Josh Morris '99 pushing climbing to new heights in northern Thailand
After a year teaching English in northern
Thailand through Princeton-in-Asia, Josh Morris '99 discovered that
he would rather climb rocks than do anything else. At the same time,
he has figured out a way to help support a new life for local kids
in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.
Following the end of his PIA fellowship in 2000,
he worked with local expatriates and Thais to drill bolts for 42
new climbing routes into a seldom-climbed series of limestone caves
and outcroppings 30 kilometers from Chiang Mai called Crazy Horse
Buttress. He also managed an artificial climbing wall at the touristy
night bazaar in downtown Chiang Mai. At the bazaar, Morris first
hatched the idea of connecting local kids with his new climbing
tour company, Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures, which will begin
taking clients to Crazy Horse Buttress this winter.
"These young flower vendors were always
monkeying around on the wall," says Morris, who majored in
art history and has been climbing since he was a teenager. "Finally,
I threw a harness on this five-year-old girl, Gaeow, and let her
climb for real. She was a natural."
Many of the kids like Gaeow work all day and late
into the night, selling flowers and other goods on the street to
earn money for their families. The job leaves no time for school
or much of a life for the kids, many of whom come from hill tribes
around Chiang Mai.
Building on the interest of Gaeow and others,
Morris plans to offer free clinics to local youngsters and take
on the most skilled as paid apprentices. The apprentices will work
reasonable afternoon and weekend hours and, he hopes, be
able to abandon late-night vending and attend school.
Eventually, Morris says, these children would
become full-time guides. A few might compete on the growing Asian
rock-climbing circuit or farther afield, says Morris. "They'll
develop a skill, learn English, and be exposed to travelers in a
different way than selling things on the street."