to make our trek to the village. The stars glowed in the sky, almost as an indication of the week to come. About 1 am, we arrived in the village, and prepared ourselves for the coming days.

We were asked the previous week if we would paint a mural at the school. When we arrived, Jed asked us if we could have it done within 2 days. The teachers had been busy preparing for government inspectors to come to the school. They would come on Wednesday and stay until Friday. Monday was our mural day. I came up with a simple design that all the students could help with, and by Monday evening, the mural was near complete. On one side of the building we painted a tree, and had leaves blowing around to the other half, where the silhouette of a person grabbed the last leaf. We started by outlining a few leaves, and the children and teachers grabbed paintbrushes and filled in the leaves. It was a wonderful experience – the children beamed with excitement, and the teachers and villagers loved it! While the inspectors were in town, after the students end of the day assembly, we had each student line up, dip their hands in paint, and put hand prints on the bottom, that way every student had a “hand” in the mural.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were art days. I gave a lesson to the 6th grade class. First a value study in charcoal, their first project was to draw a ball. The next day we practiced magazine facial features, and the final day we attempted self portraits (I had printed out photos to give them) – They rocked the portraits, and absolutely loved the lessons. Jed was really excited about it and said that the students wanted to have more art classes.

The inspection went better than expected. And because the 6th graders helped throughout the week with the inspectors, Friday evening the teachers prepared dinner for the 6th grade class. We sat in their outdoor cafeteria ate and sang karoake. It gave me shivers sitting with students, not knowing whether or not I’d see them again. After the children had left, we sat around singing karoake ourselves. Jed, started singing “Wind of Change,” by the Scorpians. Images I had taken throughout my trip played in a slideshow, and the lyrics read, “Take me to the magic of the moment, on a glory night. Where the children of tomorrow dream away… In the wind of change”. It took a lot out me not to tear up.

The next day as we waited for our ride out of Mae-La, the 6th graders were preparing for a picnic by the waterfall. Before they left, we gathered for a group photo, in front of the mural, and gave our farewells. All of them made sure to give us a huge hug. Another memory to hold on to.

It wasn’t until I arrived back in Chiang Mai that I was told I would be making at least one more trip to Mae-La. Drew is donating some money, and they have saved up to build a playground for the children! I cannot wait to document this project, and see the children’s faces light up again!

So it wasn’t goodbye afterall. Until next time Mae-La.



Prakriti Malhotra is the founding director of Inspire. She has over 12 years’ experience helping individuals plan their overseas volunteering trips whether it be for their gap year, a sabbatical from work or a post retirement adventure.
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