Dear Friends and Colleagues,
As many of you know, I have recently stepped down as the Director of IVS. It was a very difficult decision, but ultimately other career and personal interests have been pulling me towards a new direction.
During our seven years together, I think we can all be very proud of what we have accomplished as a team:
- We created new five study abroad programs in India, Nepal, Thailand, Burma, and Kenya, providing hundreds of students with transformative educational experiences.
- Many of our students have gone into Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and careers aimed at making the world a better place.
- We deepened our relationships with existing partners and developed new incredible friendships with communities all over the world.
- Our programs invested approximately $750,000 into local economies.
- We supported community-led efforts to build artificial glaciers and water reservoirs, protect indigenous land rights, provide disaster relief, wildlife conservation, and implement culturally-appropriate education projects.
None of this would have been possible without your hard work, support, and guidance. We might not be the largest organization or have the most resources, but I firmly believe together we set the standard for what ethical cross-cultural educational programs should be.
The new Director, Ashley Hollenbeck, comes with deep experience both with cross-cultural education programs and international community development. Under her leadership, I am tremendously excited about the future for IVS and what it will accomplish!
Thank you for all of your support over the years. It has been an honor and privilege working with each and every one of you.
We are pleased to introduce the new Executive Director of IVS, Ashley Hollenbeck. She comes to Bellingham from Hiroshima Jogakuin University in Japan where she was the director of the Global Studies program and taught classes related to international relations and environmental studies. During her tenure at HJU, she was able to develop curriculum to empower students as engaged citizens in their own communities and founded the service learning program Global Village Vietnam. She has a wide range of experience and is passionate about finding innovative ways to engage with students and local communities to promote more equitable and sustainable development. We are excited to see where Ashley leads IVS during its next phase.
As we welcome Ashley, we are also sad to say goodbye to Charlie Ashbaugh. He has served at the helm of IVS for the last eight years. Through his leadership and dedication IVS was able to expand programming & partnerships around the world. His vision allowed IVS to establish itself as a 501c3 organization and develop a truly sustainable program working at the intersection of community development and service learning. It will be very difficult to say goodbye to Charlie, as he has done so much for IVS and gone beyond the requirements of any job to build IVS into a dynamic and growing organization. With his leadership, we have established an institution that helps students flourish and at the same time nurtures villages around the world. His kind heart, deep intellect and hard work have gotten us to where we are today. All of us are incredibly grateful to have had the privilege to work with Charlie, and our goal is to keep him engaged and to support his efforts to get more deeply involved in community development projects going forward.
We arrived last night in Kolkata and immediately descended into its madness with the
exhilirating taxi ride from the airport. Imagine a city the geographic size of
Bellingham with 15 million people, no traffic lanes and seemingly no traffic rules.
One student said it was one of the most intense and memorable experiences of his
Before flying to Inida, the last three weeks in Thailand were a blur of excitement,
exploration and learning. After our time on the rural farm in Phra Tat, we headed
back to Bangkok and then boarded an overnight train 15 hours north to Chiang Mai,
Thailand’s second largest city. Chiang Mai is the former capital of the Lanna
Kingdom that ruled northern Thailand for centuries. It is a mch more manageable city
than Bangkok with many universities and a rich intellectal tradition. In Chiang Mai
the group split up, with some going to home stays in an agricultural village called
Ban Mae Jo, while the others remained in Chiang Mai to follow up on field research
for their projects.
The group rejoined in the northern town of Chiang Dao to visit the remote,
little-visited, and wondrous, Luang Poosim’s Monastery. The monastery is tucked into
a steep ravine on the side of Thailand’s third tallest mountain. It’s a bit over a
kilometer from our forest bungalows outside Chiang Dao. At first light we arrive at
the entrance and climb the 510 steps between jagged limestone boulders that loom
like guardians over the stairs. At the top the monastery emerges suddenly from the
dense foliage. The temple’s golden spires rise from the hillside. Carved stone
dragons with colored inlaid glass form the railings of the last flight of stairs,
leading to the cave which the great spiritual teacher used as his seasonal
meditation retreat. Now the floor of the cave is marble. At its back are gold and
translucent green jadeite statues of Buddha and Luang Poosim. The elegant art, like
the monastery itself, was created by gifts from his devotees, who included many of
Thailand’s most wealthy and powerful. It’s a stunning combination of refined
civilization and natural beauty.
After Chiang Dao, the group headed southwest to the border town of Mae Sot and then
to our first service project two hours north in Noh Bo, a Karen village just across
the river from Burma. In the village we worked with our local partners, Border Green
Energy Team (BGET), to help bring electricity to a site where they are going to
build a local learning center. The center will train local Karen students in
vocational skills, such as farming, earth building and eventually renewable energy.
Many of the Karen in the area are not able to access Thailand’s formal education
after primary school and the goal of the center will be to provide them with
additional educational opportunities.
In the village, we had the pleasure of working and becoming friends with Karen
refugees from the nearby refugee camp. The Karen are an ethnic group indigenous to
both Thailand and Burma. Since WWII they have been heavily persecuted by the junta
in Burma and many have fled to Thailand for safety. Thailand was not comfortable
with the high influx of Karen coming and retained them in refugee camps along the
border. For the refugees we had the opportunity to meet and work with, it was the
first time the government of Thailand had allowed them outside of the camp. Their
stories were both emotional and unjust, but their capacity for hope and optimism was
an inspiration to our group . Many students were transformed from their time with
them and hopefully developed friendships they will keep intact back in the US.
Whew…that’s all for now. I will send another update along the path in India. Hope
all is well back home.