Northern Thailand – Warm Heart, etc

Hello again readers,

Gerard and I are sitting on our balcony overlooking the Gulf of Thailand in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.  We just spent three days touring the amazing temples of Angkor.  A few days before that in Luang Prabang, Laos on the banks of the famed Mekong River.  This is now a UNESCO protected site, a charming place where the colonial French did their usual brilliant job of  architecture and planning.  It took this bit of repose to post our first blog about our stay in Thailand.  We have been so busy working, going on outings and adventures and sharing meals and evenings with other volunteers that we have had little time to ourselves.  Never had such a social life.

Since mid-January, we have been volunteers at Warm Heart Worldwide, a NGO (non-governmental organization), located about 90km north of Chiang Mai, Thailand’s large northern city.  The founders are Americans with a heart for helping Hill Tribe people be better prepared to live in a rapidly changing, modernized culture.  They currently house 37 children so that they can go to school, learn English, and see other opportunities that might be available to them.  They also have projects for micro-enterprise (silk weaving, coffee growing), projects to help the disabled, and many other things.

Visiting one of the many waterfalls with fellow volunteers:



An example of a typical staircase leading to a beautiful Thai temples (more photos to come):


Early on we spent two Saturdays in Chiang Mai checking and documenting containers of wheelchairs donated by Western countries for distribution in Thailand.


Gerard and I teamed with Lucas, the Director of the Project (the man with the blue shirt in front), a wheelchair expert who would shout with glee whenever one came through with features he knew about but had never seen.  There are some nice wheelchairs!


Though we went to Warm Heart thinking we were going to work on a project promoting fuel efficient and smoke-less stoves in rural areas,  during our first week in Thailand we attended an ECHO conference on sustainable technologies for the developing world with Michael Shafer, the WH director, where we all learned about biochar.  It is a kind of charcoal made from burning “biomass,” things like wood, bamboo, rice husks, corn cobs, at very high heat with little oxygen.  The resulting product, when crushed and composted, becomes a “home for micro-organisms” and an excellent soil amendment.  Biochar is also a means to sequester carbon in the soil that would otherwise go into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.  Read this short and excellent article if you’d like to learn more.

Michael was extremely interested in biochar as a means to help Hill Tribe farmers improve their soil instead of depleting it as they do with chemicals, burning, deep tilling. Gerard was a perfect fit for defining the project and creating the technology to burn, crush, etc. I took on the compost side of the project.  More about our project in a later post.

The Volunteer office at Warm Heart pictured below. There are currently twelve of us, mostly twenty-somethings (except for us) from US, Canada, Belgium, Holland, Thailand.


Two of the darling Akha girls living at the home.


One of the children’s dorms is below.


Thai staff members working on the new bathrooms.  These folks cover themselves from the sun and don’t waste any time.  This building went up within two weeks.


Here is our house in Pradu, a small village 6km north of Warm Heart.  I worked hard to clean this house out and make it liveable.  I knew it had potential.  Now we share with four other volunteers.  The blue bike is ours.


The sunset as we drive home in the evening.  My camera doesn’t capture that the entire thing is orange, from the burning the locals are doing “cleaning up” their fields, etc.  It sure makes for a spectacular image.


If you saw this waterfall in Disneyland, you would think it was fake.  Mineral-soaked water calcifies everything as it cascades down the hill (the white rocks).  No moss grows so you can safely walk the whole way up, and it is long.  So amazing and fun!  That is Amelie with us here.  She joined us in Thailand in March before going to her WWOOFing site, an organic farm that is part of  a private IB school near Chiang Mai (she was offered an internship there for the next school year and will be starting in August).


See below.  Aren’t these the most attractive garbage cans you have ever seen?  The whole thing is made out of old tires.  We are finding them in Laos and Cambodia as well.


More to come.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Kylie
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 06:27:47

    I love this–public health, engineering, fixing up houses… all so you!


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