The Maeramit Development Group: Service Learning in Action

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Over the course of the past year, NIST students and staff have taken three trips to Omgoi, Chiang Mai to work with the villagers of Maeramit in improving the quality of life in the village. The growth of the project has in part resulted from following the 5-stage model of service learning. This framework has enabled them to critically reflect on their work to date, and also assess the evolving needs of the villagers. Looking forward to the fourth visit, they have provided a full analysis of their progress for the NIST community in the context of the service learning model.

NIST Maeramit Development Project - Villagers

The NIST students who attended the first trip to Maeramit knew very little about the village. Over the next three nights, they were involved in a comprehensive needs analysis of the village and it surroundings. This included walking around the area, observing and making basic maps. It expanded into making a calendar of village life and agriculture, and an inventory of assets.

After interviewing many of the villagers, the next step of investigation comprised meeting groups of children, women and men to find out about their particular needs. Their understanding also grew through experiencing the living conditions firsthand, including a lack of electricity and functional bathrooms. This fostered a feeling of empathy and a bond with the villagers, which ultimately became a significant motivator in driving the project forward.

The final stage of the investigation was a community meeting in which NIST students facilitated a session to determine the top five developmental needs of the village (as outlined in Action). These needs were the result of their initial research and collaboration with the villagers, and became the focus of the development project.

Upon returning from the first trip, the students created a social enterprise called the Maeramit Development Group (MDG) in order to address the development goals. This necessitated further investigation into the issues and formulation of possible solutions. The students split into groups, each focused on one of the selected goals, and began to prepare projects to help the village. The aim of the second trip in December 2013 was to carry out further investigation and project preparation. A group of 22 students spent another three nights in the village, investigating in greater depth and clarifying the project’s aims and objectives.

Following the second trip, the students possessed a solid grasp of Maeramit’s needs and prepared to take action on the third trip, which took place in June 2014. Upon reaching the village, each group began to carry out their tasks.

NIST Maeramit Development Group Goals

  • Safe & sanitary drinking water: This group wrote an official development proposal and sent it out to the NIST community, enabling them to obtain donations of approximately USD $10,000. This was enough to take action in collaboration with the villagers and the local government. The project included the construction of small collection dam, with three kilometers of pipes filling it with fresh water. This provided the village with its very first source of safe water.
  • Sanitation & hygiene improvements: The students tasked with this need also drafted a development proposal and submitted it to NIST’s Development Bank, another student-run organization that provides loans to service groups through microfinance. With the USD $2,000 they received, they were able to buy the materials needed to construct eight bathrooms, which were built during the visit. Like the dam, this was a first for the villagers.
  • Promotion of safe waste disposal: During the third trip this group held a community meeting, at which time they obtained support from the villagers to start to implement a waste recycling scheme. They are now developing a more detailed plan for a sustainable programme that will be implemented during the fourth trip.
  • Provision of educational opportunities: While Maeramit has a school, the two dedicated teachers struggle to meet the needs of 77 students across six different grade levels, all learning together in one room. No education is provided beyond grade six. Recognizing that the villagers had no learning opportunities beyond the classroom, the NIST students sought to obtain a large number of that the children could take home with them. One major hurdle to overcome was the fact that approximately 80% of the houses in the village have no electricity. To overcome this, money was obtained to provide all of the children with solar lamps, allowing them to read in the evenings for the first time.
  • Increasing agricultural opportunities: The village is dependent on agriculture and most households rely on subsistence farming—growing enough food to survive and generating very little income. This often leads to food scarcity and becoming caught in a poverty trap. The Omgoi climate is favorable for coffee growing, so the student group chose to help the villagers begin growing coffee as a source of income. They lobbied NIST administrators to switch the coffee used at the school to beans sourced from the village. Profits from the sales of the coffee will be used to buy supplies and provide expertise to help the Maeramit farmers develop coffee plantations. Within three years the coffee from the village could be used as a fair trade coffee product.

NIST Maeramit Development Group - Constructing Bathrooms

Reflection has been an integral part of the trip and project. Through the investigation and preparation phases of the trip, students deepened their knowledge and refined the plan of action. After the third trip the MDG has analyzed how successful the actions have been and the progress of each development goal. The conclusions are being used to drive the planning and investigation for project implementation on the next trip.

Students have also completed more formal reflections for the CAS component of the IB Diploma Programme. Though this originally included simple written reflections, more authentic methods were used during the third trip. Each project group created a video reflecting on what they had accomplished and making plans for how to progress further. Students then engaged in an individual four-square reflection and, on the final hike upon leaving Maeramit, made individual videos reflecting on their personal experiences.

Over the course of the three trips and subsequent work with the MDG social enterprise, students have continually worked to drive the project forward, demonstrating their knowledge and skill through their careful preparation and execution. More importantly, they’ve demonstrated their ability to connect with others, working alongside the residents of Maeramit as equals as they transform the village. To gain the support of the greater NIST community, the students also presented their work to the school’s administration, staff and students, highlighting its importance the impact it had on others’  lives in order to garner further support and funding. The complexity of the project has required that they draw upon diverse disciplines, including IB subjects such as geography, economics, and business and management. Two students even elected to base their IB extended essays on issues related to Maeramit, one on the impact of water insecurity and the other on the effects of improved sanitation.

Through the adherence of the students to the five-stage model of service learning, they’ve not only turned a small project into much more, but also made a lifelong impact on the small community of Maeramit.