Thailand 2019

A Blatchington Court Trust cultural exchange in partnership with Traveleyes

Photograph of Declan washing an elephant in a river

Anna & Joy

Joy, a retired QTVI (qualified teacher for the vision impaired) adopted Anna from the Pattaya School for the Blind where Joy had volunteered for many years. Anna is an incredible young woman and it was a pleasure to have both her and Joy travel with our group.

Joy explained that for Anna "a return to the school had always been difficult and at some point she has had a major meltdown as it brought back so many painful memories". We were all so pleased that “the expected emotional outburst did not materialize and I [Joy] am sure that she now has many more positive memories helped by the positive interactions with the others in the group".

Meeting Traveleyes

Ammar Latif, founder of Traveleyes, who describes himself as "the blind guy who wants to show you the world" accompanied by Miz his support worker, met our group at Heathrow Airport. A short wait before making our way to the departure gate gave us the opportunity to get to know Ammar and Miz. After hearing Ammar speak of his personal journey from losing his sight at the age of 18 and realizing there "was a world just waiting to be discovered" to launching Traveleyes in 2004, "with the determination to make the world more accessible for blind and visually impaired travellers", we all made our way to the departure gate feeling nothing but inspired.

Arriving at the School

The Pattaya Redemptorist School and Orphanage for the Blind opened in the mid 1980s. With no available social support system, blind children living in villages are often sent away to beg on the streets of Bangkok. A key goal of the school is to provide blind and visually impaired children with an education that will give them the opportunity to become independent members of society. In some cases children are not able to talk, to walk or eat normal food.

The school educates its students through three years of nursery and nine years of primary and secondary education. With so little funding available and minimal government support, the school are always in need of donations in the form of equipment, software and assistive technology.On our first visit, we were overwhelmed by our welcome, whereby many of their pupils performed songs they had learnt for us.

On arrival we were shown the school library and some of their equipment before moving on to have a great time with some of the little children in their soft play room. The children were responsive and despite the language barrier, everyone had a great time. The children interacted well with us and it was lovely to see Anna having such lovely time in the ball pool

A Warm Welcome

On our second visit to the school, we were greeted with an incredible welcome, with singing and dancing performances by the pupils. We all felt moved by their gesture and blown away by how talented they all are.

After a short interval we then presented the pupils with the items that had been bought with the funds raised by our group. It was clear to see how these items would be of great benefit to the school and we were all elated to witness the reaction of some of the pupils as they began to explore and play with some of the items.

After an incredibly successful and emotional morning, it was time for a well-needed walk around the school's grounds where we were joined by some of the older pupils. The school's buildings which house dormitories, classrooms and other facilities surround an open area of tarmac with a central island covered in artificial grass, trees and play equipment. We joined the pupils in walking around the island and enjoyed speaking with them.

Bead Making & Board Games

With it being our final day at the school, it was set to be a day of mixed emotions, with the excitement of learning how to make keyrings with beads and saying goodbye to the school and its pupils. On arrival at the school we were invited to the hall where several tables had been set up for us to sit with the children and learn bead work. We were shown how to make keyrings and bags by the children and even had a go ourselves! The school are very proud of this work and it is something, which the children who have additional needs, i.e. autism, can also join in with.

As well as interacting with the children, it was great that we were also able to work with some of the teachers to support the children in playing board games such as Monopoly and Checkers. Chid, the Head Teacher joined in with a game of Monopoly with Alex and two pupils, which Alex later described as "the most chaotic game of Monopoly I have ever played".

At the end of our workshop session we were given the chance to purchase keyrings that had been made by the children and some of the more musically talented individuals within the group also used the short break to play some of the instruments owned by the school.

Goodbye

All of the primary and secondary children came into the hall to say farewell to us with a performance consisting of three songs sung by some of the pupils, including Amazing Grace and You Are My Sunshine. Regrettably and unknowing of the planned performance, we hadn't prepared our own act. However, Nick, a musician and singer stepped up and sang on behalf of us all.

After the performances, we were all invited up to the front to stand whilst the children sang to us, followed by us being presented with a beaded keyring the children had made for each of us. It was an emotional experience and all of our group were sad to be leaving, with many of them keen to continue supporting the school.

Thai Association for the Blind

Excited and unknowing of what to expect, we travelled to the Thai Association for the Blind. Peerapong, whom Lynne and Alison met in 2017, was keen for us to visit and with his colleague gave a presentation to welcome us and tell us all about the Association. It was an interesting visit and we were given a tour of their buiding and its facilities as well as given snacks and drinks.

Floating Markets

An early morning, leaving our hotel just after 7am, we boarded the coach and set off for our visit to the floating markets. After a 90 minute journey, where many of us caught up on our sleep, we arrived and made our way to the wooden built shacks in the distance where we would be split up into small groups and be placed into speed boats.

Many of us were a little surprised at how fast the boats navigated their way around the narrow canals that lead us to the markets, with some enjoying this experience more than others. Once arrived, we were given a chance to shop around the markets where a few people bought elephant trousers in preparation for our visit to the temples.

Temples

We visited the Grand Palace, where the enigmatic Emerald Buddha, the most revered Buddha image in Thailand is situated, continuing on to Wat Pho, one of the oldest temples in Bangkok. Wat Pho is renowned for housing the famous 45-metre-long reclining Buddha as well as for being the original school of traditional Thai massage. Some of the group enjoyed a 30 minute authentic Thai massage. After this, we boarded a long tail boat for a cruise along the canal of Thonburi and get a glimpse of the everyday life of the famous 'water people' of Thailand.

Hmong on the Hill

The group visited the Hilltribe Museum and explored the ethnology exhibitions which are in tribute to the people and culture of nine significant hill tribes: Karen (Kariang), Hmong (Meo), Mien (Yao), Lisu (Liso), Akha (Iko), Lahu (Musoe), Lau, Thin and Khamu, including the minority tribe of Malabri. The museum exhibited the different ways of life, culture, beliefs and the local wisdom of each tribe through displays of cultural artefacts and objects related to the cultures. SIn the evening we enjoyed a delicious BBQ Dinner accompanied with Hmong dances. The rest of the group caught up with us and we all had a wonderful evening singing and dancing together.

Tea Plantation

We visited a tea plantation, where we were greeted by a local tea expert who explained the different processes and methods used to cultivate young tea plants. After that, the resident picker lead us to the tea bushes where we learnt how to pick our own tealeaves.

Elephant Sanctuary

Elephants hold a special place in Thailand’s culture and history, and throughout the years they have also taken up a more prominent role in tourism. During our visit to the sanctuary, we learnt about the situation of these animals and how the sanctuary aims to offer an alternative to exploitative tourism by rehabilitating captive animals, with the goal of ultimately releasing them in the wild.

After arriving at the sanctuary, it wasn’t long before we were face to face with an elephant and we were given time to interact with her. After this, we waked further up towards the main area within the sanctuary where the elephants are cared for and were able to hand feed them bananas. We walked further down towards the river, where we would go into the water and wash the elephants. Many of our group described this experience as ‘unforgettable’ and one that they would treasure.

Photos/Videos

Here are a selection of the photos and videos that were taken on our trip, categorized into groups.