Journey to Chiang Mai: Team Waste!
Name of village: Thep Sadet, Maeton village.

Journey to Chiang Mai: Team Waste!

1) Learning Express Chiang Mai was a memorable trip that we will remember for a long time. The trip was definitely something that was worth going for and none of us regretted our choice to sign up for this program. The trip allowed us to forge stronger relations with one another and expanded our perspectives of the world in general, broadening our horizons and increasing our knowledge of the world around us.

My initial thoughts for this program are to make more friends, know more people and also to experience new culture. Frankly speaking, one of the reaons I joined was to complete my SIP module to clear one of the modules during year 2. Also, a 14 days long trip on my own is something I have not experienced before, so I was keen to join this program to see if I could be independent and cope with the challenges in the trip.

However, there were some fears and concerns that came along with the trip. Before the start of the trip, where we were all waiting patiently for the flight to arrive at Changi Airport, most of us were excited yet anxious for what is to come in the next 14 days. The next 14 days were a big question mark for all of us. “What kind of problems would we face and what challenges lies ahead of us?” were some of the questions that flooded everyone’s mind. Some of us felt unmotivated to proceed with the programme as those questions flooded and overwhelmed us. Most of us were also quite tired even before the trip started, which was not an especially good sign to see at the airport.

But despite the fears and thoughts, I am still hopeful for the trip. The hopes and dreams that I had, which the team shared, were to make a positive change to the community that we are going to. We really wanted to make an impactful change with this opportunity and really help them with their problems. So we kept our hopes high and wished that everything would proceed smoothly.

The initial impression of the group during the pre-trip activities were that everybody was very quiet and awkward with each other, which was not a good sign since it hinted that the group would have a lot of trouble with the OSIP module. Our facilitator had high expectations of the group and our performance, which made us, had the impression that we have to do better to meet her expectations. The DT training was short but useful in equipping us with the necessary skills, but during the workshop activity, the group faced setbacks during the clustering stage, which was not only uneventful but for our facilitator, it was something worrying for her given the targets and expectations set.

We also had our learning journey and I felt that the learning journey was quite useful since we carried out some pre-trip activities on our own to research on the topic and see the waste digesters in school, which prepared ourselves for the trip ahead. Our impression of the learning journey was also good since it was another opportunity for us to know each other more. With these in mind, we felt more prepared for the trip itself.

2) Our group was placed in the waste management team in Thep Sadet, Maeton village. We were there to help the villagers solve their waste problem where the only method of disposal they know of is to burn. They have a problem of waste management and they do not have a good and efficient way to sort their waste, as they only sort into 2 broad categories which is recyclables and non-recyclables, which results in them having to burn items that should not be burnt. This results in toxic fumes that pose a health problem to the people of the village. So we went there with a mind-set of wanting to help them.

After staying at the village and interviewing the villagers we soon identified their needs and also found out issues surrounding our project statement which leads us to our deep need statement 'I need education to better manage my waste'. Also, we considered a few other needs statements that were crafted since we felt that it could help us better understand the villagers and help with the project. So “We need a better way of prevention to protect ourselves from the smoke” and “I need to find new solution to help me burn anytime that does not affect my village” were needs statement that we also considered along the way. We came to a consensus that our needs statement best represents the villager's needs because firstly, from the data points we gathered from the interview, some of them said that they do not know how to sort their waste into what's safe to burn and what's not.

Secondly, many of them also said they want new methods to dispose their waste but not know any other method other than burning, this shows the lack of knowledge they have and thus with education, they can better manage their waste.

Furthermore, they also wanted to live in a clean and healthy village.

So the solution we came up with was to have 6 different bins for them to dispose their waste at multiple locations in the village, having a truck coming up to their village to collect the waste and dispose them and disturbing brochure to each household to inform them on proper waste disposal. This is to encourage them to stop burning their waste because of the harmful effects it has on the villages.

The 6 different bins has one for plastic bottles, one for glass related waste, one for paper products, one for dangerous waste (light bulbs etc.), one for general waste and lastly one for metal cans. As our team were concerned that the dangerous waste may tear the trash bags as the waste can contain sharp objects, few of us came up with the idea to create a smaller box to hold the trash bag and this box would act as a secondary containment in the event the bag breaks. The trash collectors would then remove the box together with the bag and replace the box inside.

As there is a market for such recyclable items, we intend to encourage villagers to put such waste in the common bins and sell them. With the money the village earned from selling the recyclable items, we will use the fund to pay the truck collector to come up to their village to collect their general waste.

Our team also planned to give each household a brochure which informs and educate the villagers regarding sorting, proper disposal of waste, what happens to the waste when they recycle, the benefits of recycling and the consequences of burning. The brochure is done to allow the villagers to be aware of what is going to be implemented in the village and how they can prepare and adjust their lifestyle to accommodate the new idea being implemented. The brochure acts as a guide to the villagers, giving them some information at their fingertips in order to help the new idea be successful and also allowing them to know how to sort their waste based on the materials and which bins they are supposed to throw the waste into.

By informing them on the harmful effect of burning their waste, we aim to prevent the villagers from burning. Although some of them already know the health hazards, this can remind them again what the actual hazards are when they burn.

This solution will benefit the villagers as having a truck coming to their village to collect their waste will prevent them from burning their waste and also allow the villagers to have a cleaner environment to live in.
3) Having such fun and unforgettable time throughout the 14 days of the trip, I can safely say that our team definitely grown, bonded well and made everlasting friendship not only with SP students and our lecturer, but also our Thailand buddies.

The homestay experience I believe was one of the highlights of the trip, initially we dreaded this part of the trip the most because we were afraid of adapting to such living conditions such as not having hot water, not being able to use toilet paper and such conditions. However to our surprise, our village has hot water and overall the stay there was not as bad as we expected. The homestay experience is the most memorable part of the trip as I think we bonded well through the 4 days 3 nights there and doing the empathy stage such as doing interviews and doing clustering together as a team brought us closer together. Although the process was tiring and tedious, the people we work with both our Thai buddies and SP teammate made the process fun and enjoyable as everyone was willing to teach and learn from us and they are always trying to interact with us using English although they are not very proficient with it.

If our team has the chance to go back to Chiang Mai to meet our Thai buddies again, we would definitely go back to meet them again. We would even go back to the village to meet with out homestay owner and the community as well because they really left a deep impression on us as when we were doing interview, they were welcoming as well as seen from the activities they prepared for us such as the dance performance and the tour around the coffee farm production.

Having meet, interact and work with different people from all walks of life, we definitely learn a lot from one another and it is one of the most enriching trip we all have been to.

Written by: Marcus Teh