Parichat Botanic Garden
Name of village: Bo Ngern Village
Location: Improving Farming Learning Centre

Partner: Rajamangala University of Technology Thanyaburi

Introduction

On the 14 of June 2015, 24 students, 1 coordinator and 3 facilitators left for Thailand, Bangkok, to begin our Learning Express Journey (LeX). Together with the Rajamangala University of Technology, Thayanburi, we aimed to serve the community of Thailand, addressing the needs of the locals there through design thinking and social innovation.

For the students of Singapore Polytechnic, LeX is also seen as a module to be taken in second year known as OSIP. Hence, like many others, I signed up on this trip as I wanted to complete my module within 14 days overseas instead of having to do it over one whole semester. Another reason is that by participating in this LeX programme, I am able to fulfill the requirements of residential project under NYAA. Before we left to Thailand, I was feeling both excited and nervous. Excited because firstly, I had the chance to go overseas for 2 weeks, though it was for a module. Secondly, by going on this trip, I would get the opportunity to meet new people, gain new friends. I would also get the chance to gain new experiences that cannot be attained in Singapore. That being said, I felt nervous as I was unsure on what we had to do on this trip. We had little information on our project and at that time I did not understand how we were going to apply design thinking into our project. I was worried that we would not be able to apply the many skills into our project properly and that we would not do a good job. I just hoped that when the time comes, we would have a better understanding on what to do. To me, this trip was more than just a module. I wanted to help the community of Thailand to the best of my ability, I did not want to leave with a project that failed to meet the needs of the community.

During our whole journey, I as an individual faced many challenges. Through this trip, I discovered much about myself. My strengths and my weaknesses. It really challenged my ability to hold on and not give up. My facilitator and my team were always there for me. They supported me and cared for me when I was going through difficulties during the trip. Without them, I would not have been able to complete this project.

When I first met my facilitator, I thought she was friendly but strict. She had high expectations of us and did not tolerate any misbehaving or bad attitudes. Yet overtime, I found her to be very reassuring and encouraging. Throughout the whole project, she never failed to encourage us and support us when we were in doubt. She was always willing to help us, giving us her honest opinion. She truly believed that we would be able to do a good job. She gave us the confidence we needed to persevere on. I am really glad that she guided us through the whole project. She played a major part in it and without her, I do not think that my group would have performed so well.

As for my group, when we first met, I thought we might face some difficulties on this project as I felt they were more on the quiet side and everyone was okay with anything. So I was slightly worried at the start if we would be able to be an effective group however they turned out to be a really good group. After working with them and getting to know them, I feel that we balance each one out in the sense of our personality and character. All of us could work well together yet everyone also had their own viewpoints in a common issue and were not afraid to speak upBefore we started our project, we had our design thinking training in Singapore. Design thinking would be the technical process that we applied throughout our project. Though at the start I understood theoretically what design thinking was, I was unsure on how we were going to integrate design thinking and its tools into our project. With the help from my teammates and facilitator, I began to understand and learn how to be more flexible in my thinking so as to apply design thinking in our process. Overall, I found design thinking to be a very effective and useful technique. However, I feel that it is only suitable when applied to projects related to the community and not all projects are able to make use of design thinking.


The first stage of design thinking is sense and sensibility. As part of this stage, while we were still in Singapore, our team together with the visiting Thai buddies went on a learning journey to the Singapore Botanic Gardens for a tour on their Healing Garden. This was to help us gain more background information on medicinal plants, and to understand our project background better. By going on this learning journey, I felt that it really helped us to learn more about medicinal plants in general. Previously, I did not know that certain medicinal plants have both medicinal and poisonous properties. But after the learning journey, I understood much more on such plants and when we were doing our project in Thailand, some of the information from the learning journey was quite useful in helping us think with a suitable solution. All in all, I really enjoyed the learning journey and it helped me to understand our project area better, in a more fun and interesting way.

For our LeX journey, our project was “How can we help the Soontharomettaprachasun School develop an effective and sustainable health and medicinal plant learning centre?” Visiting the Singapore Botanic Gardens was not enough to gain sufficient information on our project. We had to understand the application of medicinal plants in Thailand as well as the background of the school. Through sense and sensibility and empathy study stage of our project, we were able to achieve a good understanding of our project area.

The use of Thai herbs in Thai traditional medicine has been prevalent in Thailand since the year 1238. However, over the years, the knowledge on the use of Thai herbs have been disappearing as it is not passed down to future generations. Thai herbs is now not often used in medicine as it takes a longer time for patients to heal compared to western medication. Many of the older generation worry that the study of Thai herbs would become extinct.


The Soontharomettaprachasun School is a government school and they have a total of 94 students and 6 teachers. The students of the school actually attend for free as they come from lower income families. They are also provided with free meals and transportation to school.

The school currently has 14 projects or rather known as co-curricular activities (CCA) which each student participates in. Some examples of the projects include Thai dancing, Thai massage, grafting and hydroponics. Every Wednesday, the students together with their teacher-in-charge would work on their projects after school. These projects are skills that are of great relevance to the community of Thailand. Each holds an important value to the society and can be applied in the future.

The school now has an empty plot of land in which they want to make use of. They are looking into starting a new project on Thai Traditional herbs for the students to learn. However, they were unsure about how to go about doing it. At the moment, the school has 2 herb gardens. One is mainly wildly grown and the other is meant for income. However, the gardens were quite disorganized and there was little or no information on the plants. Some plants had labels for identity reasons but a number of them were placed wrongly. This makes the 2 gardens unsuitable for the students to learn from and thus the school hopes to have a proper learning centre for the students to learn more about Thai traditional herbs. Therefore, we went there in the aspect of helping the school develop an effective and sustainable health and medicinal plant learning centre.

We interviewed many people during our stay at the school. The staff and the students of the school however, were the most important people. They represented our community and were the stakeholders of our project. Hence, through our interviews with them, we discovered our insights and from the insights we created our need statement and persona. We have 2 personas for our project. This is because we felt that both the staff and students would be most affected by our project. They are two different sets of people that would be impacted differently from each other and thus cannot be combined into one persona. So we created two personas for our project.

For the staff, their need statement is “I need to be assured that the students can apply the skills that they learnt effectively. “ While for the students, their need statement is “I need an authentic and comfortable learning environment where I can have a fun and fulfilling lesson.”

From our interviews with the director of the school and the advisor of the school, we found that they really want to provide the best future to the students of the school. Many of the students come from low income families. Very few of them continue to go on to university to study. . Through the normal lessons and the projects, the teachers wish to equip the students with the knowledge and the skills, to give them many opportunities to do what they want but also to help support themselves and their families in the future.

However, they do worry that the students learning would get disrupted due to the change in teachers every two years as a result of relocation. When teachers change, not only does the workflow of the project that teacher is in charge of is disrupted but the learning process of the students get affected as well. The new teacher would not know how to continue on the project from the previous teacher thus the transition would not run smoothly. Different teachers also have different teaching methods. With a change in teachers every two years, students have to adapt to a new style of teaching which may take a while. During this period, the students may not be learning at their optimum as they would still be trying to adapt to the new teacher. As a result, the staff were afraid that the students were not learning the skills properly and may not know how to make use of it in their future. Therefore, the staff needs to be assured that the students can apply the skills that they learnt effectively.

From the interview with the students, we found that they really enjoy making new friends and engaging in the school projects. They prefer outdoor lessons and like many student, find books ‘boring and unclear’. They also believe in learning new experiences to gain more knowledge.

However, as much as they enjoy what they do in school, many felt that they were forced to come to school by their parents as it is free and near their homes. Parents want their children to get an education and escape the poverty cycle, yet, if given the choice, many of the students would rather go out to work and earn money to support their families. The school however, allows their students to earn money and learn at the same time. This is possible through the 14 projects that the school has. By selling the produce from the 14 projects, the students are able to earn some money to bring home. This helps them to be even more motivated to come to school. A few of us also attended the lessons with the students and we found the classroom to be really hot and stuffy. Based on our experiences bad classroom ventilation can also result in poor learning. The students thus need lessons that are more fun, more engaging to draw them to come to school. They also need a more comfortable environment where they can learn to the fullest.

With the needs of our stakeholders in mind, we proceeded towards ideation and prototyping stage. In ideation, we came up with so many ideas. Some were feasible such as labels for the various plants, carnivorous plants and rest areas but some ideas like a waterfall, cooking sessions and student exchange programmes were not. After much discussion, we decided that we were going to create a garden as our solution.

We designed our garden in the shape of a human body. From our various interviews, we found that the Thai herbs the school grew were most effective to cure the human body. Thus, we felt that having the human body as the main shape would be most suitable for our garden. We then split our garden into 5 main parts with the head as our entrance and attractive point. We divided Thai Traditional herbs into four categories. The digestive system (2), respiratory system (4), urinary system (3) and muscles and skin (1). These categories are the four primary parts of treatment by using Thailand traditional herbs, each to be planted at the limb which the system is nearest to. In the middle of our garden is the heart. Here, we decided to have a learning centre for the students. We felt that learning should come from the heart and so if the students are willing to learn, they would put the effort into it and immerse themselves in learning.

At the centre, the students can have practical lessons in a natural environment which would be engaging and fun. They would also be able to apply the skills they learnt theoretically when taking care of the garden. Furthermore, through the practical lessons, teachers can also be assured that the students are able to apply what they learnt.

Besides designing a garden, we also created labels to help in the identification of the Thai traditional herbs in the garden. The design of the labels would also resemble certain cartoon characters as it would make it more interesting for the students. It would contain a picture of the plant, its common and scientific name, individual characteristics and information. This would allow for proper placing and adequete learning. With clearer labels, not only would the students be able to learn but should the time come when the garden can be open to public, the visitors can also learn more about Thai traditional herbs. In addition to the labels, we created a brochure for the visitors of the garden to gain more knowledge of the Thai tradtional herbs planted by the school . It would share the background and history of the use of herbs in Thailand as well as the map of the herb garden. Through the brochure, we aim to pass on the importance of such herbs to preserve the the cultural use of medicinal herbs in Thailand to the visitors.

Overall, I felt that this trip was definitely a fulfilling and enriching experiece. Though at the start everything was quite confusing, I feel that at the end, I really understood the whole process of our project. The reasons why we did what we did, how we went about doing it and how it relates to the community. We may not have been the best team out there, we may not have came up with the best solution but we put in a lot of effort into our work and I am proud of what we have achieved. The people I met at the village are such an amazing group of people and I feel really fortunate to have met them. They were so friendly and welcoming. During our stay at the village, they made sure we were comfortable, installing more fans in the classrooms for us to sleep, putting up showerheads in the bathrooms for us to shower, every meal they prepared was also really delicious. When it came our project, they tried their best to help us in our interviews, giving us as much information as possible. They are such genuine people who does everything with sincerity. One thing I find very admirable about them is that their character really shines through. This is something we all should all learn and improve from.

This project would not have been possible without the help of my groupmates. I am extremely grateful towards them. They really cared, supported and kept me going. They are truly an amazing group of people that I am glad to call family. When I was going through difficulties, they never failed to ask if I was feeling okay or to cheer me up. Working with my group has been a once in a lifetime experience. I honestly have never worked with such a good group before. Everyone contributed to the project in various ways; whether it was in contributing ideas to sharing their thoughts during discussion or even in the making of the prototype, everyone did a fair share of the work. Even though there were times in which we had our disagreements, we managed to overcome them together. Though our team has a vast mixture of personalities, we complemented each other and accomplished our project.

It was certainly not easy to reach the endpoint. The journey though long and challenging has also been fun and interesting. It was not a smooth journey and I faced many difficulties along the way. I struggled to understand the insights of our project at the start, the language barrier between my buddy and I was quite strong so that was something I had to overcome, also, I had an injury during the trip which affected me emotionally and mentally. Yet through all this, I also had a lot of fun. Interacting with the students and staff of the village, getting to know my group members better, making mosquito repellant and tiger balm, learning more about Thai culture, experiencing things that could never be done in Singapore. It has really made this trip so much more enjoyable despite all the obstacles faced.

Through this LeX journey, we have formed friendships that cannot be easily broken. Both SP and RMUTT students have gone through the journey together. In the good times and the bad, we have stood-by and supported one another. Though now they are not with us, they will forever be family.