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GVI Chiang Mai Update July 2019

By GVI Chiang Mai 2 months ago

Throughout the last few months, we at GVI Chiang Mai have been hard at work to ensure that this project continues to go from strength to strength. We have been buoyed by the arrival of Kah Moon’s daughter – a beautiful baby elephant; now, just over a month old. However, this is just one of many exciting developments in recent times! Read more about our headlines from the hub below…

Su joins full-time – graduating from the NSP (National Scholarship Program)

Former-NSP Su has now moved onto a full-time staff role with us as a Community Liaison! She is an essential part of our team here – teaching the volunteers the language Pakinyaw, and assisting us in teaching English at the school. She is a huge hit with our volunteers too and has a very good sense of humour!

The NSP program allows local people to learn more about our project whilst improving their English, giving them future opportunities to take an active role in running this project. This program is provided by the GVI Trust Charity, and relies entirely on donations to be sustainable. Money donated to the Trust funds people like Su to join the NSP. Other Community Liaisons, Don and Dee have also graduated from the program. All three have been crucial to the success of the project in their time with us.

– Liane Fulford, Program Manager

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Curriculum Revamped for New School Year

Here in Huay Pakoot we have a non-stop intake of enthusiastic teachers, but with this constant flow of teachers sometimes comes a sense of instability at the school. Teachers join us for various periods from two weeks to six months, each with different levels of experience. This dynamic can cause a negative effect on our students’ learning and progress with the English language. With skills and experience picked up whilst working at the incredibly progressive and proactive GVI Cambodia hub, I started to work with Program Manager, Liane, to revamp our curriculum and put in place teacher-training sessions.

Our current teacher cohort is made up of majority staff members with volunteers predominantly standing in as teaching assistants; this is purely due to us being a quiet hub recently, but now as the numbers are starting to rise into the 25+ region and new long-term interns have arrived, we are looking for volunteers to take over the classes. We want our volunteers to be well-equipped and prepared to take on the challenge of teaching English as a foreign language, it is a big commitment and needs maximum effort and energy even when you may not feel 100% charged up on the day! We want our students to get the best possible education they can; our goal is to create a self-sustaining ecotourism program here in the village, and the children, mahouts, and villagers that we teach will be the future of this project once we leave. This is where the teacher-training sessions come in.

During my time in Cambodia I was able to complete a 120-hour TEFL course, in-turn obtaining my certification to teach English as a foreign language. This paired with teaching up to 200 students a day over a two-month period, gave me a great deal of experience that I could bring back to GVI Chiang Mai; needless to say, I was excited to test out a lot of new techniques. GVI Cambodia kindly let me use their 5-hour short TEFL course that they deliver to their volunteers before they allow them to stand in front of a class, I made adjustments based on our hub and we then had a TEFL-training we could use here in Huay Pakoot. The staff members all underwent this training; the feedback was positive, and they expressed they felt more comfortable teaching jolly phonics, creating effective lesson plans, and how to use various class control methods. Now we have this training on hand, with new influx of volunteers starting to stream in, we can start to train participants to confidently take over the classes. The next stage of the plan to forever improve our teaching methods, is to introduce observations so we can give constructive feedback, and supply volunteers with skills they can then apply to teaching all over the world.

Now, onto the curriculum. Working with Liane, we realised we needed to incorporate more phonics-based lessons into the new school year; when students really know their phonics, it opens up a whole new world of spelling, reading, speaking, and listening the English language. Once the school year started, we set up lessons that we could use to gauge where our students were at phonics-wise; all teachers and teaching assistants planned their lessons together, this way we could all effectively discuss and have lessons planned far in advance so that we were prepped and ready to go. It is now known what class is at what stage with phonics; I am very excited to see how each class progresses over this school year, and I look forward to seeing their abilities and knowledge grow. Lesson plans are looking strong, mixing both phonic and blend work with vocab-based lessons; teachers are also forever inventing creative ways to teach and test their students, an important factor we want to incorporate when teaching is fun- one of our core values at GVI.

I am planning on training teachers to create and conduct progress tests in the near future, as we start our monthly progress tests; progress tests allow us to ensure that we are teaching effectively and check that our students are understanding. Also, we will start certificate ceremonies which will be heaps of fun as well as providing encouragement to our students! Stay tuned for more updates on the community side of things, we have exciting ideas in the pipeline.

– Toby Craze, Community Coordinator

Sustainable Development Career Development Course Being Delivered on Trial Basis

In June, I delivered a trial version of the GVI Career Development Course to seven of the GVI Chiang Mai volunteers. This group encapsulated various ages (each at different stages of their careers) and nationalities (from Scottish, to Australian, to Mexican, to German, to American), showing the demand for this kind of course from people from all over the world.

The course focuses on a career within the Sustainable Development Sector, providing participants with the opportunity to understand what type of organisation they would like to work for and what jobs would suit them. Moreover, it provides practical guidance on how to apply for those jobs, including CV/Resume advice and interview tips/tricks. The course was run in a 5-part lecture series over four weeks, with practical exercises within these, as well as homework set in between.

The depth of information provided helped guide the participants to a point where they had a much improved idea of what direction they can take their career if they choose to enter this sector. Furthermore, their experience volunteering or interning with GVI will help provide them with a platform to develop that career. With such a successful trial run, it is intended to run the course again in July – and early interest in participation is looking very promising!

– Tom Mitchell, Senior Field Staff – Marketing Coordinator

Two New Staff Members – Oli Barnes and Chigusa Keller – Join the Team

13 days since arrival in Huay Pakoot, and I slowly feel like I figured out how things work here. It is a very busy time right now, with nearly 30 volunteers on project. The first week was full of confusion and learning every day, but the amazing staff team as well as the volunteers made sure this new person (me) doesn’t get lost. There is so much going on: elephant hikes and bio hikes in the mornings, teaching at the local school in the afternoon, language lessons in the local language Pakinyaw, cooking classes, informative presentations about the project and Karen culture, game nights, quizzes, workshops… Now that I finally learned where the famous smoothie shop and the laundry place are, I am ready to take over my new responsibilities as the Field Science Coordinator!

What does a Field Science Coordinator do? Simply put, I am going to analyse the data we collect with the help of our dedicated volunteers and try to understand the world of our elephants. I also have the pleasure to always think about new exciting questions to answer and new research projects to implement! And of course, we want the whole world to know what we found, so our goal is to publish the outcomes of our studies.

Today, we have 2 years of continuously collected data on our eight elephants in our re-integration project. We are monitoring the elephants’ health and welfare, and we take data on their activity budget and specific behaviours such as interactions with other elephants or vocalizations. All these contain important information on how well the elephants are doing and how they are adapting to their new natural environment after having lived in tourist camps for many years. It is also very exciting to observe them in their natural habitat, being elephants and doing what elephants do – because unlike African elephants, there is only little known about the behaviour of Asian elephants in their natural environment.

In the coming months, I hope to learn more about Asian elephants from our semi-wild group and let everybody know what we learned from them. For example, I am interested in how far they walk each day, which habitats they prefer and ultimately how much forest area they require to lead a good elephant life. We also want to shed light on what elephants eat in the wild, how many plant species are contained in their natural diet, and which have medicinal uses. It is known that elephants are ‘ecosystem engineers’ having an important impact on forest structure and creating new habitats for other species. By taking down shrubs and trees, they create gaps in the forest canopy and dead wood on the forest floor, which are later colonized by other plants, fungi, insects, reptiles and others. Their faeces contain valuable nutrients for the plants, and they act as seed dispersers as well. So, by promoting our model of sustainable elephant tourism with healthy elephants roaming around in their natural environment, the entire forest ecosystem ultimately benefits from higher biodiversity.

– Chigusa Keller, Data Science Coordinator

It never ceases to amaze me how swiftly time can fly in certain moments. It’s been almost a month since I took my first steps into the quaint and charming village of Huay Pakoot (HP). Already it feels as though this place has wrapped me up, is cradling me in its arms and adopted me as one of its own. The community ensure a wonderful sense of hospitality, even inviting us to stay in their homes with them. Whilst wandering the steep, rugged streets of HP, villagers pass me by with smiles that reach from ear to ear, usually followed with a “Da blue” (hello in local dialect). The animals of the village join in with the with general friendly aura, flocks of cockerels crow at me in a Mexican wave chorus wherever I walk. As I settle in to the pace of life here, with each day that passes, I feel a little piece of the frantic western world leave me. From my first impressions, I think life here is happy.

You may be asking what’s it like in HP? Well, I wake up each morning to 360ᶷ views of tree-covered mountains all around, swelling from the earth like large broccoli florets. It really is soul filling to be surrounded by endless assortments of green canopy. Below the mountains lie the hills, dispersed with agricultural fields, usually with people working them before my rested eyes can rise to the day. It’s a slight contrast to the Harry Potter’esque type architecture of Oxford that I was used to in the western world, but HP brings has its own essence of fairy-tale, where fireflies pulse through the village in the darkness to the back drop of star-scattered skies where shooting stars are common place. I look forward to experiencing the seasonal changes.

As I say, it’s only been one month here for me but already there have been so many happenings and activities; from the more formal elephant behavioural research side of things, all the way to paint therapy and body image workshops to socialising around a fire. Let’s just say, you’re never short of things to do here. If I had to have a highlight, beyond having the opportunity to be with elephants on a daily basis, it would have to be our football game with the local Mahouts. During the days we see the Mahouts in their professional role, so having the opportunity to unwind at the weekend and punt a ball round a dirt pitch was brilliant. However, It goes without saying that they thrashed us, these guys are good!

In terms of my new position, this month has mainly consisted of me trailing behind the hardworking staff team; observing their conduct, performing behavioural research of my own, and trying to mimic and take on new duties. Consequently, I have received two new responsibilities and for the foreseeable future I will be teaching English to grade 4 at the local primary school as well as teaching English to the Mahouts during weekday evenings.

– Oli Barnes, Field Staff

Three Long-term Interns Now EFR (Emergency First Response) Certified

Our current group of long-term interns recently received their EFR (Emergency First Response) training from Program Manager, Liane Fulford. This full-day training provides them with basic knowledge in first aid and how to respond in the event of an emergency. This training is required before we allow interns or staff to lead hikes out to see the elephants. This is because all volunteers must be accompanied by an EFR-trained individual, as it is inevitable when hiking in mountainous terrain in varied weather conditions that injuries will occur. Of course, if anything more serious happens, the EFR training will also be utilised then.

During the second-half of their internship, our long-term interns will be leading the elephant hikes (while still being supervised by a GVI Chiang Mai staff member), and this is one of the steps required for them to be ready to do just that!

– Tom Mitchell, Senior Field Staff – Marketing Coordinator

Volunteers Deliver Toothbrush Workshops For Local Children

Recently volunteers Becca Bosch and Colleen Christensen, with the help of Su, took on the challenge of running a teeth brushing workshop at the primary school here in Huay Pakoot! Around 40 students listened to them explain the importance of brushing their teeth, complete with singing and dancing, before letting them all try for themselves with their own toothbrushes. It was a real success and so they repeated the session on Wednesday with the kindergarten students. Hopefully they can keep it up.

– Liane Fulford, Program Manager