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Thailand Design for Social Change

Recently I travelled to Thailand to complete UNBOUND’s design for social change program. This was only made possible with the help and support of the University of Technology, Sydney’s BUILD department and program.

The BUILD Abroad experience was the best way to finish off my university degree. The UNBOUND design for social change trip grave me the chance to explore the culture of another country while being taught the human centred design process. The facilitators did an excellent job of ensuring the right balance of experiencing local culture, then applying that learning to develop more sophisticated and holistic solutions.

While on the trip as students we were given the chance to engage in a wide variety of cultural traditions. While experiencing local life our facilitators ensured that we understood how we could empathise a design solution to fulfil all of our stakeholders needs. As an experience this meant thinking differently about the challenge and moving away from the classroom into a less developed environment.

Interacting with the local people was a new experience as we were not able to speak a common language. This meant being patient and focusing on specifics to ensure our ideas and their suggestions were not being lost in translation.

The conclusion of the trip was focused on pitching our developed solutions to the UNESCO in Bangkok. This was a great way to formalise our design concepts ensuring we would still receive the high level feedback needed to understand the impact of our ideas.

As a student this was the first time I have had class located in a rural town within Thailand. This meant that I was not sure what would be involved or if it would be the right way to go about continuing my engineering learning. The risk that it wouldn’t be for me stemmed from the fear of putting myself into an unknown position with unknown people. I could not be happier with the results. I feel that I have gained lifelong friends and taken away one of the best learning experiences I could have hoped for.

My attitude towards the people who took care of us in the homestay has grown positively and I cannot wait to return one day to see them again. As an engineer I believe the project experience has made me a more empathetic and patient thinker when developing future solutions. As a student being thrown into an unknown group of people I believe I have become a more sincere all rounded friend.

Again I am extremely thankful for the opportunity and will highly recommend anyone who can to utilise the opportunity to take the chance to go on the same trip.

The trip:
Day 3

Day 3 introduced a different side of Bangkok. The group was up bright and early, ready to experience the Klong Toei community, generally accepted as the slums of the city.

The group was welcomed by a passionate group that was eager to bring forward change in the community. Following a presentation about Thailand’s startling wealth and social disparities, a guided tour was given on the different areas of Klong Toei. Here the group saw first hand some of the issues faced by the community.

After a local style lunch, the group tried its hand in some decorative flower designs. It quickly become apparent that our very own Derek may have missed his calling after he presented a beautiful flower design.

The second half of the day involved the initial stages of the action projects. Teams were formed and community issues chosen. It was now time for some team building activities. Team’s split up and analysed possible group dynamics. Looking at group strengths and weaknesses in hope of avoiding any future issues. It was then time to prepare for the initial contact with the community in day 4. Team’s analysed possible stakeholders and how they may be affected. Teams then drafted questions that may aid in defining the problem for teams action project.

Finally, after a tasty food court feast, the group boarded its first overnight train, next stop Pha Pang.

Day 4

Today was our first day in the village of Pho Pang, a small community with a rich and lively culture. As tired as we were from a bumpy sleep the previous night, the atmosphere and activities during the day were filled with so much energy and vibrancy that we were left too awestruck to recognise our fatigue.

We were first taken to the community centre, where we will stay for our fourth night in Pho Pang and they gave us a briefing of the community and their many values. After which, we left our belongings in our respective houses (being split into male and female accommodation) and we were taken to the first of two Buddhist temples and taught how to make flower cones. Once completed, we offered the flowers to our own zodiac signs, which were all cemented in great white structures outside the temple. Mel and Kaia directed several workshop activities through which we were able to develop ideas for our projects, before we were taken to the next Buddhist temple where the community prepared for a funeral held in the not-so-distant future.

We assisted the members to make roofing out of bamboo and banana leaves. This activity proved an optimal chance to ask about our projects and interview the members about the community’s needs. We spent close to half an hour talking and reflecting on the interviews, before we walked back to our accommodation. On the way, we met a sweet little primary school student who was very happy to get a photo with us all.

Dinner and a movie was shared, along with laughs and some heads already nodding off to sleep.

Day 5

We were lucky enough to start our day with breakfast prepared by our host families, which was the perfect meal that helped us power through our early morning brainstorming. Next up, we travelled to the Pha Pang school where, with the help of the students, everyone enjoyed learning a traditional Northern Thailand dance and song.

Following a delicious pad Thai lunch, one group visited the community’s kinder while the other went to the healthcare centre to gather vital information for their action projects. A short time later we found ourselves at a bamboo plantation where we got to see bamboo charcoal being turned into energy.

One of our last activities was following along with a health and fitness class run regularly at a temple. The upbeat songs and steps were enough to get everyone’s heart beats racing. Finally, the day ended with yet another delicious dinner followed by some fun group trivia.

Day 6 – Organic Farming and Rural Life in Thailand.

Today we headed to an organic farm. Here we met the owners and the local family who live a sufficient life. An important concept in Thailand that refers to how the farming Thai people choose to live self-sufficiently using their land equally to grow rice, fruit and cultivate cows, pigs, chickens and fish.

After learning about how the rural Thai farmers support themselves into a healthy life style we began to work on our prototypes.

We ended the day by experiencing a local dinner and learning about the full moon kratong festival.

Day 7

It was the group’s last time waking up in the homestay tonight. For our first activity, we painted bamboo cups with images and inspirations we found from the community, such as the flora and fauna and the activities we have partaken in so far. We talked and laughed with the elders, telling them what we have enjoyed about Pha Pang and how grateful we are for their hospitality. The elders then blessed us with good luck and each elder tied a white strand of wool around our wrists, so that the luckiest of our group eventually ended up with ten woollen bracelets.

We then bid farewell to our homestays and our hosts, who have made our time in Pha Pang homely and relaxing, and then moved our belongings to the community lodge. From here, we split into two groups, one of which stayed at the community lodge and worked on their project pitch for tomorrow and the other travelled back to the farm to complete the prototypes.

For dinner, we sat around small tables in the Community Centre and listened to some of the elderly members play Pha Pang’s traditional music. We then watched a dance performed by local primary school students and all danced and sang together as a united community.

Day 8

In the morning, we presented the prototypes of our designs to the community. It seems like they liked our solutions. Then we visited the bamboo innovation centre to see the various uses of bamboo.

In the afternoon, we said goodbye to the Pha Pang community.

We spent the afternoon working on our projects and prototypes. After arriving in Chiang Mai we experienced the night market sensation which stretched for kilometres over the old city.

Day 9

Today our group was lucky enough to experience a different side of Chang Mai. The group was up bright and early, ready to experience the different temples surrounding the inner city.

The group was welcomed by passionate community leaders that were eager to bring forward change.

Part of the temple adventure included a traditional silver temple. Unfortunately men could only enter the temple, a continuation of ancient ritual, and the women could watch on a virtual screen outside. This temple was unlike any other we have seen to date. It’s artwork was extremely modern and included depictions of aliens and even electric guitars. These unusual artworks contained hidden gems that could only be acknowledged through careful examination.

Just before enjoying a local style lunch, the group tried its hand at making some traditional style artwork from tin to represent the silver used within the traditional temples.

The second half of the day began with a visit to a successful social enterprise Aka Ama Coffee. During this visit we were lucky enough to hear a story of a local community creating its own free trade coffee brand to create more wealth for its struggling people.

Returning back to the hotel we separated back into action teams to continue working on our human centred design projects.

Finally, our group was treated to a romantic dinner at the flower gardens on the edge of Chang Mai. Dinner was amazing and the photos were beautiful.

Day 10 – Final day in Chiang Mai

After a pitch lesson from Kaia, Jeremy kick-started the day with an improvisation game.

The social enterprise visit in the morning started with a quick zero waste shop where people stocked up on products of their choosing. Lisa Byrd, the owner of Free Bird Cafe and Thai Freedom Cafe, told us about her experiences and work with Burmese refugees, which was surprising and impressive.

We listened to the most impressive and in-depth story of how she began to understand the atrocities of human trafficking and how she designed a social enterprise to help and support and educate those who have no power. The success of the idea began by giving those who don’t have a choice the ability to learn the local language so that they may understand there situation. And then give them the opportunity to find real jobs which would give the ability to move out of the human trafficking construction camps.

This was followed by pitch work at the museum cafe, and Thai massages all round. After a small rush to the station, we were pleasantly surprised by a much nicer sleeper train and dinner.

Day 11

We woke up on the night train headed back into Bangkok. Bused to a kayaking social enterprise where we learned about rubbish being dumped into the rivers of Thailand. Enjoyed a kayaking experience where on our return journey we tried to collect as much rubbish as possible. The collected HDPE (high density polyethylene) found would be used to create more kayaks in the future.

The group then headed back to the original hotel to continue to work on our projects and prepare to present to UNSECO.

Day 12 – Bangkok Design Week

Creative ways to influence Bangkok and Thailand’s design future. This featured a plastic exhibition that highlights the use and disregard of the waste of products. It also showed and highlighted how if used properly and recycled how the resource could be used for positive impact.

Wild aid social enterprise. Conservation to tackle illegal wildlife trade. Action projects designed to use the influence of celebrities to stall the demand of wildlife projects. Their motto being when the buying stops, the killing can too.

Day 13 – Final day

Today we took a journey to the Thailand branch of UNESCO. Here we first heard the story and work that is being done to help educate and define the most critical issues facing the education amongst people around the world.

We were then given the opportunity to pitch our projects and ideas to the people of UNESCO formalising our entire project path. The educational study tour has been and amazing experience and I would recommend it to anyone who has an available elective.

– Dylan Lamrock

January – February 2019

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