Each year we welcome over 2,500 students and staff from schools worldwide.
11-15 February 2019
The Barge Program was delighted to welcome students from the newly opened Wellington College International School, Bangkok, for their first ever residential trip. The intrepid explorers headed to Kanchanaburi to investigate the natural and WW2 history of the province and take part in a service project working with a local forest community.
We began at perhaps Kanchanaburi’s most famous landmark, the Bridge over the River Kwae to discover why POWS were first bought to the province- to work as slaves on the epic 415km railway planned by the Japanese to run from Thailand across the mountains into Burma.
After witnessing first-hand the bridge and railway the POWS had worked on, it was time to find out more about life as a POW. The living conditions, workload, rations and medical treatments were further explored at the Thai Burma Railway Centre, before we considered the impacts that war has, not only on the men fighting, but their homes and communities a during a visit to the Donrak POW cemetery.
We then moved on to learn more about the areas natural history and began to understand the challenged faced by the POWS in this mountainous terrain. A long tailed boat ride along the river allowed us to observe the diversity of birdlife and also consider modern settlement and the impacts of tourism and development on the famous River Kwae.
To reach our next destination involved a steep climb up to Lawa Cave, located in Sai Yok National Park. Here we traveled way back in time to consider how the caves were formed and learn about the impressive stalactites and stalagmites decorating the caves interior. The cave is also home to several bat species which the students were able to ‘overhear’ using a bat detector to eavesdrop on the echo locating mammals.
The afternoon saw us enjoying a walk along the nature trail to immerse ourselves in the bamboo forests of the mountains, enjoying the sights sounds and smells of the National Park, followed by an ice cream treat to reward ourselves after the walk and climb! The evening’s campfire provided many laughs and marshmallows were a great finale to a busy day.
Our final challenge of the week was spending time at Samakee Tham Village and community forest and learning about their sustainability practices. Working with two of the communities’ expert dam builders we learnt the importance of water management in the forest. After several drier than expected rainy seasons and hotter dry seasons, the community suffered severe water shortages, eventually running out of water and having to buy and import it in from surrounding areas. Since then the community has worked hard to ensure they can better manage their water. Creating a small reservoir has helped with water storage and they have been creating a series of small bamboo and stone dams in the forest to slow the flow of water and reduce run off from the mountains. With a plan to build 1200 dams across their community, the Wellington students rolled up their sleeves and worked to create dams number 667 and 668. Using only natural materials and elbow grease the willing year 6s showed excellent teamwork and communication skills to get the hard work done.
After a break for lunch the students went on to learn more about the other sustainability practices employed in the village, including using bamboo to make bamboo blinds which the students got to assist in making and using the scrap bamboo to shred and make into a plywood which can be used to make items such as shelves, cabinets and birdhouses. The students also learnt how villagers from the community are travelling to other local communities in Kanchanaburi to teach them how to build dams to manage their water and how they can make the most sustainable use of the natural resources around them and working with the government o raise funds to provide more villages with the machinery and expertise needed to shred and create the bamboo plywood.
After a busy week learning about Kanchanaburi’s history, the Wellington students had practiced their communication and teamwork skills, learnt independence and resilience and had enjoyed the challenge and opportunity to give something back and contribute to an important project within the local community.
Students testing out their bamboo weaving skills
One of the chief dam builder explains the important of the dams in maintaining the areas water supply and keeping the agricultural areas of the village growing.
Products made from the bamboo ‘waste products’ which have been chipped and made into plywood by the community at Samakee Tham.