Written by Zoe Faulkner on 14 / 10 / 2020
Gap Year Advice
What is the project all about
Why do you need volunteers
What is the positive impact on the community
We zoom over to Thailand today Koh Phangan, the full moon island. Here we find Taylor Murphy who has lived here for the past 3 years teaching English but throughout lockdown she would say this is her biggest triumph and we are going to explore what she has been up to. In a nutshell she has been helping a group of Thai individuals on the island, spearheaded by a wonderful guy called Nest she has helped him create the Phangan community garden which has been responsible or feeding the stomachs and minds of all on the island.
Tell us, is Koh Phangan still the bad ass of islands in Thailand?
Absolutely, you have the best of everything here. Up until the day before lockdown this was still full moon central. It’s crazy usually you can hop between the islands but in full moon season you realise you need to book everything in advance, ferries get packed. It’s great for tourists and boosting our economy. It’s not a pretty sight in my eyes but I understand it is beneficial to a lot of the locals.
How did you end up on this island?
California girl and I ended up here 3 years ago. I moved here and did my TEFL program, I was in that program and one of the teachers training us said from what I gather you might really like this place. So I visited, in between terms. I totally fell in love with it, when I finish teaching my year in central Thailand, I said I would come back for a few weeks. A few weeks turned in to a few years and I’m still here.
Did you always know you would do something out of the norm like this?
I did college, got a sensible job for a few years but I was itching to see the world out there. Gap years weren’t popular in my day, I worked the corporate 9-5 and it was an amazing job, but I just wanted more, something in my heart said no. I heard great things about Thailand, so off I went. I started teaching English to sort me out for the next 4-5 months. I fell in love with it here. I don’t think I’ll go back to the US anytime soon.
So what’s your healthy life style like?
Fresh food, wonderful culture. The markets here are amazing. The fresh market culture here is great. The island itself is full of lots of healthy ex-pats. I’ve been bare foot for the last 2 years – I had to buy a pair of shoes the other day to go to the bank! Life is good here.
Lockdown happened, there was a brief freak out worrying that shipments wouldn’t come in, it was scary. There are only so many boats that can come per day. This island is entirely reliant on tourism. Lots of workers were without a job so there were a few initiatives that were started to help pass out rice to those with no income. Now Nest and 10 of his co-workers from the municipal office said let’s do this altogether and bring the community together. These 10 people donated a month of their salary to get this project started, the land was donated by a Thai man on the island and all were invited. I saw the call out on Facebook that this project was happening, and they wanted volunteers and it was exactly what I wanted to do. I was already looking to do something with an agricultural focus. I can focus on gardening, farming and building relationships with the locals and helping those in need.
The land was donated, we all got out there and prepared it. Every day, building garden beds, planting seeds, it was the first opportunity for those to get out of the house after lockdown. Now it has been about 5 months and the garden is just beautiful. There is so much being grown. It is now so much more than just feeding people.
Was that a hidden surprise that the wider impact was bigger than you thought?
Yes, it is mind, body, soul. The initial thought was just to get food in the ground to help people, come help out then you can take some vegetables home. Now we are hosting workshops, we have kids field trips to teach them about composting, even a nice café on site overlooking the garden to feel the peace. It is such an important part of the island now. We want this island to be known that more than just the full moon party destination.
When the tourists arrive, wouldn’t it be great if they volunteered while there? Could they make a difference in 2 -3 days?
Yes absolutely, they make a difference to the garden and in return the garden offers something to them, it is two ways. It’s so flexible come for a few days, no commitment. Volunteers come and help with the daily tasks but if there is something they really want to learn about such as composting then we shift gears and teach them. Even if you have no gardening skills you can paint signs and design the garden. All are welcome.
Is everyone now working side by side – locals and expats?
Yes, it’s honestly the best part of the project for me. I love working side by side with the Thai team, the Burmese people. Everyone is really working together and sharing different bit of knowledge like farming tips, food. We are growing things maybe they wouldn’t have thought to grow. We have a compost pile so the community can bring scraps. We learn so much from them – the structures they build and being self-sustainable.
What about the medicinal purpose? Are there lots of alternative medicines?
They will walk around, pick something from the garden and inform you that it is good for your stomach or good for your head. They are so knowledgeable. The elders teach the young about everything.
Lockdown from your point of view, yes was scary but wow what a positive that has come out of it.
I feel like I’m having one of the best lockdown experiences. I feel terrible for those going through hard times and wish I could bring everyone here.
Can you explain how you overcame challenges while travelling?
There will always be cultural challenges and language barriers. I was placed in a town with 4 other expats in the middle of nowhere where no one spoke any English and there was that shock of how do I get around and communicate? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve google pictures to show people to communicate.
The Thai community is beautiful. They really care about each other as a whole and I’ve learnt so much form that. Sometimes tourists expect it to be a wild crazy party town but if you really take a minute and sit back and watch these people and how your actions someone else you can learn something really beautiful. We are all so used to doing things in our own way that coming into this group mentality is beautiful.
As soon as the country opens its borders, I would love loads of people to come and see this program as a visitor, a volunteer to pick up veggies for your dinner we would love to welcome you.
Post COVID we have to be less self, we have to give more and to contribute more and be responsible as we travel, so I am all behind you. We will support you and grow this garden.
How to get in contact with Taylor:
on 14 / 10 / 2020