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Volunthai’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 22 Aug 2007

Location: Sapun, Ban Thaen, Thailand

MapSo where do we start?! We chose to volunteer with Volunthai because it is a worthwhile project to be a part of - not one where you are overcharged and the money you pay just goes to the admin staff back home! You get to visit the very untouristic (if that's a word!) and rural part of North Eastern Thailand and like our fellow blogger, Leslie, wrote - you get to see a whole different side to Thailand that you just wouldn't see sticking to the backpacking trail. We decided to volunteer teaching as part of our 10 month round the world trip as we wanted to help out and give back something to the countries that we are visiting. Volunteering with Volunthai has helped us achieve this.

We are the first "farangs" to step foot on our school - Sapungwittayakom School, near Ban Thaen. Our welcome was exctatic to say the least! The students were all very excited to see us, and screams and laughter greeted us through the corridors. The staff were all very friendly and happy to see us too although they speak little English ("nit noi!!") ... they seem to like to feed us at every opportunity!!

We're well into our third week here, and since arriving we have been lucky enough to do many things - inside and outside school. In School, lessons are basic and involve many games! We have just finished teaching a class about Christmas and sang lots of Xmas songs! We have found that the student's know a great deal more English than what they think. Many are very shy and the main challenge within the classroom is to get them involved and speaking. The days seem quite long in comparision to home, with the flag raising and registration at 8am and some days hometime is not until around 5pm so that the student's can have sports lessons. Within this time, we teach 3-4 hours a day. Outside of class time, we sit in our office which is often full of smiling faces that want to play more English games! Kieran has also helped referee football matches and played in the Annual Teacher v Student game which ended in a nice 3-3 draw!

Outside of School hours, we are staying on School campus in a dormitory with two other teachers. Ok, so the accommodation is basic - but if you're not afraid of a cold shower twice a day, squat loos and a few creepy crawlies, you'll be just fine! In the evenings, we tend to relax and play sports and just chat to the other teachers. We hope to improve the teacher's English as well so that they can continue our work here once we leave. On the weekends, we have been taken on tours of the local sights: visiting student's homes, seeing how silk is made and woven, tasting many exotic fruits, having holy water sprayed upon us by a monk at a house blessing, swimming in the resevoir at Chulabhorn Dam and to overcome any home sickness ... eating pizza, doing karaoke and shopping in Kohn Kaen!

We have also taken part in 2 English Camps at other Schools and are off to another one this Friday. At English Camp, you get to teach English in a more active way! Just a warning though... the student's never get tired!! We were on a coach trip to Pa Hin Ngam National Park, the students were up dancing and singing in the ailse of the bus from the time we left (at 4am in the morning!) until we arrived and for the whole journey back!

We would definitely recommend this experience to others. We personally decided to do this as a couple, which has helped us overcome any feelings of being overwhelmed and any anxiousness. Expect to know that sometimes you will have no clue what is happening, and no-one will be able to communicate with you what is going on - you need to be able to relax and go with the flow! The people of NE Thailand are wonderfully warm, generous and helpful. With time, patience and willingness to teach English, you will see this too!

Karen Sharp and Kieran Topping