When I arrived in the absolutely stunning small city of Chiang Rai, I had no idea what to expect. I had just spent a week in Beijing, constantly bumping into people, sitting in traffic, and checking the smog report daily like we would check the weather. Landing in Chiang Rai couldn’t have been more different. It had a typical small town airport feel but the breath-taking hospitality of this country was apparent immediately.
I was greeted with huge smiles by two of the teachers from Kyle and Meg’s school (I’m sure I wasn’t too hard to spot as a blonde girl in a sea of Thai residents). They spoke wonderful English and didn’t stop smiling the whole way to the school. This was just my first interaction with the genuine happiness of Thai people. This positivity only became more overwhelming as I arrived at Princess Chulabhorn school and was introduced by Meg to her fellow teachers and asked if I had a good flight, if I was hungry, if I was tired, and more. They had known me for 2 minutes and were treating me with more hospitality than any hotel in America would.
While a bit jet lagged, I was thrilled to be able to sit in on one of Meg’s science classes. Eager to learn and, again, with smiles on their faces, the students greeted me with “sawatdee ka!” (or “hello!), palms together and a nod as is Thai custom. This continued all through lunch and every time I walked around the campus. These kids are enthusiastic, happy, respectful and more. These characteristics were contagious. It is so hard to be upset when surrounded by such beauty and happiness and it is truly inspiring.
This inspiration not only took hold of me, but of Kyle and Meg as well and I feel honored to be able to speak to it first hand and to have seen Kao Jai in its very early stages. I had the unique privilege of being a part of the first meeting with Kyle and Doon (the overseer of the hilltribe residents who farm the coffee). Despite the language barrier, we could immediately see her passion for her people and what she does. Getting Doon on board was the first step in bringing Thai coffee to America and she couldn’t have been more excited to have us meet the farmers and see the process first hand. I think if it had been earlier in the day, we would have gone up the mountain right then and there...
Director of Staff Resources - Appalachia Service Project