Mae Nam Khun, Thailand – Featured Photo Essay in Seattle University Magazine
In the distance, a glow from the morning sun spills over the silhouetted mountains and down into the valley. Beams of light cut through the rising fog and illuminate life along the hillside rice paddies, down to a valley community and the fringe of the northern Thai jungle. The village of Mae Nam Khun starts to stir. Mae Nam Khun is located in the Chiang Rai providence of Thailand near the border of Myanmar in an area historically known as the Golden Triangle. It is made up of a dynamic melting pot of northern hill tribes such as the Lahu and the Akha, mixed with a local Chinese community.
At the community school the crackle from the loudspeaker awakens six Seattle University students and an alumnus sleeping in a bamboo-constructed house. The tune gliding forth through the air is reminiscent of the heyday of the Thai monarchy. In late summer, Professor Phil Thompson, PhD, and a contingent of SU’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders–two civil engineering students and a mechanical engineering student–joined with two English majors and a music student on an assessment trip to this part of the world to scout for possible future projects that Engineers Without Borders could tackle. Past projects include building a dormitory and clean water and sanitation measures.
For this trip, water treatment was still top of mind as the untreated water in this rural village is a dangerous cocktail of pathogenic bacteria and viruses such as E. coli. All the residents get their water from the same source, which is often contaminated. “More than 4,000 people per day are dying in the world because they don’t have access to safe water,” says Thompson. “And it’s such a preventable problem.” While in Mae Nam Khun, the engineering students worked on existing safe water projects and filtration systems, along with three civil engineering students from Chiang Mai University who were there to learn how to keep the systems up and running for the future. The other SU students taught English and piano daily to school children and members of the community.
This latest service-learning trip to Thailand was a continuation of a connection that was initiated back in 2005. According to Thompson, at that time the SU EWB chapter was searching for a structural engineering project and found one at a boarding school dorm in northern Thailand, listed by Joni Morse and the NGO FAITH International. “Since then we have built a 3,000 square foot dormitory and installed drinking water treatment systems there and for the nearby medical clinic (in 2010),” he says. “In 2011, we completed a 9,500 liter rainwater collection and storage system for the dormitory.”