If you feel that life is getting rather monotonous and are in search of something different, remember that with over 50,000 unique Workaway experiences in 180+ countries there are endless options out there to inspire you! Every month we select an outstanding host with a lot to offer and great feedback to whet your appetite for adventure and to stimulate your imagination. The ‘Workaway Host of the Month’ gives our community a chance to meet some of our favourite hosts and find out what it is about them which has created such an appeal amongst fellow workawayers...
Xavier lives with his wife, Nathalie, and two children just outside San Kamphaeng, 20 minutes from Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Together they have created a
where he combines his knowledge of technology with a passion for permaculture and healthy living. He is keen to promote a sustainable lifestyle as well as encourage volunteers to share their talents and abilities, especially as they are home-schooling their children. Nathalie is from Chiang Mai and worked within the hospitality industry for 15 years. She provides great insight into Thai culture and its cuisine. The serious health problems she has faced over the past few years means that the family benefit enormously from an extra pair of hands, both in the home and on the farm. Apart from gardeners, they welcome artists, entertainers and specialists to inspire their children as well as electronic engineers!
What a wonderful experience! I had such a great time, I have learnt a lot and shared a lot with Xavier and everyone else.
I really enjoyed waking up in the morning, do tasks all together, everyone was working towards the same goal. Meaningful time, when you live such a good one, unfortunately it flies!
I recommend you to make an experience like this one!
Thanks a lot to everyone!
Hello there Xavier! Congratulations on the great feedback you’ve received -- we are delighted to award you with the title of Host of the Month!
Yes, thank you! We try our best to keep our Workawayers happy and we really enjoy their input and company too.
I have read that you are from France, Xavier. Would you mind telling us a little about yourself and how you found yourself in San Kamphaeng?
Well, back in the year 2000 I was managing a website company in Barcelona, when I decided I needed a holiday. A friend suggested going to Thailand, and as I'd always wanted to visit Asia I agreed. It made such a big impact on me, that I decided to return to Barcelona to pack in my job, and pack up my stuff and move to Thailand permanently. I lived in Chiang Mai and was involved with my wife in running a small hotel and restaurants. In 2010 I became interested in permaculture, and with the birth of our first child it motivated us to look for a way to work towards a better future. The world needs us to drastically change the way we operate. Its salvation lies in our children and the chances and choices they are given. We decided to move into the country, so that we could explore better ways of living and learning.I qualified as a permaculture teacher in 2014, and by 2017 we had sold the hotel and set up home here, surrounded by rice fields, for a completely new way of life.
In what ways have workawayers been able to help you with this?
The children have benefitted from it so much, especially as we have had artists and musicians. My daughter has now taken up flamenco and the piano as a result. Having workawayers really help reinforce their language skills, and they can happily switch from French, to English to Thai. We also have a library, and a small Educational Centre. Unfortunately it isn't growing as fast as we'd like as we aren’t given any state funding, but with the help of volunteers we sometimes organise workshops and invite local children to take part.
Your profile mentions the STREAM methodology, what does that involve?
Yes, it is an acronym for education via Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art and Mathematics. It is a project based, child-led approach, but we encourage workawayers who have knowledge and experience in these areas to participate in practical activities with the children.
And workawayers also get the chance to be students as well I understand?
Yes, they may arrive with very little knowledge of farming, but through their involvement, planting, watering, weeding they learn a lot. For those making the commitment of staying for 3 months, they can complete the Permaculture Design Course. I provide them with access to a huge online library, they can study the curriculum at their own pace and in their own time. I act as their supervisor as far as the evolution and completion of their final design project.
So that is a great offer for people who want to go on to set up their own sustainable lifestyle afterwards.
Yes exactly. They learn about lasagne gardening, how to benefit from worm casting and all about growing your own produce with the help of fish via aquaponics!
Lasagne, worms and fishy friends! Yes, I read that it is a totally symbiotic arrangement- the fish excrement being taken out of the water and converted into the perfect plant fertilizer, whilst keeping the water crystal clear. It all sounds intriguing, but I think I need to see it all working to be able to fully understand it!
Yes! What we aim to do is to make the most out of the soil, the water available and the waste we generate. For example, in the dry season we have to carefully control the amount of water we use. Technology enables me to use a hydrosensor to detect exactly how much water is required to keep the plants alive and well. We use solar power and produce our own biogas, by converting waste products into gas, for cooking. We have also built eco-houses with compressed earth bricks.
Wow, I am so impressed by how you combine some of the latest technology with a grass root philosophy. You certainly have so many inspiring projects going on! Do you grow much of your own food?
At the moment we are growing tomatoes, herbs, salad leaves, spinach, kale… probably amounting to 20-30% of what we need. We mainly eat vegetarian or vegan food, but we keep ducks and sometimes I prepare duck meat or pâté. We all take turns to cook and eat as a group, which is an important part of our time together. I sometimes make plant-based cheese or coconut yoghurt, and Sunday night we cook pizza in a wood-fired oven.
And, when the workawayers are not learning about permaculture or eating amazing food, how do they tend to spend their free time?
Chiang Mai is just 20 minutes away on public transport, for those in search of tourist attractions and city entertainment. However, I'd say that most of the people who come here want to experience local culture more than anything, so they aren't really into sightseeing. Some like to stay on the land and enjoy the deck by the lake to meditate or do yoga. For those who want to go to the village, we have bikes. The Saturday night market is a very popular hub for eating and meeting locals, along with the coffee shop. There are hot springs close-by, a temple and Thai boxing classes for the energetic, although most of our volunteers just want to enjoy the simple life and chill.
When you are feeling relaxed and happy somewhere, time can fly by. I imagine some workawayers stay longer than planned.
Yes, a two week stay often gets extended to months!
Has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the running of the Centre or your ability to find volunteers?
Yes, it has. At the moment we have just 3 workawayers, whereas we would normally have between 7-14. The lockdown happened here on the 26th March and fortunately the volunteers decided to stay on as it seemed like the best option for everyone. Some arrived in February and left in June, whilst a few have extended their stays from 15 days to 6 months! Until the border is re-opened to travellers, the only workawayers who can come here at the moment are those who are already in the country.
What is the most satisfying aspect for you and for the workawayers in this exchange?
For me it is a cultural exchange which often transforms into a close relationship and even a lasting friendship. It has made all the difference to us and our family situation. We have had ups and downs over the past 3 years , and being able to interact with other people, have great discussions, share experiences and even “hugs” have all really helped us through the hardest moments…a therapy even!
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Xavier. I get the impression that your volunteers feel the same!
Wonderful stay with a bunch of beautiful souls on a spectacular permaculture land… It was so great living in a small and nice local community and learn Thai culture, language and cooking. …Thank you for teaching and looking after me:)