Teaching in Thailand

Traveling across the vibrant landscape of Northern Thailand, Simone Salvo ’08 embarked on a unique cultural and artistic odyssey this past summer, one which led to discoveries about the nature of identity. She returned to Thailand, an enchanting yet poverty-stricken corner of the world, for the third time since the summer of 2005. She was inspired to continue her work with the people of rural villages, especially children, for whom she designed special art projects promoting creativity and self-discovery in a culture which had lost those values. Her experiences will be presented in January in a show of her photography and the children’s artwork. Salvo designed her project as a means of exploring how young children perceive and represent their identity. She first connected to the children of Thailand while designing and participating in two different projects last summer in remote regions. The first, an advanced service project offered by Rustic Pathways, was called, “Come with Nothing, Go Home Rich.” The second, an independent undertaking partially sponsored by the Brace Center and the Martin Luther King Jr. Award, incorporated field research and photography as a means of examining the role of women in rural village societies with agrarian economies. Salvo was intrigued as she met and befriended children of various communities who nervously accepted the art materials, watercolors and pastels that she offered, not quite sure how exactly to make the first marks upon paper. Those who broke through timidity typically reproduced anime sketches common in Asian popular culture when asked to draw self-portraits. With the help of an Abbot Academy Association grant, Salvo returned to Thailand again this summer to delve deeper into an area of interest in which she had completed only some initial studies. “My self-portrait project this summer was interdisciplinary, marrying the creative arts to anthropological and sociological concerns,” Salvo explained. The children with whom she worked, battling both the hardships of village life and the creative paralysis induced by an education system focused on memorization and repetition, gratefully accepted this opportunity to extend their imaginations. Salvo also gained a greater understanding of these Asian societies and the people for whom her visits made such a difference. She said, “I was first attracted to the notion of Thailand because of the Buddhist culture, the vibrant colors and the striking contrasts between urban and rural environments and how they interact. Treated with respect, care and friendliness in every beautiful setting visited, I had no option but to fall in love with the country.” Salvo listed the most memorable sights: exotic and colorful fruits bought from vendors in busy markets, the devotion of the Thai people to their faith and beliefs, baby elephants’ attachment to their mothers, the vivid orange robes of monks and the intricate details of each temple. She further noted that the Thai people’s fierce devotion to their native culture was both inspiring and strangely heartbreaking, indicating the desperation of a displaced, impoverished population to hang on to all they have left: their ethnic values. Having traveled in extremely deprived regions of Mexico during her life, Salvo felt as though she could understand the situation of the communities she visited. Nevertheless, experiencing the tragedy of poverty was difficult, and Salvo’s observation that the Thai people of humble means were still content and joyful in their approach to day-to-day life brought an encouraging and hopeful message. The rewards of the trip were endless. Most notably Salvo feels gratified that the children with whom she worked were able to let go of their hesitation to produce some creative works. The projects that she assigned, which will be presented in the January show, included two self-portraits and another symbolic representation of identity accompanied by a written explanation. An example she provided was that of a girl living in an orphanage, who drew a house that she described as existing in her imagination, and which she missed dearly. “I strongly believe travel is the most important tool for learning and developing compassion for humanity,” Salvo said, explaining her desire to continue to travel throughout her lifetime while blending art and social/anthropological work. “Art is an incredible tool for social change and development and it can be used in a number of different ways. I am interested in cultural, philosophical and religious studies and hope that I will be able to create a career in which I am traveling and making a positive impact.” Salvo can become a model for PA students, who should continue to share their talents and explore a variety of interests on the world stage. Salvo shows that the possibilities are endless.