Town honours local girl's help in Thailand.
Natasha Whiting joined Projects Abroad in Thailand to work in a refugee camp. The outstanding achievements of the Gloucestershire girl who is only 18 years old have been recognised by her local town council, Stroud, in naming Natasha 'Young Person of the Year'.
Natasha's adventure and life altering experience began when in October she left home with a feeling that she wanted to do something constructive to help the victims of last year's tragedy. Natasha describes with impressive modesty especially given her age that her placement towards the south of Thailand was the result of a simply wanting to live in a refugee camp and work with children.
After feeling a few natural butterflies in the stomach and the all too common 'Oh my! What am I doing?' at the airport, Natasha recalls vividly everything. 'That first journey from when I landed in Bangkok and was met at the airport by the TPA staff was so exhilarating. On our drive from the airport to the office everything from the dustmen to the temples was fascinating for me'.
Her favourite memory was arriving at the camp. She explains with obvious enthusiasm that the children came running up, their faces full of genuine warmth and huge grins. 'The kids were looking at each other and when they heard that 7 westerners had just arrived at the camp and they were like "whoa!"'. Overall though Natasha remembers being totally struck with the approach to things the Thai people she lived and worked with had. '90% of the people there had lost at least one member of their family and it was a massive disaster but they walk around with the attitude that life goes on and they are full of smiles'.
Natasha worked hard on her project and feels that she truly experienced a side to Thailand that although it remains hidden from the average visitor, it is actually more charming and memorable than anything on the traditional tourist trails.
To this day she still does not know who put her up for the accolade and was surprised and honoured in equal measure when she was phoned by the Mayor's office to say that she had not only been nominated but also won the award. It is still something of a blur to her and in her unassuming way she merely arrived at the requested time and place to receive her prize and have her photo taken without any of it truly sinking in.
Natasha is planning to return to Thailand in a couple of weeks to do some teaching before pursuing her lifetime ambition of becoming a travel photographer.