The Power of Shared Experiences - Hands Leadership Program with NARTA 2023

14 Apr 2023

On 27 March - 2 April 2023, Hands Across the Water led a unique leadership program for our sponsor NARTA in Thailand. The idea of the program was initially to educate the attendees about the work that Hands Across the Water does. However, while the team did learn about Hands, the result was also and perhaps moreover, a greater connection within the NARTA team.

NARTA has been a long-term partner of Hands Across the Water (Hands) since Hands Founder Peter Baines spoke at a NARTA conference in 2007, but it wasn’t until the attendees got to spend some time at the Hands homes Baan Tharn Namchai and Baan Home Hug in Thailand with the kids that they could truly understand the impact of the work that Hands does.

The program started in Hands Home Baan Tharn Namchai (BTN) where the group worked to paint the home that very much needed a new coat of paint, as well as help the children with farm work, and other maintenance around the home.

They then moved north to Hands Baan Home Hug. At Home Hug they worked on a special project in completing the setup of Inspiration House. Because many of the kids at Home Hug are immunocompromised, there is a need for a place where kids who are sick and contagious can recover that is comfortable and is separated from the communal living areas that the rest of the children share. Inspiration House will be a place where the sick can convalesce with dignity and comfort when they need it most, a place for healing that will maintain safety for everyone at Home Hug.

While the NARTA team was at Home Hug they also had a special presentation to thank the Narta guests and Hands for the support that they have provided to Home Hug over the years since Hands became involved with the home in 2010. The presentation was attended by the Mayor of the Province, as well as the Supreme Monk, the head of the Buddhist monks. It was a special honour and Peter Baines was asked to speak at the presentation about the work of Hands and NARTA in supporting Home Hug and the transformation that has occurred since 2010; the kids at Home Hug are no longer dying because they lack access to the necessary life-saving medicine and nourishment, they are thriving.

For NARTA, the whole experience was eye-opening as most did not fully comprehend the work of Hands. Vijesh Chalikandi, Group Business Analyst at NARTA has been with NARTA for more than 6 years. He was familiar with Hand Across the Water, but in his own words,

"I did not have a good understanding of what they do. After spending a week with the children at BTN and Baan Home Hug, I am filled with a sense of awe and gratitude for the work that Hands is doing. I was struck by the kindness and resilience of the children, many of whom have faced unimaginable hardship and loss in their young lives. Despite their circumstances, the children are filled with joy, curiosity, and a deep sense of community. It is a place where children can feel safe, loved, and supported as they navigate the challenges of growing up. The staff and volunteers at Hands are not just caretakers, but mentors and role models who are invested in helping the children reach their full potential.

One of the things that impressed me the most was the organisation's commitment to education and the children to be independent. Hands give the children the opportunity to attend school and to pursue their dreams, and the organisation provides the resources and support they need to succeed. Hands Across the Water was a powerful reminder of the resilience of the human spirit and the incredible impact that a dedicated group of people can have on the lives of others. I cannot stop without saying anything about Peter Baines, he is a remarkable person and a true hero for the children of Thailand. His dedication and tireless efforts to create a better life for these children is nothing short of inspiring."

Joseph Irwin, Category Manager at NARTA, similarly had a basic understanding of Hands that over the course of the program, grew to become "a much deeper understanding, appreciation & admiration of HATW and the life changing work that is being carried out on the ground in Thailand in both BTN & Home Hug Homes."

Each morning, Peter would lead a short session with the NARTA team to introduce a leadership principle such as resilience, presence, connection and trust and talk about how the homes and the people working there, such as Home BTN director Game and Home Hug director Mae Thiew, embody these principles.

Peter would talk about the history of Hands, and the team would reflect on the lessons that they learned from the themes that they had seen in their work within the homes. This gave them a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the at-risk children in Thailand and the important role that Hands Across the Water plays in their lives. These activities in effect helped them to develop a deeper sense of empathy, cultural awareness, and collaboration skills that can be applied in their professional and personal lives.

Vijesh lists some of his key takeaways as:

Sense of fulfilment; Helping others and contributing to a good cause that gave a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction.

New skills learned, such as mixing the cement and tiling etc.

The power of community; Hands is more than just an organisation, it is a community that is built on love, support, and a shared sense of purpose.

"The children in their care are not just given necessities and shelter, but they are also provided with a sense of belonging and a support network that helps them to thrive. Despite the hardships and challenges that the children have faced, they are filled with a sense of joy, curiosity, and hope. Their resilience and ability to find joy in even the most difficult circumstances is truly inspiring. The impact of one person created an organisation that has transformed the lives of countless children and their communities." - Vijesh

For Joseph, the takeaways were:

A greater perspective: Despite the adversaries & obstacles that the children had faced they were very happy, well loved and on the road to a brighter futures. This provided me with a greater perspective of what is really important in one’s life & not to sweat the small stuff.

The sense of community: within the homes in terms of the older kids looking out for the younger ones and the teachers all leading by example, the importance of engaging with the local community by talking to neighbours or saying hi to a fellow citizens in the local park, helping out with kids sports.

The value of a shared experience: children were very enthusiastic to get involved and help out with the working bee’s at the Homes & sometimes we hold our own children back from doing DIY/maintenance jobs for fear of them messing something up when what is really important is they have a go, enjoy a shared experience with a loved one and learn from the getting involved and supported.

It was a truly memorable and valuable experience for the whole team as they were able to connect, build strong relationships and be present in the moment. As Joseph reflected, "It was great to spend quality time with my colleagues outside the office and watch them all shine during different occasions for different reasons throughout the trip."

The NARTA team left Thailand with a renewed sense of purpose and a greater appreciation for the work that Hands Across the Water does. They were also able to take back valuable leadership skills and lessons that can be applied to their work and personal lives, which, as Joseph and Vijesh testify below, will change the way they frame the rest of this year and beyond...

"It reinforces the need to be resilient in an ever changing fast paste working environment, the importance of team work to get across the line and the importance of building strong working relationships to achieve our goals... I will try to remain more grounded, look at life with more gratitude, change what is not working & remember there is never a perfect time to start anything." - Joseph

Importance of teamwork: Building a house requires coordination and teamwork. I have learned the importance of working together towards a common goal.

Enhanced communication and interpersonal skills: Working/volunteering with different department mates was a different experience. This helped to develop communication and interpersonal skills, such as empathy, active listening, and cultural sensitivity.

Leadership and problem-solving skills, such as the ability to delegate tasks, manage a team, and find creative solutions to challenges.

“Yes, it is a powerful reminder of the importance of giving back and the impact that even small actions can have on the world around us. Time will pass but never lose hope. Make the change you desire, not wait for the time to come.
I left Thailand feeling inspired and energised, knowing that I had been a small part of something truly special." - Vijesh

The leadership program organised by Hands Across the Water for their partner NARTA demonstrates the power of a shared experience. Not only did it provide a unique opportunity for the NARTA team to experience the impact of the charity's work first-hand and gain a deeper understanding of Hands' mission and values, but the program helped to foster greater connection and collaboration within the NARTA team, while developing valuable leadership skills that can be applied in their work and personal lives. Something truly special indeed…

If your team is interested in learning more about the Hands leadership program and other corporate experiences, please get in touch with us.