Caroline is one of many travellers that fell head over heels in love with Thailand and wanted to stay on longer. She wanted to give back to a country that had given her so much joy, and did this by teaching English in a small community on the border of Thailand and Laos.
If you are considering dedicating some time to those in need as a working volunteer, it's sometimes worth considering the smaller fish in the pond, those organisations who do not spend large amounts of money on advertising and hardly show up on the radar. Yet luckily they can be found, by word of mouth, from hearing stories on your travels or a good dig around online. Caroline found some of these organisations whilst in Thailand and shares her experiences with us.
I relocated to Thailand after falling in love with the whole essence of the country during a six-week stint travelling there. I was enchanted by the beauty, the tropical weather, the people, and the epitome of freedom that seemed to resonate within me.
After a pleasurable spell of self-indulgence, living the dream on tropical islands, I searched for somewhere to spend time giving back to the country that had given me so much. I found two charities online, Sarnelli House and Isara in Nong Khai. I decided to lend a helping hand to this community on the border of Laos on the river Mekong.
I taught TEFL classes at Isara, a little centre for students to learn English, basic computing and more. This organisation also funded child education and took on the task of educating the town on the safety of wearing helmets. They provided them free to all as a measure to reduce the number of serious accidents and fatalities that occurred from the daily moped and scooter trips.
English classes were set up to teach adults and children and many volunteers passed through to spend long or short stays there giving a helping hand with teaching and current projects. The beauty of Isara, run by an expat American with a big heart and his lovely Thai lady, was that he did not ask for huge sponsorship fees from volunteers who wanted to lend a helping hand. In fact, he requested nothing but your time. This was very refreshing; they also provide accommodation as you help out, in a beautiful house that served as home and school.
From there, I would visit the children at Sarnelli House to play and spend time with children with HIV or those that were orphaned as a result of this deadly disease; it was a very special, humbling and rewarding time. This Christian organization has done wonders for the children in the south east of Thailand by creating four children’s homes for children with HIV or affected by HIV in the family. There is a home for babies, for children and teenagers with the disease and two homes to accommodate the teenage boys and girls, victims of HIV in their families. It is a magical if sad place; the children are full of love and very well looked after by the local staff and founder.
An Australian nurse, Kate, has dedicated years of her life to these children. She developed and runs a lifesaving drugs program within the orphanage and surrounding areas, after watching children die on her first day there. This has enormously improved the quality of the children's lives. An inspiring lady, to say the least!
I met another wonderful lady who was recruiting people to visit a tribe from Laos who were incarcerated in an immigration centre, after trying to escape Loas from issues related to the American war in Vietnam, to begin new lives in Thailand. I will not go into the political mess between USA, Laos and Thailand that allowed for families to be contained in these appalling conditions, with children born as prisoners, not knowing any other way of life. There were four generations of the Hmong Tribe there, determined to keep on peacefully fighting for their rights to a free life. They were amazing people, who touched my heart in a big way and I hope to meet them again someday as thankfully many have finally gained freedom.
This wonderful group of people really looked forward to our visits, which had to occur within a two-hour period when they were allowed out of the locked dorms. They told us they could keep their spirits up, knowing they were not just forgotten. They were extremely grateful for the supplies we brought along to ensure they had adequate nutrition and other essentials to get by. One day I attended a prayer service that they performed. It was an emotional day where we exchanged wristbands and prayed for a happy ending. For many of them, thanks to the tireless campaign of people all over the world, their prayers were finally answered after almost three years.
I feel, after this experience, that those seeking to give their time and energy to a project in Thailand or any other country where help is very much needed, should do some research and look for the smaller charities, for those that do not even have an organization set up, such as the Hmong Tribe. They were blessed to have a small group of great people dedicated to doing their best to raise awareness of their plight with endless media reports and letters to officials. Others within this group would bring a little sunshine into the prisoners lives by much wanted visits, or bringing essentials and some treats for the children.
You may find that by going off the beaten track you experience a side of humanity what will stay in your heart for a long time and the warm feeling that comes from knowing you made a difference in the lives of others.