Samui Wining & Dining
Making The Connection
There’s plenty of ways to help make Samui a better place to be, as the Samui Mala shows.


Making The ConnectionMala. It means a string of beads. Things that are connected. An unlimited number of individual elements, all united by some common theme. And it’s also the name of a group of people on Samui, all working towards one goal – to make the island a better place to be.


Samui Mala is a local group that organises events, raises money, brings people together and generally works to make the island cleaner, greener and healthier for everyone. And their mantra is ‘Living the Mala – starting at home to make the world a better place’. They don’t mindlessly complain about things, such as a road that needs fixing or a school which requires some patching up, they actually get up and do something about it.


“‘Living the Mala’ is when we realise that instead of being pessimistic about the problem and wondering, ‘Why don’t they fix the road? Why don’t they clean up the garbage?’, we can actively choose the world we live in by contributing to the solution,” says Shelley Poplak, one of the organisers of Samui Mala and someone who’s lived on Samui for the past 14 years. “We can choose not to regard our world as a reactive, ugly, complaining and disappointing place. Instead, we choose to actively see and shape our world into a clean, green, nurturing, proactive and regenerative environment.”


And Samui Mala is also an organisation of immigrants, reflecting the diversity that’s one of the many good things about living here. “Many of us, even Thais, are immigrants on this island,” says Shelley. “From Bangkok, from Burma, from Ecuador … we came here from somewhere else and it’s all about seeing what we have in common. And seeing how we can work together to make our space here the best it can be.”


For the members of Samui Mala, this happens in a lot of ways. One is the annual festival, based around the UN Day of Peace every 21st September which was the basis for the first Mala events in 2007 and 2008. It started off as a gathering at Tamarind Springs spa to celebrate peace; just one of thousands of similar events that day around the globe.


But the energy of the first and second events meant, “It ended up becoming more like a festival,” Shelley says. “There were so many people there we decided for the next year to expand it to cover more than one day, and to have it at more than one venue. Like using the International School of Samui to hold an event for children, or having a healing day at a wellness sanctuary and spa.”

The festival for 2011 held several events under the Mala banner. It started off again on the UN Day of Peace on 21st September, with a wall-painting day at Wat Kiri Wongkaram temple school on the 24th. This was run by Samahita Yoga Thailand, as an example of ‘karma yoga’, where instead of touching your toes, you stretch and reach out to make a difference in your community.


Samahita Yoga Thailand’s been doing this since 2008, when volunteers renovated a local kindergarten school and since then it’s transformed several schools on the island by painting, rebuilding and fund-raising for renovations. At Wat Kiri Wongkaram last year, students and teachers from several of Samui’s yoga centres joined volunteers and the children of the school for a morning of wall painting followed by a healthy lunch served by the volunteers.


The next day saw a Samui Mala Healing Day at Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary and Holistic Spa, with yoga, breathing exercises, dance, talk and music. Donations raised went to the Samui Foundation for Special Needs Learning, one of the groups on the island helped out by Samui Mala wherever it can. And the next week was the annual Children’s Day, held at the International School of Samui to raise money for its scholarship fund, covering local children with special abilities who wouldn’t be able to attend the school otherwise. Money raised under a general ‘Water’ theme last year was donated to help build a well at the Wat Kiri Wongkaram School.


The day was packed with people and events, from soccer matches to dressing up competitions, martial arts displays to tom bola draws, book sales to music and dance. It wasn’t the only lively school event held by the Mala this year, as members also organised a music and dance concert for a local special needs school.


“But,” says Shelley, “the Mala philosophy is about more than just organising an occasional fundraiser, patting yourself on the back and forgetting all about it until the next one. ‘Living the Mala’ is also about recognising what you have, feeling gratitude for the day-to-day, treating people with kindness and understanding. And that includes you. A big part of the Mala philosophy – a branch of the Mala tree – is health and wellness. Sharing your yoga skills with others and helping to fund-raise for a school well are both very welcome, but Mala-style health and wellness works on an individual level too.”


“Many people think that taking care of yourself and your wellness is self-indulgent, but it’s actually just taking responsibility for yourself so that you can have more energy and strength to share a useful life in the community,” Shelley continued. “All the ingredients for wellness are on Samui – fresh air, walking trails, the sea. And there are so many resorts and spas with experts on how to achieve a peaceful body and mind.”


So the Mala tree has many branches. Whatever your interest, whether that be helping out for a morning painting in a local school, learning relaxation techniques or just finding out about contributing to community life on the island, there’ll be a Mala branch to reach to. Here it’s easy to become part of the string of beads.


Lisa Cunningham

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