OMP Volunteer Stories! Natalie Coomber at Khao Phanom Orphanage
Khao Phanom Orphanage
Arriving at Khao Phanom Orphanage in South West Thailand was very similar to arriving at my first day at school. The same apprehension; the same fear of the unknown. Only this time I was the teacher not the child.
I had not appreciated how much I had come to rely on Mui, my Open Mind Orientation guide, in just the previous weekend. She had taught me an outstanding amount of the language, taken me to places no ‘farang’ (foreigner!) had been before. But more than that she had become my friend. When she left it felt a bit like my mother abandoning me at the school gates!
What I learnt quickly was not to assume knowledge: keep it simple, fun and relevant to their lives.
The stories of how some of the kids came to be there were tragic but their constant ability to greet me with a smile and the warmth of their welcome were extraordinary.
I won’t lie. Teaching, when you have never done it before is not easy. Cultural differences mean that many Thai’s do not understand or have never heard of volunteering. So when you arrive many teachers do not realise that you are not a professional. They are more than willing to help you, just explain. Do not be afraid to ask. The teachers are busy but are lovely people and will always take time to talk with you.
Building a relationship with the children and knowing that they had left the classroom with a little more knowledge than when they stepped in was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Getting to know them personally out of class, playing catch with them in the hours that they were left unaccompanied, knowing that me being their meant a small but very welcome change in their continuous daily routine. That was what I loved.
I recommend anyone looking for more than a ‘travelling’ experience to try volunteering. It is something you will never forget. Don’t go in to it with rose-tinted glasses, at times it is not easy, but it will be the most rewarding thing you will ever do.