Like I mentioned in my last post, we currently have a big group of volunteers here from the US who have been keeping us very busy. Since they arrived on the 22nd of December, I have not had a single day off (including weekends). But for the first time ever, I can say that I’m really enjoying working.
The US group is helping us with two main projects – construction work at an orphanage nearby and a 3-day English Camp at one of the village schools we work with. My job has been part-supervisor, part-photographer, part-team-member, which means I get to lead the group, plan their itineraries, photograph them and participate in the actual work. I love it.
The English camp, which ended 2 days ago, consisted of 3 days of playing and teaching English to children from P1 to M3 (grade 1 to 9) with a focus on ASEAN. Our work there involved singing songs, playing icebreaking games and teaching the kids about the ASEAN countries, their flags, cultures and geography.
The construction project at the orphanage, which ended today, involved building a girls’ dorm and bathroom. Through it, we all learned the basics of construction, from mixing cement to laying bricks, to filling the holes, sanding, priming and painting. But I think more than the actual process, this project was all the more interesting because of the rural environment we worked in. Dogs, cats, cows and roosters ran around us as we worked, the Thai couple who run the center brought us drinking water and gave us instructions in Thai. Every day, I helped one of our coordinators cook lunch for 20 people over an open fire using the most basic utensils. It really felt like going back to the basics, working in this little self-sustaining community.
This past week of work with the US group has been really fulfilling. I’ve had a great time, but have also felt good about the work we’ve done. Our impact has been so small – but so meaningful to me. In university, when we talked about development, it was always on a grand scale – we talked about public policy and macroeconomic solutions…ways to create change on a large scale. But I’m realizing that I enjoy the hands-on development work so much more. The impact is so small, the benefits affect so few, but I can’t help but like this grass-roots approach. Working with the school and orphanage, I got to experience the local lifestyle, I got to know exactly who I was helping…and the end-results were so tangible.
Today, when our orphanage project ended, the children came up to us and gave us each a cloth bag and a bottle of water – tokens of their appreciation. One of the girls hugged me and said “I love you”. These kids, who had nothing, still showered us with love and gifts for the little work we did during the last few days. The Thai couple who run the orphanage gave a speech about how thankful they were for all our work and donations. They are, without a doubt, the most hardworking people I’ve met. Today was the first day I cried since leaving on this travel adventure. But despite being an emotional wreck, I had the best day and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the year 2012.