Orient Xplorer would like to thank Sasha Dorling for kindly writing the following post. Sasha has recently graduated from Sussex University in the UK with an MA in Globalisation, Ethnicity and Culture. Prior to this she spent a year living and traveling in China and S.E. Asia, during which she also volunteered her skills to teach art and culture to Chinese students – Sasha is fluent in mandarin. She is currently studying a course in Tefl as well as starting an internship with the Fairtrade foundation in the UK.
It is good to enjoy yourself not only when you are young, but at any age and at any point in your life. Add to that the knowledge that what you are enjoying is also doing good and you are on to a winner!
Volunteering is very different now to how it was even four years ago (during my own gap year) as volunteering prospects and positions have increased tenfold and the actions of volunteers and volunteering organisations are enjoying an increasingly positive profile. People are also less likely to be ripped off by gap year cons and with the wealth of information available, it is much easier now to check up on the organisation you are going with to ensure that their principles and ethics match your own.
Thailand has been known to the Western world as an exotic getaway, for all types ofpeople – expats, newly weds, backpackers, gap year students but it is not just about Samui sands, Phangan parties or Bangkok’s ping pong girls. Thailand has a wealth of culture and experiences to offer people who have a little time to truly indulge themselves in the land, its people and its idiosyncrasies.
Within Thailand, there is an array of flora and fauna, from beaches to jungles, golden triangles to mountains and it can hold an attraction for people from all walks of life with all sorts of interests. Volunteering is just one way to access this wonderful land, to experience different ethnic cultures and give something back to the community. For many people volunteering – or its newer form ‘voluntouring ’, is not just a 6 weeks placement but a full on lifestyle or career. There are a whole range of opportunities for every age, every skill and every person. You can get involved in teaching placements as many volunteers do, or try something different – conservation, sustainable development, raising the profile of recycling, working with refugees or prostitutes, rehabilitation, eco-tourism and so much more all depending on what you fancy.
You can become anything from a teacher to a human rights officer and why not?
The opportunities are always there to lounge about in the sunshine, explore the local terrain, but discovering yourself and a completely different land and the worlds within them whilst having a positive impact is something that should not be missed !
Depending on the month there are many festivals and public celebrations such as the Chiang Mai flower festival (beginning of February) and Loy Krathong (usually mid November), and you can gain valuable life and cultural insights whilst having fun and being a constructive influence to an individual, a community or the country as a whole. You can help to rebuild whole communities, or help protect masses of land from over farming or deforestation, helping people to maintain their culture and lifestyle in a rapidly modernising world and to improve their economic situations.
If you are thinking about spending sometime abroad, or even in your home community lending your time and expertise it is very important to research the organisation, in case the services they offer to the local communities have certain conditions and/or they do not provide sustainable development. There are obvious universal problems with development; especially in developing countries like as Thailand such as greed, corruption or one village/town developing faster than others but these can also be combated with consideration of local contexts and needs. And if one company is bad there are many others to counter-act this, with truly holistic approaches, good intentions and excellent support networks, so don’t let one bad organisation or experience deter you from volunteering.
On a personal level, volunteering is a brilliant way to develop ones own skills and gain new experiences. Depending on your interests and placements, volunteering in Thailand has a wealth of resources for self-improvement – from improving self-confidence, learning a language or culinaryskills, communication skills or the more practical – learning the scope of conservation, how to build wells, understanding the processes of community development – even the running of an organisation. It is an opportunity to simultaneously have fun and learn. Learning does not always have to take part in a classroom, as many say the best lessons come from the University of Life. And the bonus of it all is that while you can be developing yourself, you are also helping others and doing ‘Good’. Of course this positive is multiplied if one goes out with the correct motives, with the right type of organisation.
Many organisations now have well-established networks and offer extra training, career advice, hold conferences and liaise with other organisations and charities et al, to ensure that prospective and current volunteers have as much advice and information as possible and also to help them on their way – whether it be to a paid job or to another placement. And when out there, there is always someone to give further support to help you adjust and orientate yourself to the country, help with language lessons or finding somewhere to stay and any other personal concerns that you may have. So even if you go away by yourself, you won’t be stuck out on a limb – unless of course you want to!
Imagine, waking up every day to be immersed in culture, sandy shores always within reach, the sun warming your skin, to do a job you really want to do and which gives back to people. It is nearly everyone’s dream job description, so why not do it and volunteer?!
Volunteer Programmes in Thailand
Below are a few links for organisations that offer some really interesting volunteer programmes in Thailand;
Forru is a reforestation unit, based at Chiang Mai University, that helps mountain communities in the North of Thailand reforest their watershed catchment areas, they particularly need volunteers during the planting season, which runs from June to August, each year.
SPARK! is a group of spectacular international volunteer circus performers who come together to bring joy to groups of disadvantaged children in refugee camps, migrant schools, hospitals and orphanages along the Thai Burmese border.
Naucrates.org is an early pioneer of the sustainable tourism practice. Working on Ko Pra Tong since 1996 they have been deeply involved in the conservation of the island’s turtle nesting sites and the restoration of mangrove forest.
Volunteer Teacher Thailand, which carries on the English education work of the Tsunami Volunteer Center, is a free, non-profitmaking service run by volunteer staff. We provide free English lessons to children and adults in Phang-Nga province, southern Thailand.
Soi Dog Foundation (SDF) is a not-for-profit, legally registered charitable organization in Thailand, Australia, France and Holland. Soi Dog helps the homeless, neglected and abused dogs and cats of Thailand.