Today’s blog comes from Emma Moreton, from STA Travel’s head office in London
In August, I was lucky enough (along with 5 other STAers) to be given the chance to try 4 different volunteering projects in one week in the Phang Nga Provence of Southern Thailand.
While we often get brilliant reports and postcards from volunteers in the field, experiencing these projects first hand is a great way to get a feel for the real issues face by these communities and how the charities, and volunteers, can help.
4 Volunteering Projects in one Week!
The lay of the land
We were met at Phuket airport by the lovely Jill who was to be our guide/doctor/teacher/translator/chief Googler/friend for the week. We headed to our accommodation at the Ban Than Namchai Foundation in the town of Baan Nam Khem. This is a centre set up by an Australian charity for volunteers, offering training spaces, accommodation, a kindergarten for local children and most importantly it is the village Tsunami evacuation point.
After a shower and a cuppa, we underwent an introduction to the organisation followed by a training session on the next days activity. The programme coordinator, Joel, clearly knew his stuff and he got us really excited about meeting the turtles the next day.
Next on our agenda was a tour of the village including a stop at the Tsunami Memorial Wall, containing photos and plaques for the victims plus a representation of the size of the waves this sleepy village was faced with Boxing Day 2004. The town have not removed several beached boats that the tsunami flung inland demonstrating how powerful the disaster was.
We awoke early on day two and headed to one of the turtle breeding and rescue centres where we met hundreds of turtles ranging from a few weeks to 8 years old. The work here revolves around helping prepare the turtles for release back into the wild. The work is physical but fun, first scrubbing the tanks then the turtles, making sure they’re clear of the fungus that collects around their flippers, necks and eyes. Being cleaned with a toothbrush can’t be too fun but we quickly learnt that a gentle stroke to the head at the same time makes for a much less flappy patient!
A Turtle post-cleaning
The best bit of this project is definitely how much you learn about turtles, you get to spend a lot of time working directly with them and you learn lots about the characteristic appearance of each species! Second best bit is the lady with the fresh coconuts next to the centre, scrubbing turtles is thirsty work!
Day 3 was conservation day, we headed to the Thai Mueang Rainforest armed with clipboards, binoculars, cameras, GPS and butterfly nets to survey butterflies and vertebrates living amongst the fauna. The project collects the data to feed to the department of National Parks, advising what creatures call the rainforest home and suggestions to help the species flourish.
Best bit? Learning that there were so many unidentified species in the rainforest and being a part of telling the world who’s living in there – we saw a frog that had never been seen in that part of Thailand before! Trust me…it was pretty exciting at the time.
Being taken under a wing
The next morning we headed to the Camillian Centre. This is a day centre where children with both physical and mental disabilities can come to improve their motor, physical and educational skills. Personally, I was nervous as I had no experience with children with disabilities but a 4 year old with Down’s syndrome took me under his wing straight away, showing me everything he wanted to play with. After a tasty lunch with the kids we headed back to the foundation to receive some teacher training in preparation for our classroom sessions the next day.
Despite my initial nervousness the children were all keen to talk to us and share information, it put me at ease without you even noticing!
Morning 5 saw us teach, in different groups, in a local school or community centre. Groups taught health, conservation and English.
We ran different parts of the lesson and the kids seemed to warm to us all immediately. These are children of immigrants that the authorities won’t educate so these lessons are crucial to the development of the children. In the afternoon we played playground games with the kids before they headed back to their afternoon. Seeing how happy they were to learn made delivering the information so much more rewarding – they were truly benefiting from the time and effort.
Relaxing with Roger Moore (kinda)
After a long and brilliant week our last day was free. We took the opportunity to visit James Bond Island off the Andaman coast, made famous by The Man With The Golden Gun. We took a longtail boat through the mangrove before arriving at the shore of the island. The mangrove is home to many monkeys and if you’re lucky you may just catch a glimpse!
James Bond Island
The week was a fabulous taster of what volunteer projects GVI offer and when we compared notes on the last night, each of us had a different favourite project showing that there really is something for everyone.
I was really impressed with the number of organisations they work with and how their projects really are making a difference. The training for every volunteer is so comprehensive, a total novice would be well prepared to get to work. I might be biased here (I did get to help turtles after all) but I think Baan Nam Khem should be part of every Southeast Asia itinerary.