Andrea reflects on her amazing expierence teaching and viewing wildlife in Thailand. She explains why the culture is more friendly to back home in the Western world and why travelling to a less developed country has given her a new appreciation of life back home.
1) Why did you choose this particular project?
I love children and I love helping out in any way possible. I was also interested in working in Asia and out of all of Frontier’s projects in Asia working with children this is the one that attracted me the most. I wasn’t sure I had the skills to be a teacher so this project sounded just the right fit for me. Plus the price was good too!
2) Which kind of work and activities did you do during your project?
There were a lot of activities to choose from, which was great because you weren’t confined to a single thing (eg. only teaching) so every day you could potentially do something new. During my time there I did a bit of gardening (helping to plough the earth/digging and building a roof), a bit if locker construction (making lockers for the kids to store things in), a bit of nursery (first aid) and I helped to wash the children’s hair with anti-lice shampoo. Other activities included teaching (although it was confined to local older people who wanted to learn English to teach their kids), cement work (roads, floors, walls ), painting etc.
3) How did the culture and people differ to home, and what were the locals like?
In Thailand people did things which I had never seen done in Europe. One example is riding motor bikes: kids as young as 11 were riding on motorbikes, sometimes with one or two kids on their back to get to and from school. Motorbikes are definitely a big form of transport in Thailand. We also rode on the back of trucks and jeeps, something I’m sure it’s illegal here in Europe! Thailand is a Buddhist country so we saw a lot of temples everywhere, from big to small to house-sized shrines scattered everywhere. Being the first time I was exposed to Buddhism I found it very peaceful and relaxing. I think this reflected the kind of people who live in Thailand, because all the locals I encountered were extremely friendly, very peaceful and loving. For example, on one of my last days in Thailand I went to a Thai massage place near the accommodation and I made good friends with the people working there. They not only did my massage but shortly after offered me food, drink and wanted me to teach them English. They offered everything they had even though it wasn’t much and they were always smiling and happy and loving. Even to this day I am still in touch with them.
4) What was the accommodation like?
The booklet described it as Eco-houses but it’s very difficult to envision what an eco-house is like if you’ve never seen one. There was a dining area, resting areas, communal areas and the rooms. Each room had 2 or more bunkbeds (so there would be at least 4 people per room) and a toilet, which had a western toilet, shower and sink. In all the windows and doors there were mosquito nets and every room had at least 2 fans because the temperatures can get very high!
5) What were the staff and other volunteers like?
I was expecting volunteers to be only from Britain but the thing is that they came from all parts of the world! I met people from France, Belgium, Canada, Italy, U.S, China etc. The love each person had for their particular project was very real, so it was refreshing to meet people who, on some level, had a similar mindset as you. The staff there were also really friendly, the coordinators were the best and everyone else was just amazing, from cooks to cleaners to drivers. Everyone was always willing to help you and if given a chance they would try and speak to you in English to learn a bit, and they were ready to teach you some Thai so don’t hesitate to approach them!
6) What was your most amazing moment or your best memory?
I don’t have one! There are too many to choose from! I loved working with the children so those memories are definitely among the best, but I also loved being with the co-ordinators in Intro Week, meeting different animals (Tigers and Elephants to name a few) and sometimes my best memories come from just sitting around in the common areas with the other volunteers just enjoying a game of cards. Although the project you sign up for will be a major part of your experience, what goes on when you’re not working is a big part as well, which is why I would recommend doing ANY project at all because the overall experience is AWESOME.
7) Do you feel the work you were doing was worthwhile?
When you actually do something with your bare hands and you end up sweating and with muscle pain for days afterwards, you feel a million times more rewarded than if you, say, only donate the money to charities. I’m not saying that’s bad, but when you do something like this you see first-hand the effect it has, no matter how small. You’re there on the frontline, you meet the locals and children you’re helping and you see their immediate reaction. That’s honestly something so precious and something that neither books nor documentaries will make you experience. So I guess my overall answer is: yes, I feel that what I did was worthwhile, not just for the children but also in terms of what I have learned!
8) What sort of wildlife did you encounter?
Aside from the regular elephants, tigers and monkeys we also encountered lots of butterflies, fireflies, salamanders, frogs and even snakes!! It was really cool.
9) What were you hoping to learn while on project, and have you achieved those goals?
I was hoping to become more open-minded and less self-centred. In Western culture those are major problems, so I was hoping I could become more grounded, emphatic, generous, less focused on money and, well, on me. In developing countries, this case Thailand, people don’t usually have all of those things, and yet they are happy. They barely have anything but they are ready to give what little they have to you. That doesn’t happen in Western countries. Children sometimes don’t have the opportunity of going to school, and if they do university isn’t a big option. Most young children I met in the orphanage already knew things like sewing and ploughing because that’s the kind of jobs they could aspire to. My experience was extremely eye-opening and I came back more appreciative of my family, house, education and everything else I had. I’ve also become more aware of the existing social inequality between Western and Developing countries and the needs some children in Thailand face. Now, I am running fundraisings and promoting awareness as well as giving more to genuine good charities because I know what kind of change needs to happen. The person I am today is someone I never imagined I would be, and I know it’s also true for some of the other volunteers who were with me doing the same or similar projects.
10) Any tips and advice you might like to pass on to future volunteers?
Take a really good insect repellent, be open minded, ready to try anything and respect everyone you meet, from other volunteers to staff, and even animals. If you can’t make up your mind about doing a project then my advice is very cliché because it’s what helped me to make up my mind: just go for it!
11) What do you have planned next?
I plan to volunteer again! Maybe do a different project on a different country, but volunteering again is definitely on my schedule!
12) Anything else you would like to add?
I had the time of my life in Thailand, and I am sure you will do too.
Find out more about the Thailand Orphanage & Contruction Project here