Team Thailand: Globally Engaged Learning

WSU Professors, Alumna and Students Plan to Improve Orphanage

Right now, there is an orphanage in northern Thailand that lacks a proper space for caretakers to prepare and serve food to the children. Meals are made and served in the same room the children sleep. Weber State University alumna Ninnet Phurininnat, a native and current resident of Thailand, wants to change that, so she reached out to her alma mater.

In May 2015, a group of students, faculty and staff will travel to Thailand to help Phurininnat, a construction technology graduate, expand the orphanage. Associate geography professor Julie Rich, who recently brought a team to Mozambique to build a women’s center, will help direct the trip to Thailand. There, students will work for three weeks to construct a kitchen and dining hall. Rich hopes also to provide students with opportunities to teach classes in English, sports, health and hygiene, and other life skills.

Trip participants will stay a few kilometers away from the worksite in accommodations that belong to a Buddhist temple, and will work and interact with the local Thai community. “We will spend about 17 days working at the orphanage, followed by five days for an educational exploration of Bangkok,” Rich said.

In addition to Rich, “Team Thailand” includes Jeremy Farner, an assistant design engineering technology professor; Mike Moon, assistant director of WSU’s Center for Community Engaged Learning; and Carey Anson, a technology coordinator for Academic Support Systems. As a student, Phurininnat worked with Anson, who encouraged his student assistants to get involved in service.
“Students will be mentored individually by WSU faculty and staff who have been involved in these types of projects for many years,” Rich said. “Businesses and industries want students with as much hands-on, applied experience as possible, and our program is a perfect model for that standard.”

A class called “Thailand: International Community Engaged Learning” will be offered in the spring semester for students who want to participate in the summer program to Thailand. Students will learn about the geography of the area, how to implement green building techniques and how to be globally engaged. In addition, they will learn how to fundraise and write grants to help pay for the trip.

Rich anticipates the cost of the summer program will be about $3,000 per participant. The group hopes to raise $20,000 for the structure, as well as additional funding to provide financial assistance to students. “We will work together as a team to make sure we have sufficient funds to participate in the Thailand project,” Rich said.
As well as helping build an addition for the orphanage, the group will use some of the $20,000 to develop a reservoir for the Somporn Foundation in Thaton. The Somporn Foundation houses orphans and has separate housing for youth and elderly who have AIDS. The reservoir will capture rainwater, providing the housing to collect clean water for drinking and watering the garden.
Rich believes projects like Thailand offer many benefits. “It places our university in the category of institutions of higher learning that train students through real-world experiences,” she said. “It also teaches participants how to reach out and serve their fellow human beings. These students will look at their local community through a different lens and will want to continue providing service to others throughout their lives, which will benefit the community and beyond.”