What is this about?
The organization with which I collaborated in Thailand in June 2013 was called Lemongrass Volunteering. It was run by a local Thai lady, June Niampan, whose objective was to bring English-speaking natives to teach the language in rural elementary schools in Surin Province (north Thailand, bordering Cambodia). I actually heard about the organization through backpackers I met in Cambodia, and it sounded like a challenging yet rewarding experience, so I decided to volunteer there for the 3 weeks I had remaining in my Southeast Asia trip.
The minimum stay at that time was a 2 week stay. We did have to pay a weekly amount to cover for food and housing expenses, but that amount was quite insignificant. To get to Surin, we had to catch a 5 hour bus ride from Bangkok, and June was waiting for us upon arrival. Logistics were quite easy, as June speaks perfect English and is extremely kind and helpful.
We basically taught at the local schools Monday to Friday during the mornings (until around 1:30PM), and had the afternoons free to prepare for the lessons of the following day. One weekend, we visited an Elephant sanctuary. On other occasions, we would go to the pool of a nearby hotel and chill-out.
Plauing games with children
I was placed among other English and Swedish volunteers in a house where I had a private bedroom. Every morning, June would pick us up and drive us to the elementary schools. There we would teach English to children ranging from 6 to 14 years old. The English we taught was very basic, since the children hadn't had too much exposure to the language. We would try to teach in the most dynamic way possible, organizing games and activities so that the kids had a good time while learning. What most surprised me was how interested these kids were in learning English, listening carefully and doing the assigned homework diligently.
My first day at the school I realized that teaching was more challenging than I had forecasted. I soon became aware of the need to prepare the classes thoroughly in advance. As this was a common perception among volunteers, in the afternoons we would have brainstorming sessions in the house to think about possible activities and games we could do with the children. At night, we had a TV and a DVD so we would cook dinner and watch movies.
The experience was incredibly rewarding. I sincerely hope that I helped the children with their English. However, what I am certain about is that our presence in the school was enough to make the children happy. We were the big event of that month, and we could see that in their smiles. I will always carry with me the memories of their endless laughter and their eagerness to learn English.
The local teachers were extremely nice. In general, Thai people are extremely hospitable and welcoming. They would ask us questions about ourselves and about our countries, and would love to share insights of the Thai culture. On our last day, they prepared a ceremony in which they gave us as a gift a local robe and a kind of diary were the children wrote us good-bye notes. That same night, the headmistress of the school invited us to her house and taught us (volunteers) how to cook the local pad thai, which we all loved.
Some take aways and advices
If you are a native English speaker and want to do some volunteering with children, I would definitely recommend this experience. It isn't an extremely poor area of Asia, so don't expect to find starving children. However, you will find that the children are extremely grateful for your time and effort. This experience fits especially well if you have some extra time while backpacking in Southeast Asia, as June is very flexible and will try to tailor your stay to your specific needs.
Having some fun