MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Amanda Hill had it all planned out.
The WVU women’s soccer freshman figured she’d spend her spring break in Colorado Springs, visiting one of her three older brothers, Ray, a senior at the Air Force Academy.
Ray, though, had other ideas.
“Sorry, I won’t be home,” he said when his sister inquired about a visit. “I’ll be in Thailand. Do you want to come?”
“Ha ha, yeah, good one,” she said. “No really,” he said.
Ray Hill and a group of 20 other kids from the Air Force Academy were traveling to Thailand as part of YWAM – Youth with a Mission – a national program that sends kids on mission trips all over the world.
“All it took was a little convincing from my dad, and we were on the way,” Amanda Hill said.
The Trinity High School graduate spent a week she’ll never forget in an Akha village, just outside Chiang Rai. She and the YWAM group cleaned up a school and built and remodeled a church, working six to seven hours a day in 95-degree heat.
“It was burning season, so a lot of the smog protected us from the sun,” Hill said. “It rained for about 10 minutes one day. That was about it.”
The living conditions in the village were primitive. She lived in a bamboo hut with a family that included two small children. The bathroom consisted of what Hill referred to as a “squatty potty,” a fancy hole in the ground with a tile around it. She bathed in a big basin tub.
“It was just filled with water,” she said. “You’d take a little bucket and dump it on you. Cleanliness wasn’t the main concern while we were over there.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of the trip was the day the group distributed solar-panel lights to the villagers. They raised money to buy the lights back in Colorado.
“We helped install them and hand them out,” Hill said. “Every family in the village got one light. We gave some to the church and some to the school.”
At the end of each work day, the group gathered in the village to play soccer or toss a Frisbee with the children.
Whenever Hill pulled out a soccer ball, the kids flocked to her.
“Obviously, we couldn’t communicate with them,” she said of the children, who spoke Akha, a variation of Thai. “It was difficult to say, ‘Hey, do you want to play soccer?’ It didn’t matter. They just came running and started kicking the ball. They definitely liked soccer, and it made communicating with them a lot easier.”
Hill chuckles when she recalls the first time she played with the children as a bunch of chickens ran across the field. As she bellowed, “There’s a chicken!” one little boy screamed “Chicken! Chicken! Chicken!”
Suddenly, Hill had a nickname.
“The little kids started calling me chicken and the adults called me chicken,” she said. “To the whole Akha village, I was known as ‘Chicken the soccer player.’ It was really funny.”
On Hill’s final day in Thailand, she joined her brother and two of his friends in an assortment of tourist activities, such hum-drum things as riding elephants and playing with tigers in a tiger sanctuary.
Yes, playing with tigers.
“We walked in a cage that had three big tigers in it,” Hill said. “One in a picture I have was sleeping. That was unbelievable. They are such amazing animals, so big and strong.”
Hill said she never felt she was in any danger.
“They’ve grown up with humans,” she said. “They are accustomed to them. I checked out the (sanctuary). They’ve had a few accidents in their history but no deaths.”
Fortunately, Hill’s father, Jay, and WVU women’s soccer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown didn’t learn about Hill’s visit to the tiger sanctuary until she returned to Morgantown.
“My dad was happy he didn’t know until I got back,” Hill said, smiling.
She couldn’t have imagined a more perfect way to spend her spring break.
“I would definitely do another mission trip,” Hill said. “I would love to go anywhere on another mission trip and experience the culture.”