Volunteering with Children in Phuket

 

Volunteering, public service, generally trying to help others and all that jazz has pretty much always been a huge part of my life (I credit Girl Scouts and my second-grade teacher for this). So, when I decided to travel throughout Southeast Asia, I knew volunteering (both long- and short-term) would have to be a part of my journey.

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Before making any official plans for my trip through the region, I decided I would try to find long-term volunteer opportunities in Thailand. During a post-uni trip to Australia, other travelers convinced me that the Land of Smiles would be a good place to start in Southeast Asia, so I figured I would enjoy it and not be completely overwhelmed by culture shock.

Since I knew I wanted to start with a long-term opportunity (y’know, so I could actually delve deep into the culture and what not), I searched for opportunities on Idealist.org, my main go-to for non-profit and charity work. My query led me to the Phuket Has Been Good To Us Foundation, a community-based charity that provides quality English language education to more than 1,000 disadvantaged students at three government schools in Phuket. In addition to English classes, the Foundation also runs an extracurricular program after school and on weekends for orphaned, residential students. Some of the activities in this program include swimming days on the beach and at local hotels, bi-monthly birthday parties at a local beach club, and arts and crafts projects.

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At the time I applied, the Foundation was looking for an Office Fellow to work in their administrative office for at least 6 months, assisting with fundraising and marketing campaigns, especially for major events. Other available opportunities included a Teaching Fellow to help in classes for five months, and short-term positions assisting in classes, the afterschool program, and in the administrative office.

The Office Fellow position seemed like the perfect arrangement for me, as my undergraduate internships focused on non-profit fundraising. I wanted to pursue that later on as a career, but definitely needed to learn more about coordinating events. Also, the logistical incentives were pretty sweet: the Foundation does not charge program fees for any volunteers. For long-term, full-time volunteers they provide accommodation, local transport, visa and work permit; therefore, I would only have to cover my food and entertainment costs (which, to be fair, can be kind of high in Phuket—sometimes I spent more $500/month).

 

 

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Applying involves sending in a cover letter and resume/CV, followed by a couple of interviews with a current Office Fellow (to cover the basics and make sure you don’t have two heads) and the Director of Operations. During my two interviews it was very clear that the team—particularly the Director of Operations, Tina Hall—are a ridiculously enthusiastic, fun, inspiring group of people. After interviewing, I was offered the position and began applying for my visa, planning my trip, etc etc etc.

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Starting work for the Foundation was incredibly exciting. Immediately, I was welcomed into the group with open arms and given projects and duties that challenged me. Best of all, what I worked on was actually really important for the organization! All Office Fellows tailor their roles to their skills and interests, and eventually my role became ‘Communications & Marketing Coordinator’ as I particularly enjoyed managing the newsletter, media releases and community relations. In addition to working in the office, I also got to visit the schools as often as I wished. This allowed me to develop relationships with some of the children we worked with, many of whom were orphans living at school full-time.

The events I worked on ranged from monthly quiz nights at one of the local bars to an Arabian Nights themed party for 300 guests at a fancy beach club. Can you imagine a staff of five coordinating (and running with the help of volunteers on the night) a fundraising event for 300 people, raising $25,000 USD? Looking back, that seems incredulous, but that’s exactly what we did. I am so proud to have been a part of those efforts, not only because they allowed me to develop my skills but also because the funds raised went directly toward improving the lives of disadvantaged youth.

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Although the workweek is 9 to 5 pm Monday through Friday, we (myself, the Director of Operations, and two other Office Fellows) often worked overtime and weekends. If we didn’t, our major events and projects would not have been as spectacular and successful as they were. Luckily, we were all happy to do so much work, because we were incredibly passionate about our work and wanted to do everything we could to ensure the children affected by the Foundation had the best future possible. (If you know anything about the Thai public education system, you know how difficult that really is!) 

Now let me tell you, those children are more than worth the effort I put into volunteering for PHBGTU. Never have I met sweeter, more affectionate, more fantastic children in my life. I’ll put it this way: before I started with the Foundation, I wasn’t that interested in spending much time with children. By the time I completed my my volunteer stint though, I was spending half my workday at school helping in classes and in the afterschool program.

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As far as location and general living, the Foundation is based in Kamala, a sleepy beach town far enough away from tourist-heavy Patong that it isn’t a completely horrible place to live for a few months. (Of course, there are many issues throughout Phuket—specifically the prostitution/bar girl culture—that not even Kamala can escape, unfortunately.) Many evenings after work involved walks, drinks, and dinners on the beach, while weekends often comprised of trips to nearby islands, boat trips, and beach club parties. Basically, it wasn’t the worst life ever. 

Like I said, volunteering and non-profit work has been a huge part of my life for a long time, so working for Phuket Has Been Good To Us wasn’t my first time at the rodeo. This organization is so special, I will always hold a very dear place for it in my heart.

 


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