The Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) attempts to demonstrate the influence that technology can have on society. With project centers spanning the globe, WPI sends more science and technology students abroad than any other college or university.
An undergraduate student at WPI may apply for any of the project centers that interest them. I chose Bangkok, Thailand due to my fascination with Asian culture, and was accepted. My three project partners and I spent six months preparing in Worcester, Massachusetts and three months executing our project in Thailand.
The 31 students who participated in the Bangkok Project Center in 2001
The Bangkok Project Center had never before sent students to do a project in a remote village. WPI's local organizer for the center had heard through a common acquaintance that a man from up north had a project idea. That man was Mr. Tip Ratraikul, who works for the Shokolo Malyria Research Unit in Mae Sot, Thailand and is a regional director for TBCAP, the Tak Border Community Assistance Program.
Tip had the original idea for the project, and acted as our liaison in the months to come. TBCAP works with many groups along the Thai-Burmese border, including refugee camps and villages. Tip noticed that the Peace Corps, the American Red Cross, the United Nations, and various non-government organizations (NGO's) were lending much needed aid to the refugee camps, made up mostly of Burmese who fled their military dictatorship-lead country. These refugees are not Thai citizens, can not vote, and are rarely allowed to leave the camps. Tip was concerned that this has lead to the hill-tribe villages along the border to be in worse condition than the camps, even though they are made up of Thai citizens who have the right to vote.
Sylvia Linn shared Tip's concern. As the national director for the Taipei Overseas Peace Service (TOPS) in Thailand, Sylvia set up schools in some of the remote villages that did not fall under Thailand's Ministry of Education. It would be at these villages that my project partners and I would witness the interaction of science and technology.
The TOPS logo on the side of one of their trucks A UN van on their way to a refugee camp