This summer, inspired by photographer Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, we began to collect photographs and stories of our students, staff, and community partners. The project facilitated interaction and dialogue between students, local staff, and local communities, and has enabled us to share what Rustic Pathways is all about — the people.
When our students and staff travel with us we want them to connect with the people who live there. Each of our programs is developed around the people who live there and around our local staff who have incredible stories to share with our students. Similarly, each service project develops out of the relationships we build with local community leaders and the continual conversations we have with them.
This passion for people is precisely what drives our love of travel. The beautiful thing about travel is that it allows you to connect and create meaningful relationships with people who are very different from you. Conversations, especially those that include lots of hand gestures, have a way of breaking down cultural barriers and highlighting the thoughts, emotions, and experiences we share as human beings, despite the differences in our backgrounds, beliefs, or ways of living.
With that idea in mind, we’d like to share with you the first installment in our Humans of Rustic series. These photographs and stories highlight our staff, students, and community members in Southeast Asia** who make up the Rustic Pathways family. We hope their stories give you a glimpse into their daily lives, remind you of our shared humanity, and inspire you to get to know these extraordinary human beings.
Be sure to look for future installments throughout the year from other parts of the world!
Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia | Cambodia Program Manager
“I want to be a voice for change. Politics is everyone’s job, not just the government. If we are followers and don’t show we care about policies then government can do what they want. It’s not about old or young, it’s about commitment of where we want our spirit to reach. Rustic Pathways gives me a chance to see different people and learn different perspectives about the world. It gives me new ideas that I want to apply to my own country and government. Especially when I talk with students interested in the same field of study. When I was younger, I wanted to be in the military to serve the country. Now I want to serve in another way, I want to be able to have a family and offer them happiness. I work for Rustic Pathways now to learn more about society before I enter into political field.”
Louis Bryant III
Baltimore, Maryland | Global Program Leader
“I’ve never built anything except for Lego houses, but building [a house] from the ground up is something that changed me in a big way. Seeing the smiles on the face of the homeowner, when they had previously lost their daughter… And that one moment when the father hugged me and thanked me. Knowing that we could never speak two words together except for wai-ing and smiling, but he felt something and I felt something that our spirits connected. And that right there is all the communication needed.”
Lay Lay Oo
Pyu, Burma | Senior Program Manager
“I was not able to finish my education because I needed to work and support my family. But I continue to learn everyday by meeting people from around the world. I feel like I grew up with Rustic Pathways and my job now is to teach students about new cultures and help them see value in the service projects.”
San Francisco, USA | Wonders and Riches of Southeast Asia, Fiji Rustic Alum
“Cultural immersion is everything…the moments when I’ve really been able to cross the language barrier or cultural barrier happens when I connect with people. When I’m immersed in their culture – and able to introduce part of my culture — and have this really unique exchange. Those have been the moments when I learn about myself and what I have found the most rewarding when traveling.”
Kompong Cham, Cambodia | Cambodia Program Manager
“I grew up in a small village around 3 hours away from Phnom Penh. There’s nothing much to do in my village but I enjoy it. It’s quiet, peaceful and on the countryside, the landscape is beautiful.”
Why do you travel?
“I love adventure and learning about things I didn’t know before. I don’t always know why each experience comes into my life, but when you travel and get to know people sometimes they give you clues that point your life in new directions.”
Baan Chiang Yuen, Thailand | Medical Service Program Manager
“The first time I saw [foreigners] I was both excited and scared… I didn’t know English so we couldn’t talk.”
Ratchanee (La) Sangawongrattanama
Mae Sariang, Thailand | Children’s Home Program Leader
What’s your favorite animal?
“Buffalo; we raise cows, chickens, and buffalo to support my family when it’s not rice season.”
“Some people learn to know their animal so well, they can tell where the buffalo are in the forest just by looking at footprints.”
Paris, France | Come with Nothing Thailand
When people ask you about your summer what will you say?
“I’ll describe my feelings after the first day of work in the village.”
What do you mean?
“I had never felt so dirty and ugly but, I had never felt so accomplished. I’m not scared anymore of living rustically.”
Ajarn Phensri (Ae) Krasinsukson
Mae Sariang, Thailand | Rustic Pathways’ Children’s Home Manager
What is your favorite thing about your community?
“It’s a beautiful place, with beautiful mountains and nice and friendly people. It’s the center of the Hill Tribe community.”
Byram, New Jersey | Global Program Leader
“I feel most free when I don’t know where I’m going.…Not knowing where I’m going but knowing that I’m going to get there. I just like to get lost. When you have nowhere to be at a certain time, you have no choice but to live in the moment.”
Yangon, Burma | Global Program Leader
“Life should be about learning and taking in everything that is around you and that’s what travel is really about to me. It’s about getting up close and personal with communities, with nature, with food, and spaces. It makes me smile every day and I’m happy to be here every day.”
** These stories and photographs were collected this summer by Jordan Edelheit.