By Kelly Morrow and Samantha Boardman: Former Interns at BABSEACLE
In January 2013, fourteen BABSEACLE staff and interns embarked on a 5 day teaching and camping trip from the 15th to the 20th with the law students and academics from the University of Phayao in Northern Thailand. The interns were a multi-national group from the United States, New Zealand, Laos, Vietnam, and Canada and included law students from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia.
We had been warned that we would be sleeping on the ground, in freezing conditions, using squat toilets and would have no access to hot water for several days. Our schedule was fickle and our facilities would be a constant mystery, yet this brief trip would be one of the highlights of the intern’s time with BABSEACLE.
Our objective was to run five Community Legal Education workshops for the law students while they were holding Children’s Day Activities at two regional primary schools . We faced numerous challenges including unknown class sizes, changing workshop times, complex lesson content, lost materials and ongoing translation confusion. But we persisted and the workshops received great support from both students and professors (probably swayed by fuzzy koala bear souvenirs handed out by Australian interns).
However, the most enjoyable interactions were outside the classroom. As many of the interns spoke English as a first language, we expected that cross-cultural communication would be our biggest challenge. Though not incorrect, we didn’t expect to find so many other ways to communicate and bond with the Phayao students and academics.
Time and again we clambered aboard a bus, the lolly bags came out, the guitars and drums were struck and the karaoke was raised to full volume. Though we couldn’t understand a word, the ruckus of students enthusiastic for life and enjoying their community involvement became contagious. We danced ‘Gangnam Style’ with the primary school children, played soccer with the law students by dusk and ate the most delicious food cooked over a camp-fire by the law lecturer (Ajaans) . We played card games and attempted to sing Thai pop songs with students late into the night, laughed when we were asked to model for their photography club and had an amazing dinner with the Dean of the Faculty of Law.
We may have slept on paper thin sleeping bags on cold hard tiles, in tents uplifted by tree roots and had the water turned off (twice!) so that we couldn’t take showers, but this didn’t bother us. Being immersed in the Thai culture, their love and gratitude for life expended to us, we learnt the greatest lessons of all – inclusion, support and how pro bono work through community involvement truly can effect change if we have a common goal.
Whether we are able to truly appreciate the impact that this intern-ship has had on our lives, the benefits will continue into our careers. We are changed for the better.
We would also like to give special thanks to the Phayao University Dean of the Faculty of Law , Ajaans and law students for your hospitality and kindness during the week that BABSEACLE interns spent with you.