A longtime dream
Volunteering in Thailand, or overseas, in general, has been on my mind for a long time but always something comes up, and this idea has been pushed back. Now, finally, after I had just finished my first teaching contract in Rayong, I managed to make this true. I had heard about this children’s home, Baan Eurphon in Chumphon, from a friend, about 18 months ago and I really wanted to come here, because it’s quite close to Koh Phangan, Thailand, where I’ve been living on and off for a few years. This means that I could come here more than just once which, in my opinion, is ideal. You get to know the people more and have more meaningful relationships with them. And, ultimately, I believe you can help them better as well.
Nowadays, in many places, they are making volunteering difficult. Complex entry “examinations” or, other option would be that they’d only allow you to do maintenance work, which doesn’t do it for me. I want to be involved with people (or animals), and get my hands “dirty”, being part of the people’s daily lives. At Eurphon, this is possible, and you can certainly expect to have mud all over your clothes and feet, especially during the rainy season. So, perhaps, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to Miss or Mr fancy pants.
The sun had gone down when I got here last Friday with Chase, my Thai mix dog. I got a tour around the premises but couldn’t see too much. They had made a bed for me, in a quirky tree house. We had dinner and I realised I had to forget my vegetarian aspirations, during my stay here. I recently stopped eating meat again (which I haven’t been eating too much anyway) but to make my stay here more simple for everyone, I decided that I don’t want to be too fussy. Other option would be to cook my own food every day which would mean less time spent with the children or to have my diet consist only of fruits, nuts and 7/11 snack food.
These guys have a daily reflection on most nights, in which they talk, sing and make an evening prayer. On Friday night, I was introduced and got to see everyone. There are about 30 children here, from toddlers to teenagers, girls and boys. A few live outside Eurphon, and visit with their mums frequently. They talk in Thai but it’s entertaining just looking at the children, while the toddlers put on their show. The older ones are able to sit still, so it’s not too hectic. Mama (P-Nui) and Papa (P-Nong) speak English and so do a few of the older kids, so it’s not all sign language, luckily. Mama and Papa are very sweet, caring, easy-going and patient parents. They are exceptional Thais in that sense that they are also Christians. Almost all Thais are Buddhists.
When I finally laid down around 10pm in my tree house, I saw fireflies twinkling outside in the darkness, heard the typical jungle sounds and also piggies oinking. Kind of idyllic, I would say. Yet, as we know, life in children’s home is quite often far from idyllic, indeed. There’s noise, used diapers, mess, little boys and girls screaming for your attention and so on. I was excited about the next couple of weeks, but also a little nervous.
Saturday was super action-packed. We got a lot of visitors, and I think the best visitors were those, who came with food trucks! That’s right. Some people from the village volunteered and arrived with their food trucks. We had somtum, papaya salad, with chicken skewers. The 2nd truck was all about drinks, such as sodas and frappes. And lastly, the crepe truck was a real big hit! I asked one boy how many he has had and he told me 4. So he was eating his fifth as we spoke! The trucks stayed in the yard pretty much the whole day, and they didn’t leave until dusk. The children were super happy and I loved seeing smiles on their faces. It comes as no surprise that they weren’t really keen on having dinner later on, their stomachs being full of sugary drinks and chocolatey crepes.
The good thing was that the children had lots of energy, so we went running later on that day. I was quite surprised to see the kids so excited about this, because I have noticed that many Thai kids aren’t really big on sports or exercise. One of the older girls stuck with me until the bitter end, though she must’ve been just beat. Well done!
The pleasures of monsoon
Guess what happened next? It rained. And it rained heavily. My tree house was not waterproof. The roof was leaking. We came up with all kinds of tricks, such as using my yoga mat to prevent the rain from running down from upstairs, using buckets to collect the water and rugs on the floor, to prevent the water spreading on to the one dry spot, where my bed was. To my relief, my bed and rucksack stayed dry. I was panicking a bit because I had my new laptop with me, on top of the old one. Normally, I really enjoy falling asleep listening to rain. Now, I was just stressing over my things, and if I would suddenly need to splash out, in the middle of the night, trying to keep my electronics dry.
Sushi and Thai delicacies
On Sunday, after the brekkie and doing the dishes, I got to go to this local market, close to the sea. They had amazing seafood there. The best deep-fried shrimp skewers I have ever tasted actually. I wanted to turn back a few times to go buy more but I guess that would’ve been excessive. That didn’t stop me from dreaming of those delicious little bites until late at night.
When we got home we did some yoga/ gymnastics with the little ones. They were just buzzing around doing somersaults, bridges and other crazy stuff. At some point it looked like an accident was prone to happen: the mattress was about 1 x 2 metres and all of them were trying to be on it at the same time, limbs scattered here and there. Pheeeew! After playing with the toddlers, I went to do some muay thai drills, pushups and situps with the teenage boys. They are really sporty here, really!
I try to spend time with all of them but if I’m honest, I have to say that I get along with the older ones better. I’ve never been mad about babies, nor have I ever changed diapers. Luckily, it’s not expected of me here. It probably comes as no surprise that I haven’t got children, nor am I planning on having one. Just too much work, and I like my independence. And I have Chase the dog, my “thii lak”, or translated from Thai, my love.
We had sushi for lunch, by donation, and the children loved it. The older ones helped the toddlers who were less experienced sushi coinneseurs. The kitten was running around, trying to steal a shrimp or a piece of fish on the sushis. A nice, little, chaotic lunch, haha. Later on, the older girls cooked dinner and I helped them, trying to incorporate English whenever I could, while we chopped vegetables and stirred the pots. I haven’t asked them yet what they want to be when they grow up, but they could certainly cook for living! They make delicious Thai food.
After a few days
As I mentioned earlier -and you can probably guess it by now from my writing as well- the weekend was very busy. The local Thais, and from nearby, visit on the weekends, and they are shown the premises, and Papa and Mama tell them about Eurphon. The visitors bring all kinds of donations: food, sweets, water, clothes, toys, pens, medicine and so on.
Kids don’t need to go to school on the weekends, so they are all full of energy and ready for activities, in addition to their chores. A bit crazy start, but with 30 or so kids, you kind of expect that. The monsoon and the leaking tree house bring a little bit of extra spice to the volunteering scenario but so far, so good. If you want to know more, have a look at this guest post I did on Ajarn.com. It has some things I haven’t mentioned on my own blog.
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