Chiangrai Times – Courtney Clark spent a month volunteering through the International Students Volunteer program at the Mae Kok Foundation in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Clark said the foundation acts as a safe haven for underprivileged children, giving them shelter, food and protection from drugs and human trafficking. Her volunteer group was about 12 people, she said.
“They provide them with education and food,” Clark said. “So while we were there, we came in and spent two weeks teaching English and talking with the kids and helping with different projects that they have.”
Different groups come in and work on different projects. Her group built a pig sty for the foundation, she said. She said her group spent two weeks in ChiangRai Thailand volunteering and the other two weeks exploring and adventure-seeking.
“We worked our way south and we did a bunch of different activities. We went rock climbing, we went white water rafting, we visited the elephant nature park and then we just got to explore different cities,” Clark said.
Being at the Mae Kok Foundation taught her a lot about herself and to be grateful for the world around her, she said.
“It was just a very eye-opening experience. These kids have nothing. They’re just always happy, always having fun,” she said, tearing up. “You feel a lot more grateful for everything you have. Just being able to drink tap water.”
The culture differs completely from American culture in how they deal with time, she said.
“They’re very spiritual over there. It’s not so much things you have to do. They base a lot of things on what they feel they need to do. They’re not very strict with time,” she said. “It’s just kind of whenever you get around to it, you show up.”
Another eye-opener for the college student was how early Thailand culture expects their children to find jobs.
“A lot of the kids, they had to get jobs after they finished ninth grade because the foundation would pay for their schooling up until ninth grade and then they were just on their own,” she said. “Some of the more exceptional students, they would keep and then fund to college but the lady who ran the foundation sometimes told them they had to start their lives at 16.”
One of the hardest things for her proved to be the language barrier, Clark said. The official language is Thai, though in the touristy areas, some speak English, she said.
“We spent two days at a vocational college just trying to teach English. There were 800 kids. It was really hard to try to explain a lesson in English when they didn’t know what you were talking about,” she said. “A lot of charades and trying to get by with the very few words I knew. It was tough.”
What was the terrain and climate like? It was their monsoon season, she said, so it rained every day. And she said in Northern Thailand, it’s all mountains, winding roads and very green.
“Up in the north it was mountains, windy roads,” she said. “They built around the environment there instead of just bulldozing through.”
Her flight, which lasted 18 hours, left her jet-lagged and sleepy since she’s been back, she said.
Clark, who is majoring in molecular biology and aspires to be a genetic counsellor, said she will take her experiences back with her to school in the fall.