Sarah Heath - General Care Projects in Thailand
6 weeks/ 41 days/ 1845 hours, however you want to say it, that’s how long I have been back from Thailand and yet my heart still remains there; with the kids, with my host family and with the gorgeous people from Projects Abroad.
If I am totally honest, my first week was very hard. I flew into Krabi airport, terrified of the adventure before me. Nou, from Projects Abroad, greeted me with a big smile and we went straight to my host family; they didn’t speak hardly any English, the house seemed in the middle of nowhere and I was crazy tired. First thing I did when I reached this beautiful location was cry.
Now, I know what you are thinking, this isn’t the best way to introduce you to Projects Abroad, but I have to tell you, after those moments of home sickness, struggling with the language barrier and settling your stomach whilst it gets used to the Thai cuisine, comes months of love, excitement and friendship that you cannot ever have imagined living your life without.My second home – my Thai host family
As I said before, the host family that I stayed with spoke minimum English, it got easier nearer the end but at the start it felt like the longest game of charades ever. However, what they lacked in verbal communication, they made up for in pure warmth.
My Thai home was out of the town and all you could see was rubber plants for miles and miles. As I drove home, my happiest time was seeing the stunning scenery pass by and I just remember feeling peaceful.
I couldn’t have asked for a nicer host family, they really worried, cared and took care of me; each meal was delicious and followed by a selection of fresh fruit. They kept in touch with my placement supervisor to make sure that I was happy at work; they involved me in their family events and really let us experience a true Thai lifestyle.
Living with a host family is the ultimate way to live a Thai life, it has its limitations when it comes to curfews and rules, but very few people will ever have an experience like this again.My Care placement
My placement was based in NongKok Day care centre, just around the corner from my home, surrounded by stunning Thai countryside and a place where the teachers are kind, strict, caring and strong.
On the very first day, as soon as I arrived at the school, the kids ran up to me, hugging me, holding my hand and shouting ‘teacher’! Possibly the warmest welcome I have ever received, anywhere.Personal Achievements
Every month we took part in a community outreach programme, helping monks, local Thai people and the environment. One of my most valued achievements was working at the Safe House in Phuket, a place which took in children who were at risk of mistreatment, abuse or homelessness. We were set the assignment of making their garden safe, a place where they can relax and have fun. We dug, tidied, cleaned and painted the garden into a new life and created a memorial which we hope will keep smiles on those beautiful children’s faces.
This kind of thing you will learn for yourself and for each volunteer the experience is different, so instead of telling you everything that happened to me, I will offer you some words of advice that may help with your journey in Thailand.From me to you – advice for future volunteers
Firstly, relax. Even if your first weekend, week or couple days doesn’t feel right, once you settle in and go out with the volunteers for the first time it will feel like you have been in Thailand forever (in a good way).
Secondly, try; try to switch off your mind from home, try everything even if it scares you and try all the different foods. You are in Thai world now, there may be things that you do in the next couple months that make you uncomfortable and things that you have never even thought of doing, but just for these few months, try it.
Thirdly, learn some basic Thai; things like’ hello’, ‘good bye’ and ‘how are you?’ will show that you are making an effort, but whilst you are at your placement, try picking up what they say and use it alongside your English. This will help teach them and expand your own mind at the same time.
Learn at least two of the children’s names a day, if you haven’t arrived yet you may think this is very easy but trust me, it’s not. It is definitely worth while doing though as it makes the children feel important and they are more likely to pay attention if you are calling them by their names rather than, ‘oi’ or ‘you’!
Love them, all of them, even the ones that aren’t automatically clinging to your hip. You will find that there are a certain group of children that follow you, hug you at every moment and constantly try to impress you with their good behaviour. There are also the children that, through no fault of your own seem invisible at first, they are usually over in the corner Muay Thai fighting with their friends or causing mayhem. They aren’t naughty, they just don’t trust you yet, but I guarantee they just need a hug and to feel they are loved too, you don’t know their home lives yet, so learn. They are all amazing children and my biggest achievement whilst working at NongKok was getting those select few ‘invisible naughty’ children to trust me and make them feel loved.
Let go, just enjoy being with the kids and don’t for a minute feel awkward, whether you are singing cheesy party songs from the 80s/90s or clapping along to ‘if you’re happy and you know it…’ the kids will be loving it and learning at the same time. Dance, laugh, be silly and just get involved with the children as much as possible, it’s the only place you can really enjoy being a child again without being judged.
Finally, last but not least, learn how to multi task. Many a time will you find yourself making paper aeroplanes whilst being a pillow to three children, doing plaits in another girls hair, having your hair being moulded into some sort of fantastic creation, singing a chirpy song, playing nurse to fix a ‘booboo’, and being a referee to yet another Muay Thai fight, all at the same time, it’s hectic, tiring, yet unbelievably fun.Good bye Thailand
It may have been 6 weeks/ 41 days/ 1845 hours ago, but since the first day I arrived in Thailand I have gained 3 months of experience, the basics of one new language, 28 stunningly beautiful children in my heart, a gazillion new friends dotted all over the world and one memory that I know will never leave me. I hope all future volunteers have an amazing time in Thailand, and don’t forget to send my love!
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.