All That Is Not Given Is Lost
Alene ( Canada )
I volunteered with Dr. David and thought you might like a first hand account of what it's like. Before I arrived, I had obviously read about the work he's been doing with his organization (Where There Is No Doctor) and figured it was something I wanted to be a part of (after all I signed up to volunteer for three weeks), but it wasn't until I actually met him and saw firsthand what he does that I was fully sold on what I was getting into. Unfortunately, as you probably know there are many organizations out there who, unlike Dr. David, use funds generated from volunteers and others for shall we say "less than honorable" purposes.
So, I just wanted to set your mind at ease if you are in fact a bit of a skeptic like me, that this certainly isn't the case here. As Dr. David spends most of the time out in the field helping the hill tribe people not soliciting funds, he currently depends on the generosity of regular individuals to purchase the medication and other supplies he requires for his work. Rest assured, the money is being put to good use. Recognizing that their needs go beyond the mere medical and that there is no one else helping them with these basic needs, Dr. David's work includes such things as building toilets, sending kids to school and other social work on top of his medical work (which if you do the math, adds up to a whole lot of work). The limiting factor is simply a lack of funds, definitely not a desire to help or good, sustainable ideas as to how to go about doing this. So all you people wanting to help a good cause.. look no further... this is it.
Donations don't get lost in system here, they have recognizable effects on many people's lives who could benefit greatly (in a life changing sort of way) from a little compassion. As far as the volunteer experience itself goes... It's fantastic! The hill tribe people are absolutely lovely and make you feel welcome in their homes and communities. It is a truly unique and wonderful experience. If you're not excited yet, you should be. You're going to have a great time. Dr. David is a very good natured and incredibly interesting man and I think you would be hard pressed not to be able to get along with him and be inspired by what he does.
Good luck with all your fundraising efforts and enjoy your time amongst the hill tribe people.
Kes Vroegop (NZ)
My name is Kes Vroegop (NZ) and I am a volunteer currently working for Dr. David in the hills of northern Thailand.
I arrived with no idea what to expect but any fears I may have had were soon dispelled when I met Dr. David with his quiet, calm and above all, his honest and open manner. Soon we were on our way trekking through lush jungle covered hills (mountains for those from flatter countries), up and down paddy and corn fields, across streams and rivers, finally arriving in our first village where we were met with friendly faces and shy, curious children. After preparing and eating our dinner cooked over an open fire in the middle of the hut, a “shower” by throwing water over oneself from a concrete trough in the mud in the middle of the village (fed by a pipe from clean spring water which Dr David initiated the setup of) is not something most westerners would be used to.
Dr David is certainly one of the most selfless people I have ever met. He has a heart of gold and his knowledge of the hill-tribe people must be second to none. I feel privileged to be involved in this unique experience. He is also our gateway to get a glimpse into the hill-tribe peoples lives as he should have a second doctorate for his language skills, knowing more than 5 local tribe languages fluently as well as many other languages.
Dr. David offers the hill-tribe people an opportunity for health-care that they otherwise would not have. He works tirelessly and devotedly for them and given the limited funds available to him (solely donations) and difficult conditions he is working under, (very limited transport while being a “mobile Doctor” - hence not being able to carry much equipment, limited water supply, no refrigeration - hence unable to carry certain medications, etc), he gives the best care possible. I have seen the village people looking to him for hope and well-being firsthand.
The hill tribe people are very friendly welcoming people. To take us in under their roofs and offer us their hospitality when they have so little already is just astounding. As the doctors web-site says, they do live in bamboo huts and sleep on the floor which is where they accommodated us as well. The children are so full of life and fun they are a joy to get to know. They are brave and intelligent as well and I can fully understand why they have touched Dr. David’s heart (and he, theirs, as they crowd around him when we arrive in each new village).
As Dr David looks at the bigger picture, he is interested in helping the villagers find a better way of life whatever that may entail. I believe he is on the right track in trying to find a better practice for their agricultural needs (poor nutrition being one of their major health difficulties especially in the dry season when fruit is not so available). Perhaps understandably the Thailand government is not so happy with previous slash and burn practices (and being a biologist/ conservationist neither am I), so the hill-tribe village people are now required to re-use the same land. This is one area where we can hopefully help these people in teaching sustainable farming practices. I am going to research this area as much as possible as this is something I believe in strongly and Dr David is more than willing to convey and motivate the hill-tribe people into trialing new practices but what we would really benefit from is the expertise of an agriculturalist or people who have experience is this kind of thing. HELP!
The problem is that the hill-tribe people can only grow rice (their staple diet) once a year during the wet season, and the harvests are reducing each season due to no soil nutrient replenishment as they do not use fertilizers. At first thought I would guess some kind of crop rotation would be called for, and/or perhaps with fertilizing the soil hopefully organically from animal/human waste (they have pigs, cows, chickens etc).
Jordan (US) 26/06/06
Hello, I am a first year medical student in the states and I just finished a stint with Dr. David. Dr. David started an organization called “Where There is No Doctor”. He created this one man organization from the ground up, he has not taken a day off in two years, he tirelessly fights for equal human writes by providing free medical care to the refugee Hill Tribe community in a region of northern Thailand. While volunteering for Dr. David you will get a change to see the entire process. You will start by watching your donation go directly to purchasing medicines, then return to his base where you will sort the medicines and get ready for a week long journey into another world. During the past week I visited three villages. In each village we set up a clinic and provided free medical care. The clinics are set up on the floor of churches or a front porch of a friendly family. As a first year medical student I did both triage as well as served as a pharmacist for Dr. David. Dr. David synthesizes the traditional medical training he gained in medical school in India to care for his population of patients.
Beyond doing medical social work I greatly valued being able to live with families and gain a first hand insight into their way of life. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of my experience was connecting with the local kids through playing games as well as teaching for ? day in a hill tribe school.
Dr. David has many stories about his past that he shares with a smile over nightly wonderfully cooked dinners (yes he cooks too). Please do not hesitate to e-mail me if you have specific questions for a past volunteer.
I will end with some suggestions:
Good stuff to bring to give out in the village:
- Stuffed animals and other toys for children like water guns, jump rope, and the like.
- kids cloths
- Sandals flip flops
- Remember that Asian people are often shorter then western folk, so if you are a six two
white guy with a size 12 feet your old clothes may not be that helpful
- Radios, flashlights, watches
Leah (US) July 14, 2006
Hello all, I am a young, single female traveler and have been volunteering with Dr. David Mar Naw's Where There is No Doctor.
I feel very fortunate to have been able to spend this time with Dr. David in the Hill Tribe villages. Leaving tomorrow morning, I feel filled with inspiration. Not only is his work unbelievably selfless, he has an incredible life story and much wisdom to share. The last week that I spent volunteering with him has been surrounded by some of the most gorgeous scenery I have ever seen, along with the Hill Tribe community that I will soon miss.
Any hesitations or concerns I had before meeting with Dr. David were quickly dissolved from our first meeting. His personality is kind and sincere, as his work is honest and selfless. His past is full of hardship that has come from his fight for human rights and strong activism. Sometimes it's hard to imagine this because of his most gentle demeanor. Then again, he is a man that lives with many principles and convictions, and he acts on them. They have led him to spending over two years in the jungle of Thailand, giving himself to the villages that need his help. The work that he has been doing has given results that are easily visible. While he is living his life very minimal- He provides the community with as much as there are funds available. Although he has already set up villages with healthcare, better sanitation, schooling, and much more, he continues to be concerned with the work that is left to be done. A new school or a clever child's schooling that could be taken care of if only he had the funds. He is never satisfied with has been done, and seems to only look at what work is left.
Along with his work efforts, Dr. David is full of things to share. Over the last week, I have eaten some of the best foods of my life. His Burmese cooking, with his Indian and Thai experience, has left him with some great meals that I will be missing. He also has many interesting viewpoints and widespread knowledge, plus lots of stories and experiences to share.
This entire experience has been great for me. It's been so nice to get away from the city and to walk to villages through the jungle. (As I write from the base, a curious 12" lizard climbs the wall beside me...and it just attacked a big green bug and ran off). Something interesting is always available to look at, and the lush scenery here is terrific. No traffic, no crowds, no rush.
It’s been the best to spend time in the village communities. The atmosphere is peaceful without yelling, fighting or hostility, and everyone seems to be working with each other as if a single family. The kids are gorgeous. Their minds are curious and active, and they are full of energy. They have been eager to teach us anything they can, while they are quicker than us to learn what we have to offer. Example being how I still find counting to five in Lahu impossible, whereas my 7 year old teacher picked up my accent after the second time! It's hard knowing that school is not always a possibility for these smart children. Every village has been a different experience, and each place has its own hardships as well as its own beauty.
For those looking to volunteer I hope you come to put most hesitations to the side. Where There is No Doctor is legitimate. All of the money that you are giving goes directly to where you want it to go, whether that is medicine, infrastructure, education...and Dr. David Mar Naw has organized his work responsibly and effectively. Your time here is helpful as you assist Dr. David in clinic, but you are also able to spend time in another culture and enjoy the beautiful country. You will have the opportunity to play with wonderful kids, eat the best food, and even have those extra hours to read or relax in a bamboo house or by the river. If you find yourself with more concerns please feel free to email me:
I can only suggest that you come aware of the volunteer work that you are going to be involved in. It is not a trekking tour. It is a project to give your help and energy to the doctor and to the villages. If you come with an open mind and desire to help, you will be able to have the best experience.
Neil Mackay ( Scotland )
1. What do you think about Dr David?
I found Dr David to be focused, and selfless in his work with the hill tribes. He is a knowledgeable person on a variety of subjects, and is good fun to be around.
2. What do you think about the work he is doing?
I think the dedicated work he does with the hill-tribe people is fantastic. Not only the medical aid he bring, but also the help he has provided to the hill-tribe children in making education more accessible, using the hostels he has set up.
3. What do you think about the hill-tribes?
I found the people in the hill-tribes to be very welcoming and friendly, and although I could not communicate in their language, I really enjoyed my time with them and played a variety of games. They make you feel really at home. They have family, honesty, and work values that are seen too seldom in the western world and indeed other parts of Thailand!
4. What experiences have you had with Dr David?
All my experiences have been positive. I particularly enjoyed playing with the children in the villages, and as a Pharmacist it was great to see the way that medicines and healthcare are brought to these small communities purely by donations and the actions of David and his volunteers!
As a Pharmacist with a wide knowledge base on medicines and vitamins I would have liked to be more involved clinically. In future when I come back it would be good to bring donations so that I could help with a project and see it through to completion.
6. A few words to new volunteers.
Having found David’s site online and gone through the registration process, I was still unsure what to expect when I arrived in Chaing rai. I found the whole experience to be exactly as the web site leads you to believe, particularly on the safety side of things. I felt as at ease in the hill-tribe villages as I have anywhere in the world from Scotland to Australia.
It’s wonderful to experience a completely different way of life to what I’m used to, and really refreshing to see the way the people here cope with the challenges put in front of them daily, with a smile on their face. I enjoyed all aspects of my time in the hill-tribes, especially David’s cooking, and the interaction with the people in the hill-tribes, both in the clinics and when playing games! Having traveled through Thailand to get to Chiang Rai I can safely say this has been my best experience in the country.
Come prepared to; try new foods, join in the games, and chat/learn about a wide variety of topics from medicines to dancing, and you’ll have as fantastic a time as I did.
Dr. David is the kind of person you might be lucky enough to meet once or twice in a lifetime. His life story and his dedication to the hill tribes day in and day out are unbelievable. Single-handedly he has begun to help the hill tribes improve their health, education, and infrastructure, and to provide higher education and training for a few so that they can continue and expand sustainable development projects on their own.
Working with Dr. David is not only inspiring, genuine, and transparent, but the hill tribes are incredibly kind, and the scenery is beautiful. This is undoubtedly one of the most worthwhile investments of time and money that you could choose to make.
Ok, so there are some myths floating around about the hill tribes, northern Thailand, etc.
Myth: The hill tribe regions are unsafe or risky
Truth: There is no one who would pose as a danger to you. Not the Thai government or police. In fact, the only potential danger anywhere in Thailand might be posed by a Thai criminal, but Thai people don’t live in the region. Only the hill tribes live in the region and they are certainly not a problem. The crime rate among the hill tribes stands at 0%. They resolve all disputes peacefully among themselves, deeply respect all people, and are extremely honest. If you drop a 5 baht coin (Thai equivalent of about 15 cents), even though they are desperately poor they will bring it to you. As long as you bring a flashlight so you don’t fall if you are walking to the outhouse at night, it is probably much safer than your own home.
Myth: The hill tribes grow opium (poppies), smoke opium/do drugs
Truth: Hill tribes in Thailand no longer grow poppies, though they say that ten years ago the mountainsides covered in red and white poppies were incredibly beautiful. Drug use is not rampant, and apparently only a few older people who are addicted still smoke opium, and then only late at night and in private. I saw no evidence of drug use during my stay.
Myth: There are numerous NGOs working to help the hill tribes
Truth: There are numerous NGOs working in the name of the hill tribes. But in case after case, time after time, they exploit the hill tribe names for their own gain, and only minimally help the people. Dr. David seems to be the only one - at least in his region, which is one of seven - who is actually living with the people, taking part in their daily life, speaking their languages, working alongside of them, and pouring all of his donations into medicine and projects that will improve and empower their lives. There may be other worthy NGOs of which I am not aware, but if you are thinking of coming up to Northern Thailand - PLEASE be careful and really do your homework.
Other things you should know:
If you take the sky train to Mo Chit in Bangkok to get to the bus station, it is a very long walk from the stop and hard to find. Get a motorcycle taxi to take you there for about 50 baht. Do the same when you arrive at the bus station in Chiang Rai and need to get to the Maekok Villa GuestHouse near Overbrook Hospital or Pam Guesthouse on Jet Yod road.
- Bring a small backpack. You can wash clothes if you need to in the villages.
- Bring rechargeable camera batteries and the re-charger since you may be able to
re-charge them in one of the village homes as they have solar panels (don’t forget
your adaptor). Also, ask Dr. David the solar panel story!
- Bring a ball or plan on easy games (with little language requirement) to teach the
children, or to use to teach them English. They do not have balls of their own, they
are too poor.
- Bring baht/cash in small change so that you can buy soap, vegetables, handicrafts,
etc. from the villagers. They will not have change.
- Bring immodium
- If you need a mirror, then bring one. Very few homes have one.
- If you forget anything you can almost for sure buy it in the market at Chiang Rai
- Dr. David has a base where you can store things if you have a lot of stuff
- If you have extra time in Chiang Rai before you meet up with Dr. David, check out
the hill tribes museum