Forgotten Heroes Do Exist: A Journey in Omgoi

It all started when I overheard my father telling my mother about a medical trip that he would not be able to attend due to a conference. It would have faded into memory if I had not overheard the key word: “Omgoi”.

Omgoi? Here was a word that brought to mind crisp, cool air and morning dew, hill tribe villages, red dirt and the mighty crow of the rooster at the break of dawn. Albeit a largely undocumented province, past 2Develop trips with NIST to Maeramit village had landed this rural landscape a place in my heart. “Omgoi?” I remarked, “Sign me up!”

After some research, I discovered that the Princess Mother’s Medical Volunteer/ มูลนิธิแพทย์อาสาสมเด็จพระศรีนครินทราบรมราชชนนี (PMMV/พอสว) was established in 1964. The green-pocketed project’s main objective is to provide primary healthcare services in rural areas with scarce accessibility to healthcare facilities through mobile medical units, which includes doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists.

Ironically, I was neither qualified as a doctor, nurse, dentist nor pharmacist. I wasn’t a professor or part of the media team, either. In fact, I had not even obtained my high school diploma. Nonetheless, I was proud to brandish officially the title of “Contributing Volunteer”, and unofficially “Youngest And Least Medically-Qualified”.

Anxiety should have been inevitable. After all, I was going alone: no parents, no siblings, no friends. However, I found myself less apprehensive and more eager to make new friends and meet new people. Nothing on this adventure failed to exhilarate me: right from the very first step onto the small military plane, to the last four-wheel vertical drop down a mountainous precipice.

The first day was the easiest day – a few hours spent in a four-wheel drive void of any on-foot adventure. Several days and several kilometers of rigorous hiking later, we would lament it as “the day that brought us false hope”. There was a positive correlation between the number of days we had been there, the distance of the hike to the next village, and the mental motivation required to reach the new destination.

Every hour and every drop of sweat shed was worth it; for every village, children would line up outside the community center and offer each of us an individual chirrup of “Sawasdee ka” to the calls of “Mor ma laew (the doctor is here)”. I can still recall the moment I reached Mae Hong Tai fatigued and limping, yet somehow rejuvenated by the pride of being part of the PMMV.

True, I could not help out the nurses in communicating with the Karen villagers, I could not help the doctors, for my knowledge of diagnoses was limited, and I could not help the dentists, who extricated decayed tooth after tooth and mopped up seeping blood. However, I was not useless. I found my home in the pharmacy unit.

I helped out at anything I could: from packaging pills, writing dosage labels to handing over appropriate medicines at appropriate times – seemingly menial tasks, but there’s only so much an unqualified volunteer can do. After a while, P’Jack – the Omgoi Hospital pharmacist – put me in charge of the children’s medicine. P’Kee – another pharmacist – taught me the names and classifications of each strangely labeled bottle. Dicloxa, Amoxy, Salbutamol, CPM…by the end of the trip, I had mastered what seemed like an entirely new language.

In the second village, I witnessed a lymph node surgery. The man, probably in his mid-50s, was lying supine on an impromptu operating table made of wooden desks crammed together and draped in a single sheet of plastic. Surgical lighting consisted of two cellphone flashlights held by one doctor, while the other doctor wielded a scalpel. The metallic stench of blood hung heavy in the air. In that moment, I thought of the sleek, high-tech operating rooms back in Bangkok. The operation’s magnitude was overwhelming: the risk of complications and the complete absence of emergency aid. After all, there was no ambulance waiting around the corner. My newfound respect for those doctors flourished.

Forgotten heroes do exist. Like the doctors, dentists, pharmacists and nurses, the four-wheel drivers were also volunteers. They became our sole reliance in delivering medical supplies, food and our baggage. I did not realize their significance until I took the drive to the final village. In contrast to the smooth, tarmacked main roads, the potholed, winding dirt paths we took were made worse by overnight rainfall – at one point, a landslide had impeded upon sections of the road, making it necessary to forge a new path in an elaborate scheme of excavating, roping and heaving. Every few seconds, a different voice would be heard from the walkie-talkie: “Slippery path up ahead!” “Push on the count of three.” “Fourth car, are you okay there?” Their teamwork was impeccable and we would be nothing without them.

It’s peculiar to imagine how a last-minute decision that I volunteered for three days in advance, has the gravity to remain with me for the rest of my life. Likewise, it’s also peculiar to envision how a three-hour mobile clinic in a remote village has the potential to heal a villager for the rest of their life. Not only did I gain new knowledge in medicine; I also became the newest generation of a fifty-year legacy, established under the compassion of the Princess Mother.

Sure, the relentless travel occasionally put me on the verge of giving up: my body ached, the shower was numbing and there was still a hike and a village to go. It’s torture. But then I think of all the villagers, most of who will live their lives without setting foot beyond their settlement, let alone a hospital. I think of the medical care we delivered, and the lives we improved.

I realize, finally, that the motivation to tread onwards is not in my head. It’s in my heart.

Beyond Giving: The NIST Microcredit Bank

Poverty and the cycle it perpetuates through generations represent an age-old problem that many view as a constant in life. A group of students and teachers at NIST don’t believe that a solution is so unfathomable, and they are tackling the issue head-on through the NIST Microcredit Bank (NMB). Created as a student-run service group with the aim of supporting all members of the NIST community, the NMB offers debt relief, business loans and scholarships for the children of the school’s support staff.

Based on the work of Mohammed Yunus, winner of a Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in microfinance, the NMB initially focused on providing small business loans with very little interest to support staff at NIST who sought to open their own businesses. This focus gradually shifted to providing education-based debt relief through scholarships for the children of those staff members, aligning to NIST’s belief in the transformative power of learning, and contemporary research in sustainable economic and social development through education as opposed to simple philanthropy.

Though basic schooling for all children in Thailand is free in principle, extraneous costs even in small public schools put it out of reach of thousands of families, particularly those with multiple children. In the words of the microcredit bank members, “It is unacceptable to be students of an academic institution that permits those who support our education to struggle to afford an education for their own”. They view caring for all members of the NIST community as a fundamental responsibility, one that will ultimately allow families to be enriched through education.

2016 is the fourth year that the NMB has provided scholarships to children of support staff, and also represents the largest number granted thus far: 33 in total. The benefits of these scholarships greatly help to alleviate the burden of the costs associated with schooling in Thailand, enabling families to afford the best education they can provide without the financial sacrifice that usually comes with it.

Driven by the success of their work, the NMB continually seeks to raise funds through various school events and regularly receives donations from NIST staff, the NIST Parent-Teacher Association (NIPTA), parent groups, student-run groups and the student body itself. More importantly, the students recognize that monetary donations ultimately have a limited scope. The group meets weekly to find ways to connect and bring the focus back to the community and their role in its continued growth.

Looking to the future, the microcredit bank is continually looking to improve and identify ways to further engage staff, students and parents. In the meantime they aim to enrich the lives and livelihoods of all members of the NIST community through their unique work, which represents a first among international schools in Thailand. Head of School James MacDonald captured this passion best as he spoke to this year’s scholarship recipients: “Even though you may attend other schools, NIST is also your school, and you are an important part of the community here”.

NIST Unites for Pinktober

On Thursday, 9 October 2015, NIST International School was proud to host its annual Pinktober event. Now in its fifth year, Pinktober aims to raise awareness of the prevention and treatment of breast cancer. It is held as a fundraising event with the goal to directly affect our school community by supporting and contributing towards the annual health screenings of our female support staff.

This was achieved through the hard work of our parent-teacher association (NIPTA) in partnership with the Physical Education (PE) Department, who had organized numerous fun events and activities throughout the day. This helped to promote a genuine sense of community and enabled everyone involved to rally behind a great cause. Singing and instrumental performances were staged, numerous sports were played, pink pizza was eaten, students of all ages shared a meal and 480 pink shirts were sold and worn in a show of unity. This occasion provides us with the opportunity to educate and inform our staff, students and larger NIST family about breast cancer and women’s health on a day where even the rain could not dampen spirits or the good mood.

Thanks to the generous support given by the community through donations, sales of cupcakes, pink shirts and other merchandise. NIPTA, along with the PE Department, were able to raise over 190,000 Thai baht, which will go directly towards the cancer awareness programme and free health screenings for our female support staff. Above all else it shows that when given the opportunity, our community has the strength and kindness to rally in support of a worthy cause.

Nepal RISE: Earthquake Relief Campaign

Donate to the Nepal RISE campaign online.


With the current humanitarian crisis in Nepal, we know that many are eager to help and are actively searching for effective outlets to channel their support. NIST International School and the JUMP! Foundation are partnering in the launch of Nepal RISE, a global effort to increase awareness, generate support, and raise funds for the communities and people affected by earthquake in Nepal.

Nepal RISE is a global movement, with events happening in Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong and hopefully other locations. The goal of the initiative is to raise USD $100,000 that will go directly to the International Medical Corps (IMC), which is currently working on the ground in Nepal.

Nepal RISE – Bangkok will have three components:

  1. 4 May: Nepal Information Evening at NIST International School – Please RSVP Here
  2. 5 – 16 May: Community-hosted events throughout Bangkok in support of the Nepal Earthquake Relief
  3. 17 May: Nepal RISE Benefit Concert at NIST International School – Please RSVP Here

 

Nepal Information Evening (Monday, 4 May)

This Monday, 4 May from 6:30 – 8:30 PM, Nepal RISE will launch with a community information meeting here at NIST International School. This is an opportunity to learn more about the needs of Nepal in the short, medium, and long term, as well how the international community can rally our support appropriately and sustainably. This meeting will also feature a live video call from IMC staff on the ground in Nepal, to receive accurate real-time information about their current needs.

Bangkok Community Events (5 – 16 May)

From 5-16 May Bangkok community members will host a variety of awareness events to support the Nepal Earthquake Response. Please post event information to the Nepal RISE Facebook page.

Nepal RISE Benefit Concert (Sunday, 17 May)

On Sunday, 17 May Nepal RISE will culminate in a fundraising event: a benefit concert with live music, delicious food provided by various Bangkok restaurants, raffles, and speakers. Donations will be accepted at the entrance, 100% of which will go to IMC’s relief efforts in Nepal. A percentage of profits from food vendors will also be donated.


Want to be involved?

We’re looking for people to help in the following ways:

  • Musicians to perform at the benefit concert on Sunday, 17 May
  • Food vendors to set up stalls at the benefit concert on Sunday, 17 May
  • Volunteer event staff at the benefit concert on Sunday, 17 May
  • Items for raffle prizes
  • Items for the silent auction

If you are able to support with any of the above items, email us at NepalRise@jumpfoundation.org. For more updates on events in Bangkok or globally, and to share your own events, please visit our Facebook page.


 

Donate to the Nepal RISE campaign online.

CIS Recognizes NIST Graduate with International Student Award

International-Student-Award-Winner-Chakrapoj-Bos-ChitwannapaThe Council of International Schools, one of the three organizations through which NIST International School is accredited, recognizes a small number of students worldwide each year with the International Student Award. Acknowledging the contributions of those who have “demonstrated a clear commitment to sustained interaction with students of the other nationalities, languages or ethnic backgrounds in a spirit of international understanding and cooperation”, the award encourages students to reach out to others in their communities, identify issues, and initiate creative, sustainable solutions. This year Chakrapoj (Bos) Chitwannapa, a member of the Class of 2014, became one of only a small number of students worldwide to receive the award.

As described on the CIS award page, “Bos travelled to Maeramit Village in Om Goi District as part of a CAS trip where he participated in the preliminary stage of community development. This has helped him gain first-hand experience in learning about development and applying development tools in a rural village environment. Bos did some excellent work facilitating the needs analysis process, and the school was impressed with the leadership he has shown. Bos will continue to work on the project with other NIST students and teachers, as well as with other schools, so as to help form a development project that will benefit the village in a sustainable and beneficial way.”

Congratulations, Bos, and we wish you luck as you leave NIST and begin a new journey in university!