“Jitasa” was a term I overheard from my friends’ conversation in the summer of 2014. I was in year 10. In my heart, all I wanted to do was have fun and be myself.

At that time, I did not understand what “jitasa” meant, what I have to do and what I will get out of it. So I sought out more information about jitasa. What I learnt was that “jitasa” is an activity where I volunteer to help others out without wanting anything in return. Volunteers can engage in many kinds of activities such as tree planting, giving out supplies during natural disasters, fundraising, etc.

I concluded in my mind that volunteerism, doing work without getting paid, is perhaps a way of giving back to the society.  It was during that time when my car drove past a recruitment sign in front of a hospital on the way home which reads, “Community Health Service Program: Screening for Metabolic Syndrome. Volunteer wanted for Bueng Rama Pattana 2 Community unit”.

That was where my interest for volunteerism began. My first involvement was to volunteer with the Mobile Medical Unit which screens for metabolic syndrome. As I was still young, I was tasked to assist the team by handing out queue numbers, giving out supplies including first-aid kids, food and snacks. I also taught younger members of the community in activities such as football.

In the following year, I continue to volunteer with the hospital’s Mobile Medical Unit. In addition to the above activities, this time around I also get to shadow the doctor’s assistants. I helped collect information on patients’ health, measure the pulse and blood pressure, assist with the blood collection, take measurements for waist, weight and height to calculate body mass index. It was the first time I got a chance to use the professional equipment first hand, which made me very proud.

What I got out of this activity was not the excitement of doing something new or meeting new friends from other schools. When I started talking to the patients and listening to their stories, my joyful spirit turned into sorrow. I was saddened when I realised many young people my age were at risk of illnesses such as diabetes due to limited access to education on a balanced diet and exercise. I asked why they did not exercise. To me, exercising was a habit. I was in the school’s sport teams, and I thought the benefits of exercising in preventing illnesses should be a well-established fact.

While on duty with the Mobile Medical Unit, I was able to walk around and survey the area with Piak (a boy I talked to). I noticed that the community’s only available open space, which could have been used for recreational activities, was full of litter. Due to space limitation, the younger children were unable to utilise the space as they had to give way to the older kids. I felt sorry for them, being the same age as I was but did not get the chance to spend their free time productively. Above their limited space was an expressway which produced noise pollution all day long. Their “open space” was surrounded by fences, allocating most of the spaces to garbage disposal.

Last summer after finishing Grade 13, I had the time to volunteer. In doing so, I volunteered once again with the Mobile Medical Unit for the fourth time. This time around, the project scope extended to cleaning the area, painting the walls and fixing the equipment in the open space. Through this project, I met with the same local people whom I had met previously, and many of whom are still tampering with health issues. Therefore, I decided to act on this and thought hard about how I could increase the impact from just handing out first aid kits with the Mobile Medical Unit to something more meaningful. I analysed the problems within this area: limited open space, pollution lack of information on recreational activities, struggles in travelling to school and lack of means of transport. I noticed that there are many bicycles laying around, but most are not in working condition and the people in the community were unable to fix them. The only bicycle repair shop in the area was closed down as the technician lost a hand from his episodes of diabetes. Many of the children did not receive the education they deserved, as they were forced to work by their parents. I was determined to bring positive changes to this community.

Growing up, I have been attached to sports, specifically Football, Basketball and Cycling. Two years ago, there was countrywide event called “Bike for Mom” in which I participated alongside my father. I enjoy the sport of Cycling because of the freedom that I feel bursting through the winds blowing past my face. During the summer of 2017, I interned at Sport Bicycle as a technician, where I became increasingly interested in the mechanics of a bicycle. Not only did I benefit from learning about one of my hobbies but I also became increasingly interested in the field of mechanics – a passion which I realised as an intern at the Toyota garage.

Thrilled with the opportunity to intertwine my interest in Cycling with the ability to have an impact on the community I once engaged with, I decided to take a gap year to initiate this project called “New Cycles.” This project aims not only to teach the children the skills of fixing bicycles but to instil in them a can-do attitude, and to eventually bring people in such communities out of their ever repeated cycle of poverty by giving the children a means of transport to school and possibly providing them with an interest from which they can make a living in the future. I intend to execute this project in line with the philosophy of sufficient economy of our late beloved King Rama IX of Thailand.