THINKING OF VOLUNTOURING?
Voluntouring =traveling with the purpose of giving back while vacationing.
Think again if you are:
goal & detail oriented
Here are some things I wish I’d considered before committing to 4 weeks of service in Thailand:
Know Thyself I love sunrises, early morning movement, communing with God, serving others, interacting with positive people, organization & planning, beaches, yoga and striving for excellence (even when I fall short). I thought that volunteering with one of the many non-profit organizations whose mission is to provide a brighter future to children overseas by teaching them English would be a rewarding experience since I could:
2. Consider Age & Agency
Most large agencies subcontract their volunteers to local agencies whose names they don’t reveal until after you’ve paid in full. The agency I worked with gave little to no details in advance such as:
The number of hours you'll be working
The age and level of the students you’ll be working with
The number of students you’ll be working with
The number of other teachers & volunteers you’ll be partnered with in the classroom
Whether you’ll follow a curriculum set by the school or be able to create your own lesson plans
The type & exact location of accommodations you’ll be staying in
3. My Reality
Campus Life – If you haven’t lived in a dorm in over 30 years,you will probably choose not to stay in the accommodations included in the program fee, which I might add was not cheap,. The house I was assigned to could house up to 10 volunteers. Thankfully it was just me and two truly lovely 20 somethings. The house was only cleaned once every TWO weeks and it showed. There were holes in the kitchen screen, a filthy microwave, and an unacceptably small bathroom garbage can that required that you push in the lid.*
Location, Location, Location While I understand that the location was chosen because it was close to the school, they could not have chosen a worse location. The only store within walking distance was a 7-11. There were no shops or food stands that weren’t an expensive taxi ride** or dangerous walk*** away.
How many adults do you need to teach 35 children? Your answer is probably not 9. In each class of no more than 35 children, there was a team of at least 6 to 9 people including volunteers, teachers, interns and non-profit agency staff.
Who am I serving? On the beautiful tropical island of Koh Samui, Thailand tourism is the number one industry, followed by agriculture and fishing. Thai is a drastically different language than any of the Latin based languages with an unfamiliar sentence structure and sounds and tones that we do not use in English. The learning curve is steep and the level of English of most of the people of Thailand is minimal. Yet since the majority of communication is non-verbal, I never experienced any difficulty getting around and interacting with the very warm & friendly people on the island. One volunteer mentioned that helping teach children to speak English will give them access to work in the better resorts on the island. Again, whom do I serve?
4. Let me Entertain You
The non-profit staff was wonderful. Even though they aren’t a tour agency, they went out of their way to be helpful and ensure that we had an enjoyable experience. On several nights a week and on weekends, they planned visits to night markets and nightclubs. Some volunteer and staff enjoyed good times & hangovers that sometimes meant arriving late (or not at all) to volunteer assignments. BTW, the total hours worked per week was 9. No, that’s not a typo. I went out with the team on the first night. Please see #1
Move Towards the Light
On the positive side:
The first 2 days spent in Bangkok were great. We stayed in a nice basic, clean hotel in the heart of the vibrant walking street district and took a boat and walking tour of the city courtesy of the volunteer organization
The children we taught in Koh Samui were adorable, enthusiastic and very bright. They decorated each of us with stickers with hearts and flowers to show their appreciation
Thailand earns it’s nickname the land of smiles, you can’t help but smile at the weather, the warm and wonderful people, the beautiful beaches, the mountains, the flora and the vegetation.
Food, clothing and beach bungalows are incredibly inexpensive.
I found a few great vegetarian restaurants and one of the best yoga resorts on the planet, Vikasa Yoga Retreat. www.vikasayoga.com
This is Your Life (and it’s the only one you’ve got. )
You’ll notice that I did not mention the name of the volunteer organization because while yes, they could and should have done better, I have no desire to bad mouth or hurt any organization or the voluntour industry in general. My hope is that I can help someone make an informed decision if they do choose this method of giving back.
In truth, I began having second thoughts before my trip about whether or not the karma yoga/teaching assignment would fit into my goals which are: spiritual growth & enhancement of my skills as a professional yoga & wellness coach. So, I made the decision to cut my commitment from four weeks to one with no regrets. I’ve been experiencing the best of the islands of Koh Samui & Koh Phangan, which I’ll write about in detail in a separate blog. Sure, it’s costing me extra, but relatively less than other vacations. (Check out photos of my $30 per night hotel overlooking the sea.) The volunteer organizations gets the benefit of my program fee plus extra donations raised to be used towards improving government schools in the many communities they serve. I strive to live my life with passion and compassion in a way that's always pleasing my Creator, so that some day I will hear a thunderous voice saying ‘well done’. I hope to bring excellence in yoga and fitness to my friends and clients during my time on this big beautiful planet.
I look forward to sharing all that I learn as I continue my daily practice and travels over the next few months in Asia. Peace & Light! Lori Dee
$30 per night in Lamai Beach,Koh Samui Thailand. A room with a view:
*The sewer system in Thailand does not allow flushing of ANY paper. Toilet tissue must be deposited in the trash. So in shared housing, a large step on to open lid can is a must.
**Unlike Bangkok, there is a shortage of inexpensive transportation on Koh Samui. Metered taxis don’t use the meter and you will need to pull out your bargaining skills to negotiate a somewhat reasonable rate. There is a cheaper shared open pick up style transportation called Songthaews, but they do not run on a schedule and tend to mostly stay in the tourist populated areas at night.
***Each year there are 100’s of injuries and fatalities on the roads of Koh Samui due to several factors including: a large number of intoxicated drivers, many areas with no shoulders or sidewalks and the seeming lack of traffic rules.