One afternoon, I decided it was time to wake up from my day dreams and turn them into a reality.
Having no previous travel experience whatsoever, I was excited yet petrified! I dropped everything and jetted off half way around the world to embark on my travelling adventures. I didn’t have much of a plan and at the time, volunteering certainly wasn’t on my list of things to do however, they say the best things are the unplanned and oh boy are they right!
Completing a tour of the Hill Tribes in Northern Thailand, I was then left with some ‘spare time’. “Why don’t you teach English at a School in the North East? I know a school in Nang Rong, Buriram who need help” said the tour leader. I responded with, “Teach English…me!” I didn’t even have any teaching qualifications! However, the tour leader urged me to check it out. He knew a ‘friend of a friend’ who worked at the school and promised that I wouldn’t need any certificates to teach, the school are just grateful for international visitors and especially those who are English nationals. Being a boarding school for orphaned and or mistreated children (aged 7-18yrs old) they are grateful to have the visitors to mingle and ‘talk’ to the children and to be able to give them the opportunity to practice their English. With the school only affording a few teachers, the English department is the worst suffering of all the subjects with only a few English teachers. It sounded like a very poor school who were doing all they could to look after these children as well as give them just as good an opportunity as any other learning child out there to prepare themselves for life. I became increasingly curious to see what this school was like so with that, the tour leader made some calls.
I got myself a Thai sim card and had several conversations on the phone with the Head of the English department and another one of the English teachers there. They just wanted to know how good my English was, how well I did in school and of course, if I’d had any experience of teaching at all. With zilch experience, they were still more than happy to have me on board. I was off to join the School in Buriram! I negotiated free accommodation and free meals for my assistance. Once I arrived, I was warmly greeted by one of the other teachers and immediately shown to the guest house based on the schools site. It was basic accommodation but that didn’t matter to me…I had a 3 bedroom house all to myself!
In the morning of my first day, I was greeted (or should I say mobbed) by happy, smiling children who looked so happy and excited to see me. I was then walked over to the schools assembly where I asked to introduce myself to 750 children!
It was apparent that their English is not the best but I learnt to put together lesson plans including learning the Alphabet, phonics, English customs and culture, English food, weather etc the whole package! The children’s favourite part of the lesson was the sing song! I would teach them a catchy song and get them all to sing along! Sometimes I would even hear some of the children singing my songs under a tree in the playground!
I even took it upon myself to make use of my recruitment skills (as that is what I do when working for a living back in the UK). With the help of a translator, I put together a ‘Route to Recruit’ scheme for the 18yr olds, just something to help prepare them for the world of work.
Ups for me would be seeing the children’s faces! Such grateful, warm children who are just happy to be alive, safe and well. The teachers too are so hard working and do all they can to help the children and however they can. Another time really stands out for me too – the day the dance teachers dressed me up as a Thai girl! I loved it, I mean, what girl doesn’t like dress up hey!
And the downers, I would have to say it did upset me to learn about some of the children’s backgrounds! It’s so sad to hear some of their stories and to see their sweet faces you do find yourself thinking ‘how can anyone hurt these wonderful little people’! But then again, they are all safe and at the school now and have bright futures ahead of them. In turn, it did make me miss my family back home but made me ever the more grateful that I have a loving family too.
I learnt so much from the school…Thai customs to Thai food, how Asia really differs to Europe and also that I really can teach, I really can stand up in front of a class of 40 odd children and just talk to them, teach them, sing to them and probably look like an idiot haha, but you really can’t help but fall in love with this school, the students and the teachers and just want the best for them all. The other thing I must mention is that the teachers will also look after whoever is there to help them…and the longer you stay, the better! The language barrier was never an issue for me, yes sometimes the other teachers didn’t always understand me but with the help of the Thai English teachers, I was going out for dinner with them, singing at karaoke with them and even went to a nightclub on a few occasions with the younger teachers ha! I made some wonderful life long friends here and really do encourage you look at this school if you are serious about making a difference and helping the lives of the people and the children here. I truly had the Thai of my life. I hope to make it back there one day
If you wish to read more about my time volunteering at the School or have any questions, please feel free to visit Through Helen Highwater and contact me there.
Helen volunteered at the School of Education Rajaprajanugroh 51 Buriram