Felix Family Bakery Build, Thailand 2018
Aly Putnam [Boston, MA, USA]
Benat Pena Arregui [Bedford, UK]
Carol Mastoris [Dallas, TX, USA]
Catherine Durbin [St. Albans, UK]
Christa Rotolo [New York, NY, USA]
Elena Yebra Salinas [Bedford, UK]
Erin Colshan - Director [Orange, CA, USA]
Gurpreet Gill [Birmingham, UK]
Kyle Denny [Houston, TX, USA]
Lauren Woodward [St. Albans, UK]
Mariah Rockwell [Greenville, SC, USA]
Marina Ojanguren [Bedford, UK]
Nishant Kassim [Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia]
Rebecca Young [Boston, MA, USA]
Michael Morrell [Orange, CA, USA]
Stephanie Colshan [Santa Ana, CA, USA]
Thomas Mastoris [Charlotte, NC, USA]
AECOM BANGKOK VOLUNTEERS:
Dr. Kitti Setavoraphan
Siong Seng Chai
Building a bakery & completing a basketball court
Surat Thani, Thailand
July 27-August 8, 2018
From July 27th through August 8th, 2018, fourteen participants joined Building Humanity in Thailand to help construct a bakery for the Felix Family Village. Building Humanity and all the participants had spent the year prior to the event, fundraising and planning. Everyone was anxious to finally come together as a group, most of us meeting one another for the first time. Members of the team were flying into Bangkok from cities across the US, UK and UAE. After long flights and days of traveling, Building Humanity believes it is important to give volunteers the first couple days to acclimate to the new environment, get to know one another, and learn about the country and culture before integrating with the community we will be working alongside.
Building Humanity arranged for two local guides to lead the team around Bangkok so we could explore the cultural sites, share its history, explain local customs, and try many different kinds of traditional food. It gave us the platform to begin bonding as a group as well as to start working as a team before beginning work on the bakery.
Throughout the year leading up to the build, Building Humanity worked with the Felix Family Village and Kitti Setavoraphan, the director of growth and strategy in AECOM's Bangkok office, to develop plans and feasibility studies of how the bakery should be integrated onto the site as well as realistic cost estimates. Ultimately the bakery was decided to be an extension off the back of the main community building which houses a large gathering room and two rooms for visiting guests. This would save on the costs of constructing a brand new, free standing building.
After our two day Thai immersion, we all flew to Surat Thani in the south of Thailand to finally meet our host families and all the children at Felix Family Village. The parents and children were so excited to meet the volunteers, it wasn't long before we were all one big family. Felix Family Village believes family is the key to helping abandoned and neglected children, and is the foundation of their success. Families are comprised of a married couple who dedicates their life to raising a “family”. They may or may not have children of their own, but they will begin to take on children over a 2 year period, up to 10-16 children in all, and they will raise them as a family unit. Priority at Felix Family Village (FFV) is given to children that have lost their parents to HIV/Aids.
The village was founded in 2007 with the purchase of two plots of land. Over the ten years since it was founded, ten homes have been built with the support of generous donors. The ten families currently house 70 children with the goal of eventually placing 120 children. Once a family reaches its full capacity, that family will remain unchanged until all the children eventually move out of the home. When a young adult moves out, another child is not brought into the family unit to fill the void, so the unit stays constant and children are not constantly coming in and out. This is important in keeping the family unit strong, and also eventually allows parents to phase out of service after 20+ years of dedication, unless they decide to go on to continue to care for a second generation of children.
With family homes completed, the Felix Family Village is now looking to become self sufficient. Currently they rely on donations to keep the village operating which is not guaranteed and fluctuates year to year, a risk they cannot afford when they have 70 children relying on their care. Their next major focus will be to create business opportunities that can be run by the families which will also teach vocational skills to the children, similar to their sister orphanage, Caminul Felix in Romania, which has a bakery, auto shop, wood working shop, sewing shop, dairy farm and crops.
A bakery will be FFV’s first step in becoming financially independent. As well as providing baked goods for the families in the village, the bakery will enable the village to sell baked goods to local shops, restaurants and stores in the marketplaces and surrounding communities. Bakeries specializing in Western style cakes, pies, cookies and breads are trending across Thailand, therefore opening a bakery in the southern part of Thailand will be innovative, as Western style baked goods are still a novelty and are in demand.
We had 14 AECOM employees from the US, UK & UAE, and 3 family members who flew to Thailand to assist in the build. They rallied support from their local offices over the last year, raising funds and awareness of the project. The Bangkok office also assisted the team, finding discounted construction materials through one of their vendors and getting a cost estimate of the bakery to assist in fundraising efforts. The Bangkok AECOM office had 16 employees join the full time team for 1 day of work and a weekend of events with the children, including taking the entire village to the beach. In total 30 AECOM employees from 4 countries and 11 offices volunteered to assist with the construction of the bakery. This project was a huge success because of the massive collaborative effort from volunteers and offices around the world.
Day 1-3 - Friday, July 27 - Sunday, July 29
On Friday, the Buddhist Lent Celebration, our team converged on Bangkok. After everyone arrived and got settled in, we kicked off the event with introductions and a group dinner. By the end of the first night the team was beginning to bond and we could already tell it was going to be a fantastic group.
Saturday and Sunday were filled with sight seeing around Bangkok. In Thai culture, each day has a color associated with it. The king's birthday color is yellow, so because the whole country was celebrating HM King’s 66th Birthday, the city was filled with yellow flags and enormous portraits in celebration.
On Saturday we began by exploring the sights, smells and tastes of China Town. Via ferry boat we arrived at Ratchawong Pier, where we stepped into the old markets in Yaowarat. These Chinese locals were originally traders living in the villages of Bangkok before it became the capital. Onto Wat Traimit Temple, a stunning temple that enshrines the world’s largest golden seated Buddha from the Sukhothai Era, measuring nearly five meters high and weighing five and a half tons. This temple also houses the Chinese Museum, where we learned all about the history of the Chinese people in Thailand and the fascinating relationship between these two countries.
An highlight of the day was a 100 year old coffee shop on Phat Sai Road, where we were treated to coffee and tea, and the opportunity to sit back and soak up the atmosphere. We finished the tour with a delicious traditional Chinese dinner. Many of us took to the streets that night to explore the famous night markets and try some of the more interesting insect delicacies that Bangkok had to offer.
Sunday started off early at the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. We learned the history behind the Palace and the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand, Wat Phra Kaew. The palace complex is considered to be the spiritual center of the nation.
From one beautiful temple to another, we moved on to Wat Po, another temple that is integral to the Buddhist religion in Thailand. It’s home to the infamous golden reclining Buddha and is the birthplace of traditional Thai massage. Continuing onto the Chai Phraya River, or River of Kings, we boarded a long tail boat. Bangkok is known as the ‘Venice of the East’ because of its many rivers and canals. Touring through the network of ‘khlongs’, or canals we saw a different side of Bangkok, which feels like a world away from the chaos of the busy streets. Once back on solid ground everyone returned to the hotel to pack and catch our flight to Surat Thani. With some cultural context and friendships built, our team was ready to meet the community we had come to help.
Day 4 - Monday, July 30
After a good night’s rest and a hearty breakfast, we all gathered in the morning to meet Mana, the director of Felix Family Village. He felt that it was important to show us around Surat Thani, to give us further context and history about the city as well as Felix Family Village. We were able to see some of the important sites in Surat Thani including Khao Tha Phet Wildlife and Nature Education Station, where we could overlook the entire city, feed the local monkeys and see Phra That Si Surat, a stupa which houses Buddha relics donated by the Indian government.
After our tour we pulled into the Felix Family Village for the first time. We began to interact with the children, playing games and breaking the ice. In the evening the entire village met in the gathering hall to eat and welcome us to the village. Many of the children performed dances and played music. The huge welcome party was a great introduction for the volunteers and the community.
Day 5 - Tuesday, July 31
With lots of work to do, our team broke off into two groups. Half helped to begin work on the bakery, which had the slab poured prior to our arrival, so we could hit the ground running. By the end of day one the bakery team had painted rust protection on all the steel columns and beams, as well as helped to erect and weld 6 of 10 columns for the bakery roof structure
The other team was helping to complete a partially constructed basketball court. The basketball court had a slab poured the prior year, but because of a lack of funding was still unfinished. Part of our teams’ mission was to complete the basketball court and celebrate with an inauguratory game with the children. By the end of the day the team had applied the first coat of paint and measured and chalked the lines for striping.
Day 6 - Wednesday, August 1
Our team experienced the first big monsoon rain of the trip, but was still able to get a lot of work done. We continued to put up steel columns and beams for the bakery roof. Several people were able to work inside during the rain replacing ceiling tiles in the main gathering room, which made the ceiling look brand new. The basketball team applied a second coat on the court, and finished up painting the court lines.
In the afternoon some of the village mothers taught a cooking class to interested volunteers. They made dozens of different colored Khanom Tom, or coconut balls. It was great for the team to learn about some of the desserts the mothers intended to bake in their new bakery, and learn about traditional cooking methods.
In the evenings some of the volunteers decided to help teach English classes at the school owned by our translator, Paris Natthakan Chardpaison. The children loved having the additional help and got to ask tons of questions. For dinner the team went to a local night market in the center of Surat Thani and got to try some of the local traditional dishes, very different in style and ingredients than those we experienced in Bangkok.
Day 7 - Thursday, August 2
Less rain meant we were able to accomplish more work outside. The painting of the basketball court was officially completed with final touchups. The basketball hoops and supports arrived and a team of locals worked on completing the welding. Everyone was thrilled that it was near completion. Meanwhile at the bakery site, the major steel columns and beams were now installed. While the welders worked on getting the intermediary supports installed for the roofing panels, our team was able to start on the concrete brick infill.
The children usually came home from school around 5pm, and our team stayed late to have some play time. Everyone was excited to be able to play on the court, even without the hoops installed. There were a half dozen games of four square going on, with some of the younger children drawing and playing tic tac toe with chalk. Others were able to get into a pretty muddy game of soccer, with one team using our safety vests as jerseys. Homemade crushed ice, chia seeds and Roselle syrup made for a refreshing post playtime snack.
Day 8 - Friday, August 3
A group of 16 from the AECOM Bangkok office flew down for the weekend. With the massive increase in manpower, we were able to motor through clearing some tough debris behind several of the homes to help with proper drainage. Several more masonry walls were also completed, and one of the basketball hoops was finally erected.
For dinner the Bangkok team took all the AECOM and Building Humanity volunteers out for a group dinner. It was great to get to know our Bangkok colleagues and get a taste of a variety of the best seafood.
Day 9-10 - Saturday, August 4 - Sunday, August 5
With a free weekend, some of the Building Humanity volunteers decided to venture off to local islands. For those who stayed, the AECOM Bangkok office hosted a beach day. Kids, parents and volunteers boarded two big busses on Saturday and spent the day at Khanom beach. Funny enough most of the children were more interested in the pool, but we were able to convince a big group to play some games on the sand.
On Sunday the Bangkok AECOM office volunteers took us to some of the most important sights in Surat Thani, including the City Pillar Shrine, Bang Bai Mai, a gorgeous Sunday market along the river and Wat Phra Borommathat Chaiya Temple which is one of the most elaborate examples of Srivijaya influence remaining in Thailand today.
In the evening we took a boat tour with Mana Rujirayanyong, the director of the village, his wife and 10 of his children. The tour took us through some dense jungle along the river where we saw monitor lizards and a variety of birds. Once the sun set we were able to watch the fireflies that live in mangrove trees along the river. The fireflies are so dense it looks like the trees are decorated with twinkling lights for Christmas.
Day 11 - Monday, August 6
The day was made more challenging due to several people coming down will illnesses and the rain delaying painting and construction of the final masonry wall. But by the end of the day the walls were up and the final basketball hoop was erected.
Building Humanity & FFV leaders went to two restaurant supply shops and purchased a selection of bakery equipment. Several of the house mothers were eager to try out some of the new equipment and made waffles for everyone.
Day 12 - Tuesday, August 7
With the last full day of building, the site was buzzing with everyone frantically trying to finish up the last projects. The roofing materials were finally delivered and we were able to get the roof up and completed which was a huge relief. The masonry walls were capped off and prepped for window and door installation. The plaques recognizing sponsors/donors were sanded and painted, which will later be polyurethaned and hung inside the bakery walls. Everyone worked until the 11th hour to get things finished, and in the end we were able to finish everything we had set out to do. At around 6 pm it was time to put down the hardhats and party.
The Thank You/Farewell party was a highlight for the whole village even though it was sprinkling. Football and basketball matches were taking place on the new basketball court all night long. Food was being grilled up throughout the night, parents and children were showing off their skills on the guitar and drums, while others danced and enjoyed themselves. Everything about the night was filled with happiness and joy, which summed up the entire trip. The hardest part was having to say one last goodbye to all the families we had come to know and love.
Day 13 - Wednesday, August 8
Our last morning in Surat Thani was bitter sweet. Our team packed up early, said our final goodbyes at the airport and everyone boarded a plane back to Bangkok and from there set off to their next destination.
Over the course of 10 days our team learned a lot about Thai culture, food and lifestyle as well as how to construct a building and work as a team in a country where the language and building standards are different than what they were accustomed to. Thank you to everyone involved in helping to fundraise and making this project such a huge success. The Felix Family Village is thrilled with their new bakery and invite you to visit if you are ever in Surat Thani, Thailand.
Since leaving Thailand, the local team has been working on the finishing touches. Below are the latest photos of the project.
Benat Pena Arregui (Spain)
Elena Yerba Salinas