Our project is a big family - really big.
My wife, Evelind Schecter, and I started our project seven years ago based on our experience as parents and foster parents in the US. We opened its doors in July 2008 and accepted its first 5 children in May 2009. Today, our Children's Homes care for 40 Hill Tribe children, our Annex is home to another 4, we have 21 more at two other schools and partner in three pre-schools in the mountains. (We also have 4 kids at university and 5 at vocational-technical schools.) Our Microenterprise Program works with four women's coops to produce fashion accessories that are now sold in Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Bali and around the world. Our Public Health Program provides free wheelchairs, visiting services and much more to the elderly and disabled in our district.
We are deeply involved in climate change work through sustainable agriculture. Our campus is an organic farm and also the research and development site for our biochar program. We run a biochar social enterprise that provides climate change benefits, community health benefits, and new sources of family income. We also test our ideas at our Experimental Farm and teach them to community members at the Demonstration Farm we operate for 14 villages.
But for all of that, we are still essentially a family living in a big, extended family compound with the Thai staff, their kids, our kids, and volunteers all swirling together in an exciting, ever-changing mix.
This is not a place for the faint of heart or for those in need of constant direction. This is a place for people who thrive in chaotic, complex situations, can define their own programs and make things happen.
And, boy, do we make things happen: Academically, our kids totally outperform the district average; women in our coops are making money like never before; we are donating 4 or 5 wheelchairs a week to people who have not moved in a decade.
This is also a place of interesting experimentation. Most of our buildings are constructed with mud or mud brick; we are developing biochar pyrolyser technology for use by local farmers; we are experimenting with new intercropping schemes to improve field productivity; we are designing new products for coops. And we are always looking for creative people to join in the fun. After all, in our old lives, we taught political science at university and ran small tech start-ups!
Help with Eco project
Helping with Tourists
Help with Computers / internet
Living and volunteering here is living and working inside Thailand. We are now woven into the fabric of the valley communities and are considered members of the mountain communities since we share parenting their children. Live here and you will go to celebrations of births and marriages, you will attend funerals. You will be asked to join villagers on village and temple work days and you will be expected to assist on official work days. You will be expected to participate in all village, sub-district, and most district festivities No other foreigner in Phrao, let alone tourist, is accorded these privileges.
What we need
We desperately digital librarians, graphic designers, videographers and film editors, professional photographers and infographic designers!
We also need hard working farmers.
This is a thriving community that includes 40 kids, 22 staff, untold chickens, and fish, big gardens and orchards, and is host to 8 to 10 international volunteers at any given time. Because we are a development organization, we don't need any unskilled work. If anyone in our poor, rural community can do it - or if we can train them to do it - we hire them!
But here in Phrao, where the average education level is 4th grade, professional skills are in limited supply!
This is where you come in - please.
We are looking for professional help in these areas:
Videographers and professional photographers: We need people with professional experience, trained in all aspects of creating documentary videos. We need professional editors to use our existing footage and professional photographers to complete assignments on specific areas we need for our web site and social media channels.
Digital librarian: We have tens of thousands of images and video clips, as well as completed videos and sound clips, but no systematic catalog. We desperately need a professional librarian to help us identify a user-friendly computer filing system and to assist us in establishing a useable library of our digital resources.
Infographics: We need to develop effective graphic representations of our work and accomplishments. We possess a lot of great data - but don't know how to make it pop. We are looking for a creative graphic designer with experience in infographic design to produce powerful visualizations of our data.
Experienced farmers: Our head farmer is a great guy with years of experience working for a Japanese organic farming NGO in Burma. He is stretched very thin, however, because his workers haven't a clue. He desperately needs someone who can carry on without supervision -and bring ideas to the table.
The normal work day runs 9 to 5 with a sacrosanct hour for lunch. While weekends are free time, there are many activities and opportunities to work with our kids and in the community on the weekends.
The volunteers work from their own office, which is equipped with fast internet, a refrigerator, hot water pot and microwave. The office is located next to the main office, and new classroom building.
You must be able to transport yourself around our rural community. You can rent a motorbike in Chiang Mai (lessons provided).
How long and who
For people working on community-based projects, we ask for a three-month commitment, since it takes this long to learn enough to be effective. For professional gigs like these, however, we assume that you will be a better judge of how long things might take than we are.
This is an accommodating environment, too. During the summer, we tend to have a lot of university students, but during the rest of the year, our volunteers run from 25 to 80. Our volunteers are single, married, married with children, gay, old (like me), etc.
What it takes to volunteer here
This has all of the benefits - and drawbacks - of a large family. It is friendly and supportive, but can also be overwhelming. Volunteers need to be able to deal with having a lot of people around, to make quiet space for themselves and set boundaries, collaborate, and self-start/self-manage. This family has no parents.
We have only three absolute rules:
We do not permit mission work of any variety - Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, whatever. Likewise, we do not engage in Thai politics. Our clear neutrality on both topics is extremely important to the remarkable trust that we have earned in the community and is routinely commented on.
We do not permit any form of drug use.
We do not permit any form of inappropriate contact with our children.
English is our lingua franca, but our staff all speak Thai, our kids speak one or more Hill Tribe languages, and at any given time there will be volunteers on campus who speak Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Korean, etc.
We have a simple, adobe brick houses for volunteers located right on site. The houses are nestled among big trees and look out on a fish pond, pasture and mango orchard. Each house has two single rooms, a large porch and a porch kitchen. A dedicated wi-fi router serves both houses. The houses share to bathroom with two, hot water showers. Volunteers can cook for themselves or take their meals with the staff and children in the main dining room which is located a three minutes walk away. The houses are close by the volunteers motorbike park and office.
Thailand is not accessible nor is it here. We are essentially a farm and especially during the rainy season most of our paths turn into muddy trenches. This means that if you are a wheelchair user, mobility is a serious problem. A close friend and partner, however, is blind and does fine.
Being vegan in Thailand is extremely difficult unless you cook for yourself. Being vegetarian is possible, but hard. In most restaurants, "vegetarian" means picking the meat out of the broth. Here vegetarian is possible, because Evelind is vegetarian. Life is much easier if you can eat fish.
If you are gluten sensitive, Thailand's rice-based diet simplifies life a lot.
We are located in a gorgeous, unspoiled valley about 40 miles (70 km) NNE of the city of Chiang Mai, Thailand's second largest and most beautiful city. Chiang Mai offers every convenience you can imagine and an exciting ex-pat community. Phrao, where we are, is pure country. To get to us, you first drive across lush rice paddies, then through mountains, and finally you descend into our valley with orchards all around the sides and rice paddies up the center.
Here you will be part of the Phrao community. We are home to 40 Hill Tribe children and we work closely with their families and mountain villages. We also run both microenterprise and public health programs in all of the surrounding villages, which ensures that everyone knows us. Being a volunteer here means having a passport to village life in a rural Thai community. There is simply no better way to meet Thailand on its own terms.
Phrao is known for its natural hot springs and waterfalls, friendly people, great food and ethnically diverse population. The valley is inhabited by low-land Thai and both Black and Red Lahu. The surrounding mountains are studded with Akha, Karen and Lisu villages, as well as the occasional Chinese village for good measure. Monday markets in the town square are a pageant of colorful, traditional outfits.
Phrao is also centrally located to make it easy to visit all of northern Thailand. It is just a bus ride to the famous Golden Triangle and the Mekong River to the northeast; the mountains and white water rafting of Mae Hong Son are just a bus ride to the northwest.
Limited internet access
We have pets
We are smokers
Five hours per day 5 days a week maximum