I thought joining ATYAP would be an interesting experience and would be a good chance to visit my birth country and do some volunteering, but what I got back was so much more.
I haven’t visited Thailand for many years even though I was born there and when I do visit I would only stay in the main cities. ATYAP gave me the opportunity to spend time in Ubon Ratchathani to teach English to children from disadvantaged schools. I was assigned to Baan Na Khaam primary school with my partner Samithy. The school was quite small with approximately 100 students. I was assigned 3 classes every day, teaching years 1, 2 and 3. At first I was very nervous as it would be my first time teaching English to primary children. Samithy and I organised lesson plans for the entire week ahead but when it came down to it we realised that the best way is to prepare for every lesson the night before to suite the students’ needs as everyone was at different English levels.
My first class was very daunting. Teaching 20 children alone with minimal teaching experience scared me. My plan was to get students to introduce themselves and say their favourite food. It didn’t go as well as planned as the students were quite shy towards a new teacher. The second lesson however went better than expected. I was teaching years 2 and Samithy happened to have a free period so he came to help out. In this lesson I changed the plan a bit and added a few ice breakers and games and found that it worked very well. By the end of the lesson Samithy and I decided ask the principal to combine our time tables so that we could teach every lesson together. The principal agreed but this meant that Samithy and I would have to teach 6 hours a day 5 days a week which would be quite stressful but we really wanted to maximise our impact in the school. This worked well for us as we could bounce off each other for ideas and there would always be someone to control the class.
Teaching that many lessons made me really bond with the children. Every lesson we would start off with phonics ie. Sounding out letters and forming words, then we would go through the content of that lesson ie. Colours then we would always aim to end the lesson with a game. This experience was very rewarding because by the end of the 3 weeks I saw the growth in every individual student whether it be to do with academics or merely their gain in confidence. The shy children in the beginning now began to participate more in group activities. Most students who couldn’t identify the sound of each letter could now form words. It’s an amazing feeling to know that I’ve made a difference in someone’s life.
The farewell ceremony was very beautiful. When the priest finished chanting everyone in the school lined up and tied bracelets around my arms as a form of good luck, by the end of it both of my arms were halfway covered with bracelets. I was very touched when all the students came and gave small gifts as a token of their appreciation. One girl gave me a small box and wrote me a card saying, “I don’t have any pretty or expensive gifts to give you but I still want to give you something to show that I love you and for you to remember me by” and inside that box was a little worn stuffed mouse. This made me feel very loved and appreciated. I realised that I really want to do more things like ATYAP and really help make a difference in as many people’s lives as possible. It was a teary farewell, I never thought that I could be so attached to so many people in a short period of only 3 weeks.
There were activities on the weekends the first was to the International Monastery where I spent a night and day doing what the monks do. Waking up at 4am, chanting, meditating and going on arms rounds. It was tiring but I began to understand the core beliefs of Buddhism and why the monks choose to endure and make sacrifices. It was a very enlightening experience. As well I also went to see many beautiful temples and learnt Thai dancing.
From this trip I learned that Thai society is very respectful especially towards their elders and teachers, the people there give you the warmest welcome and make you feel at home and that everyone is always willing and ready to help when you’re in need.