This week is the start of our blogs introducing our Volunteer Co-ordinators to our volunteers, so you get to know who they are and hear their words of wisdom following their time overseas! Our first post comes from Becca who will be leading one of the teams of volunteers going to Thailand in August:
Hi, I’m Becca, one of the team leaders for the 16th August volunteers, I am currently a 3rd year Film Studies student and hopefully I will be on a teaching course next year. In terms of volunteering I have in the past worked with my college to raise awareness and money for various different issues and when I was a stylist working in a salon we frequently had fundraising events for local charities and larger ones e.g Red Nose Day. Last year I had the opportunity to volunteer with VESL in Thailand which involved a lot of fundraising, I set up a just giving page as they are always useful for random acts of kindness from people on Facebook. I also had a couple of car boot sales which are a really good way to raise money, raid family members attics and get rid of the clutter, I raised about £350 from this. This year my fundraising will mainly be from another car boot sale however I am organising a cake sale, bag packing and hopefully an event at our SU bar.
Going overseas is a scary thought, last year I can’t say I wasn’t nervous but once you are in your project you will wonder what you were worried about. One thing I wouldn’t go overseas without would be a bites survival pack, they will be the bane of your life if the mosi’s like the taste of you. Few essential lotions and potions will help you out, make sure you have repellent, I took out about 4 bottles and I did run low and have to buy more out there. Sometimes you cannot prevent being bitten even if you bathe in the stuff so cures for me were, an ammonia pen and tiger balm, however you can buy a similar lotion in Thailand which is awesome (it’s ‘Golden Cup Balm’) and some aloe vera cream really soothes it. A lot of my team last year over packed, they took too many clothes that weren’t appropriate so were completely useless when they were over there. Be sure to pack wisely it’s a case of comfort over fashion I’m afraid!
Advice would be to stay flexible, you may think your day will be doing one thing but really your host/school has another thing planned. It is the land of smiles so embrace it, the schools are so welcoming, the culture is amazing and it will be the time of your life, cliché I know but it has to be said. I am very much look forward to doing it all again and meeting a whole new family, so I really cannot say anything specific about what I am looking forward to the most.
When you get there it does seem overwhelming; a bunch of kids that don’t know you or your language, but don’t fear they pick it up really easily! When you meet the children you will have the recited speech of when you ask how they are you get the same response off EVERY child “I am fine thank you and you?”. So my first lesson was teaching them a different response because every child is not ‘fine’, giving them a bigger vocabulary just for that basic conversation is a huge achievement. A way to teach this lesson is through getting the kids on their feet and acting out the responses, they love getting out of their seats and having fun so go with it! At the end of my project I would expect my children to respond with I am Happy, excited, hot, or hungry. There is a lot to be gained from that simple lesson and if all you achieve in your short time there is to get rid of “I am fine” you are a success!
My host mum was a great cook! The best meal she would make us was a pumpkin stew, it didn’t really look appetising but it was so refreshing after a lot of noodles. However she did catch on that me and my partner liked it so we got it 3 days in a row, still delicious every time. Memorable moments come from majority of days in school, some days you feel like the children aren’t getting it and it gets you down; one child will come up smiling offering you a drawing or asking you to play and the day just gets better. Outside of school a memorable moment was riding the elephants in Chiang Mai, it’s an amazing experience and I would say for volunteers to definitely look at it for a weekend activity. Travelling on a weekend is pretty easy, there are regular coaches to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai across the region, if you get a bus with the ‘green bus company’ you get comfy seats, A.C and some strange Thai snacks for your journey. Booking a hostel is really easy, just go on trip advisor have a look round and book, you may have to pay a booking fee which will be around 50p because the hostels cost around £4 max! If anyone is wanting to go to Chiang Mai I would recommend DeeJai Backpackers hostel, it’s owned by an English guy he’s really friendly and will advise you on where to go in the city and at £3 a night for a really nice bunk it’s a no brainer (try their pancakes, after a week of rice and noodles you will think it is the food of kings!).
My biggest challenge of the time in Thailand was the language barrier, although my host mum’s English was pretty good there were times when communication became hard. The only advice I can give is speak slow and appreciate that they have a hard time understanding you just as much you have understanding them. If you can learn some basic Thai phrases for your first few days that would be a big help and shows your hosts that you have thought about them before you arrived. Just to start you off ‘Sawadee’ is hello, if you are a female you add ‘ka’ and if you are male add ‘krap’, as a girl I would bow to my host and say ‘SawadeeKa’. You do however pick up a lot of random Thai words that will get you by in conversations throughout your project, so don’t worry if you can’t learn much.
Hope this helps you get to know me a little, also hope it gives you a little insight into what you will be doing and how amazing it is!