Volunteering in Thailand

As some of my readers may know from my twitter, I fundraised to do three weeks volunteering in Thailand. With a bit of help from my savings, I was able to hit my fundraising target and head to Thailand to volunteer with Challenges Abroad, a scheme run by the charity the FutureSense Foundation.

Fundraising

Our fundraising target was £2400 each, a tall order by anyone’s standards! The whole team worked really hard, organising events such as games nights and raffles.

We also did some bucket shaking in my uni town, Stirling, with the cutest member of the team and people loved it!

Arriving in Thailand

I flew from Dublin to Bangkok via Abu Dhabi, and headed straight to our hostel in Bangkok, Lub d Siam, where I met up with the other four members of my team. We had that evening and the next day as a free day to explore Bangkok.

To kick off our time in Thailand, we visited “Mango”, a Vegan restaurant named after their resident cat, who spent the entire time we were there for lunch napping in a corner. We visited the local shopping centre, and checked out the Grand Palace but unfortunately could not go inside as it was closed for some sort of Bank Holiday.

When we met up with the other Challenges Abroad teams who were in Thailand at the same time as us the next day, we visited a few temples. The first temple we visited was “The Golden Mountain”, or Srakesa Temple, which sits high above the city of Bangkok. The view was incredible!

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Stirling University team photo at the top of The Golden Mountain

After our time in Bangkok had come to an end, we took a ten hour bus to our next city, Chiang Mai, where we spent a night in another hostel before my team headed off to do our first stint of volunteering.

Once in Chiang Mai, we headed to Mae Sariang which is where the Challenges Abroad Volunteer House is located. From there, it was a hair-raising two hour drive up narrow, muddy bends into the Hill Tribes where we would spend a week.

Our main objective while staying in the Hill Tribe village was to teach English to the primary school children. We slept in the school’s library and soon fell into a routine, we would split into a group of three and a group of two, and each group would teach four classes per day.

The children were incredible and it was so rewarding to see them – and in particular the older classes – really develop their English skills! The oldest class were even able to hold brief but fluent conversations by the end of the school week.

English is part of the Thai government’s school curriculum, however most Thai teachers in rural areas are not fluent speakers, or only know basic English. Some teachers can teach written English well but struggle to teach spoken English as they are unfamiliar with the pronunciation. That’s why it was so important to spend time with the children, so they could practice with native English speakers what they had been learning and enhance their skills.

While at the school we also did some painting, and we made a large mural which was based off part of the English section of the curriculum. The children loved it, and it felt good to know that thanks to the mural we’d be remembered in the village for some time.

Because we were in Thailand during their rainy season, and because the village was so rural, we had no access to electricity for the whole time we were there. It was quite an adjustment to go from relatively nice hostels to a squat toilet with no working light – especially in the middle of the night, when leaving a torch on for too long meant risking hundreds of creepy crawlies descending on you (no thanks). It also meant that our evenings were spent making use of natural light until sunset, and then using candles while trying to avoid the multitude of moths that would flock towards us.

What really comforted us, however, was our amazing cook who was sent by the Challenges Abroad team as one of two translators who helped us with our classes. It was really cool to try new foods and see how the rural communities managed to cook when their power supply was non-existent, as it often is for most, if not all, of the rainy season.

While the kids were super enthusiastic to learn new English words and to play with us, I personally felt that we could be doing so much more to help the community. The classroom for the youngest children had holes in the floor boards, and some of the other classrooms were incredibly basic.

When we voiced these concerns with the charity, they informed us that the school was waiting for confirmation of funding from the Thai government to tear down part of the school and replace it with more durable and modern buildings, which was nice to hear but I felt bad knowing that the current pupils were being left in a sort-of limbo, where the school desperately needed work done to make it a safe and conductive learning environment, but knowing it was pointless for the charity to give us materials to do any meaningful work on the buildings as they would be torn down in the not-so-distant future.

When we returned to Chaing Mai, the charity was kind enough to take us on a tour of the city via boat, and take us to several more gorgeous temples.

The second half of our time in Thailand was spent at an elephant park near the city of Chiang Mai, which you can read about here.

Until next time, Dani x

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