Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

Posted October 23, 2002:

Helping local kids
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."

By Oakley Brooks '99

Oakley Brooks lives in Portland, Oregon.