Published on June 15, 2020
For a small village in Thailand, the ancient process of salt-making is key to its economy. The procedure starts with large pots filled with more than 100 liters of water, left to sit for days before the preparations begin. Once the water is prepped for the process, the pots are heated and sealed with banana leaves to prevent heat from escaping. Then, workers gather salt from the evaporated water.
On the other side of the globe, tucked away near the edge of MU’s campus in McReynolds Hall, is the Office of Service-Learning. Dedicated to teaching students how to be leaders through service, the office runs many programs in Columbia, throughout the Show-Me State and across the U.S. But over this past winter break, they did something a little different.
Mizzou partnered with an institution in Southeastern Asia — King Mongkut’s University of Technology, Thonburi (KMUTT) — to send students to Bo Kluea in the Nan province of Thailand, to work with the locals on strategic communications projects. Eight Mizzou students partnered with 13 KMUTT students over the course of a week.
“We combined the themes of strategic communications and economic development,” says Anne-Marie Foley, director of the MU Office of Service-Learning and the accompanying faculty member on the trip. “It was really moving. People of good faith coming together, trying to do something positive for a community with other students.”
Students from both universities worked on four projects based on key elements of Bo Kluea’s economic system and history: the Salt Makers, Mlabri People, History of the Town and Traditions. Students had a week to create the projects, which included videos, animations, websites and more.
“They chose the projects on a Tuesday night and we presented the projects to community leaders on Friday afternoon,” Foley says. “There was something really courageous and amazing about what they were able to accomplish, and they were very proud of it.”
Claire Hassler, a senior journalism major from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, worked on a video about the salt-making industry in Bo Kluea. Her team hoped to help promote tourism by shining a light on some of Bo Kluea’s most important industries and traditions. Hassler and her teammates highlighted the details of the sacred process.
“We promoted tourism in ways that hopefully the people who live there will actually be able to take advantage of,” Hassler says. “It’s a very cool, visual thing: huge pots of boiling water, a big basket with salt hanging over it and a steaming clay oven.”
Cory Johnson, a sophomore journalism major from Wauseon, Ohio, helped create a video highlighting the Mlabri people. Johnson’s group made a website to help sell the Mlabri’s handcrafted items online, along with a map of their area.
“We put a lot of hard work into it to try to make it the best we could for the presentations,” Johnson says. “We care a lot about the Mlabri and the village. We wanted to give our best work to them and leave them with resources to help with economic development and building tourism.”
Another student, senior communications major Jewell Paine from St. Charles, Missouri, worked on a presentation of the history of Bo Kluea with animations illustrating the original story of the village. For her, the trip was more about connections with people through the multimedia projects the students worked on.
“It’s one thing to visit a country, do touristy things and learn about the culture on a surface level,” Paine says. “But because of our small groups, we had a truly unique experience. The multimedia presentations we created can contribute to enhancing the country’s already incredible tourism industry.”
Although communication was a barrier for some students on the trip, most of the Thai students spoke English. There were also cultural barriers, such as students trying to adjust to village life and teaching English when they didn’t speak Thai. But the students found themselves working together towards a common goal.
“You learned to listen more,” Johnson says. “Even if it’s not word-for-word perfect, you try to pick up an understanding.”
For these three students, it was their first service-learning trip. But it forever changed the lives of everyone involved.
“Service is many different things,” Foley says. “Service is about a strategic communications plan that helps the community be stronger and healthier. Service is whatever you have inside of you that can empower the lives of others.”