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Published October 17, 2010, 12:00 AM

Lind: From Fargo to Thailand

Woman enjoying adventure of helping in poorer region of nation
She came from the wheat- and beet-growing Red River Valley. Now she’s planting rice.

By: Bob Lind, INFORUM

She came from the wheat- and beet-growing Red River Valley. Now she’s planting rice.

She comes from a family in Fargo. Now she lives alone “unless,” she says, “you count all the creatures that live there, too: lizards, geckos, ants, spiders, flying bugs and sometimes even birds.”

She used to join her friends for lunch at the Fargo North High School cafeteria. Now she’s spearheading the construction of a cafeteria for kids who have nothing but their classroom in which to eat.

Heather Chadwick has been with the Peace Corps in Thailand since January 2009. She’s been working at a preschool in one of the country’s poorest regions, teaching English, doing lesson planning with teachers and helping with school projects.

Her Peace Corps program is called Community Based Organizational Development, which works with local governments and groups to provide community needs, such as her big project, a sanitary place for the preschool children to eat.

Heather, 26, is the daughter of Chuck and Patricia Chadwick of Fargo. She graduated from North in 2002, majored in international affairs and Asian studies at George Washington University, Washington, D.C., studied in Tokyo, did nonprofit development work in New York and then signed a 27-month commitment with the Peace Corps.

She’s been an adventurous gal all her life. “I feel most comfortable when I’m out of my comfort zone and challenging myself,” she says.

Most people would say she’s not in a comfort zone now. But she eats it up. Literally. She even eats ant egg soup.

Cafeteria project

The cafeteria is badly needed, she says. The kids eat on the floor of their crowded classroom. Food distribution and sanitation are poor.

The school, on the grounds of a Buddhist temple, has 75 students, ages 3 to 5, with five teachers and a cook.

The project is about $3,800 short of its fundraising goal. When the money comes in, a cafeteria will be built onto the preschool, and tables, chairs and a food preparation and serving area will be provided. Heather says the project will reduce disease by creating hygienic conditions for years to come.

She’s hoping people back home will donate to the project. It can be done via this link: www.peacecorpsthailand.org.

Running water, maybe

Heather is the only foreigner in her village and the only one who speaks English. But she has learned to speak in both the Thai and Laotian languages.

Heather also works with an AIDS group at a hospital, checking on sick people at home and helping to raise funds for an AIDS support group.

The Peace Corps expects its volunteers to live at the same level as the people they serve, so Heather earns the equivalent of $200 a month.

She lives in a rental house with all those creatures, has electricity except when there is an occasional power outage, and has running water “on a hit-or-miss basis,” she says, so she relies “on good ol’ bucket baths, which are surprisingly refreshing.”

Heather’s best friend is her next-door neighbor, a grandma who hasn’t left the village once in all her 72 years.

And she has planted rice for the village’s mayor.

“He didn’t think I would actually do it,” she says. “I mean, why would a foreigner want to stand in the hot sun, barefoot in mud up to her knees, soaking wet, bending over, sticking rice into the ground? I wouldn’t describe it as a fun experience but one so worthwhile and genuine. When else am going to have the chance to learn how to plant rice?”

“The farmers (hired by the mayor to work in the fields) were all thrilled I was there (in the fields with them),” she says. “I spoke my lilted Laos with them, and I swear I have friends for life. They absolutely loved that I was out there, interested in their livelihood.”

‘Cool’ at 90

Heather, who will complete her Peace Corps service next April, has applied for graduate school in programs in nonprofit management and public policy and hopes to do international development work.

She says she misses fall in Fargo, though. It’s the “cool” season in Thailand now, she says, meaning the temperatures are in the low 90s. “I actually feel cold when it’s in the 70s,” she says.

It’s strange to be where nobody celebrates Thanksgiving or Christmas, although she says some of the big malls in Bangkok do display Christmas ornaments.

She and other volunteers plan to eat out in Bangkok for Thanksgiving, but she knows they won’t have turkey.

And they certainly won’t dine on frogs, even though they are a common meal item.

Well, maybe they’ll have ant egg soup. “It’s not that bad!” she insists.

Sure, Heather. Sure.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to 241-5487; or e-mail blind@forumcomm.com