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By Tiffany Eaton, UWC Thailand Primary School Teacher

As Grade 3 student Karate looked over the watering hole at the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, she remarked, “I’ve learned a lot of things [from these weekly service trips] that I could not read in books. After all, books keep secrets and can’t tell the whole truth or experience that we have seen with our own eyes here.”

Over the past six weeks, Grade 3 students have been actively supporting two of our UWC Thailand service partners: the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project and the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. Each week, students have been challenged with various physical tasks ranging from hiking in order to collect natural plants to feed the animals to planting banana trees, making rice balls, scrubbing and sweeping cages, removing trash from mangrove forests and even fertilizing the trees they planted with elephant dung! With the knowledge of primates from our PYP Coordinator, Jen Friske, and the support of John Lancett and the school Design and Technology team, students designed and hand-crafted enrichment items for the gibbons to encourage them to develop the foraging skills they will need to achieve the centre’s goal of successfully rehabilitating and releasing gibbons in families in nearby Khao Pra Theaw forest (adjacent to UWC Thailand).

It has been neither fun nor glamorous, but each trip has been the catalyst for growth; that is, growth in each child’s perseverance, growth in their “I can do it” attitudes and growth in our class’ teamwork. This growth and perseverance has directly transferred to the classroom, where students have begun to realize that “There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it,” words from UWC founder Kurt Hanh. Grade 3 students can take detailed notes, use multi-stepped problems to solve real-life situational math questions, consider perspectives outside their own, and take meaningful action to make a difference in our classroom, on our campus, and beyond. 

Kurt Hanh wasn’t the only person who advocated for opportunities to develop self-discovery and mutual compassion. Numerous research studies, such as the Harvard Grant, the longest-running longitudinal study in history (spanning 75 years from 1938 to present), have demonstrated that raising successful children is as simple as imparting unconditional love and developing a “pitch-in attitude” through regular chores from an early age. Through hard work, children start to realize that “I have to do the work of life in order to be part of life,” said Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University.

  “If we want children to flourish, to be truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it,” states David Sobel. Increasing research illuminates that access to nature and green space “…Provides children with a myriad cognitive, emotional, and physical benefits” (Faber Taylor & Kuo, 2006; Kellert, 2005, Lieberman & Hoody, 1998; Louv, 2007; Wells & Evans, 2003). While developing an appreciation for the natural world is strengthened by regular service trips like these – they have worked in conjunction with other opportunities UWC Thailand students are afforded. Students are encouraged to explore our green campus daily and are regularly involved in rich Outdoor Education excursions and camps. Using the outdoors as our classroom is part of UWC Thailand’s larger, more strategic goals that sow the seeds to develop each learner’s understanding of concepts central to life, such as empathy, discovery, interdependence, perspective, challenges, balance and sustainability. By facilitating opportunities for our students to test their natural sense of wonder, it is common for them to show an intrinsic desire to protect what they have come to love so deeply.  

After all, what you believe, you value; what you value, you do. 

UWC Thailand grade 3 service trip: Phuket Elephant Sanctuary

“I’ve been saving my pocket money to sponsor a gibbon,” Karate told me the other day. “I’ve worked out the finances if others want to pitch in,” she announced to the class. “Yeah, I used to think it would be super hard, and now I know it can be hard, but it gets easier as you keep doing it,” said Leo. “But now I know that if we all work together, it all adds up,” added Rajvir.