Walking through the gates of Tha Sala Learning Center is like stepping into a greenhouse with no walls.
The warm, thick air smells wonderfully of earthy soil and sweet flowering plants. Black-and-white spotted butterflies flutter through it — catching your eye as you walk, dodging around long-hanging vines and shady fruit trees. But plants aren’t all that grow here.
Tha Sala Learning Center in southern Thailand is a place for children and families to grow. This three-and-a-half-acre property is a shared community garden, summer camp and community center all rolled into one. In this impoverished rural community where so many families subsist on instant noodles and pre-packaged food rather than fresh fruits and vegetables, the learning center is a place where Holt-sponsored children and their families learn to cultivate and cook healthy food, work together to accomplish tasks and be part of a vibrant, healthy community.
On this particular Saturday in May, 21 Holt-sponsored children and their mothers have volunteered to do gardening work at the center — with lots of life lessons, learning and fun hidden within each task.
Seven-year-old Anis places his sapling into a recycled plastic bottle holding several inches of water. Once roots begin to grow, the children will take their tropical croton plants home to plant in their own gardens.
Before completing any other task, children first move fresh dirt into the plant beds.
A mother and daughter in sponsorship carry a basket of freshly grown mushrooms.
Pineapples — which the children are planting here — are just one of many fruits and vegetables that grow at the learning center. At Tha Sala, children and families also learn to grow mangos, mangosteen, rose apples, sugar cane, rambutans, cashews, corn, cucumbers, green tea leaves, mulberries and more! Families in need take home some of this food, and they sell anything extra at the market — giving children and families in sponsorship the opportunity to learn how to manage a small business.
Fun obstacle course activities dot the property, and each one of them teaches an important life lesson.
As they balance on the rope bridge, these sisters learn that sometimes you have to work hard and develop strategies in order to avoid or work through bad situations.
Daris holds onto his sister, Nada, as she balances on a suspended pipe. This exercise stresses the importance of community — how it is easier to walk forward in life when you have help from others.
A boy crawls through the last of nine tires, lined up to form a tunnel. This represents the nine months that a child grows inside a mother’s womb — one of the many reasons to show her appreciation and respect.
Children cheer and root each other on as they wait in line to complete the next obstacle.
Eleven-year-old Madee, pictured here crossing the rope bridge, has attended the learning center since she was in kindergarten. What does she love most? Cooking, growing vegetables and — on extra special days — swimming in the canal at the back of the property!
Photos by Brian Campbell | Written by Megan Herriott