A small introduction

Hey hey !

Sooo, my name is Sabine (or Sabina here, as it s easier to pronounce it for Thai people), I am from Switzerland and I am currently in Thailand, in Khok Pia to be precise, for a few weeks. I am here as a volunteer, helping the english teacher of the primary/secondary school, living in a nice thai family and experiencing the thai way of living.
Khok Pia is a small village of 160 families, surrounded by some other villages, like Khok Si (3 kilometers away from Khok Pia), and which belongs to the city of Khon Kaen (reachable in 20 minutes by car).

How did I end up here?
I was in Thailand and wanted to do something useful with my time, so I started to look on the internet some volunteering programs. A lot of websites were offering volunteering programs, some international ones, some very fancy, but the majority of them were asking a lot of money to come and be a volunteer, fact that I didn t like and didn t understand.
But in the middle of them I found a website about some family-run tour company in Isan, Isanexplorer, which said:
"Ban Khok Pia, in the countryside near Khon Kaen city, is a typical rural village. The people are friendly, industrious, and largely self-sufficient. But also poor and educationally disadvantaged compared to those living in cities. About half of the children live with their grandparents, who likely had little or no formal education, since their parents have migrated to Bangkok or elsewhere to find work. So, it's no surprise that few students at the nearby Ban Khok Si-Khok Pia School hope to attend college; many won't even finish high school.
Isan Explorer is helping Nina, a current resident of the village and former student of the school, try to change this. She has almost single-handedly created a small program to bring foreign volunteers and Thai university students to help teach English and other subjects at the school. Volunteers assist teachers at different grade levels (kindergarten to 9th grade) but you will not be asked to teach alone. Although if you have actual teaching experience you can choose to take the lead during class. Sometimes you might also be asked to join with the students to do maintenance work around the school, during which time they will be expected to practice their English with you. The goal is not only to improve the students' English ability, but to boost their confidence. Naturally, native-speakers are preferred, but as long as your English is good, your nationality doesn't matter."
Isanexplorer website
That sounded more interesting, and somehow, more "true" than the other programs I read about, so I wrote an email, and a few mails exchanged with Nina and two weeks later, I arrived in Khok Pia to start my month as a volunteer.

My everyday life as a volunteer

During the few messages exchanged with Nina before my arrival, I learned that I was the first volunteer to take part of her project, so I came here with an open mind, knowing it could not always be very smooth or organized, but I didn t mind. On the contrary, I was happy to discover with them how it would work. We said I d come to help Kaem, the english teacher of the school.

My first afternooon there, I met my hostfamily and my new home for a month. I talked a lot with Nina, and sometimes with the children of the village, thanks to Nina's translations. She showed me around and after my first dinner in the family (typical isan food, eaten with the hands!), we went to the center of the village where a bai-si-su-kwan (a traditional welcome ceremony) took place for me.
It was very nice and I met a lot of the people from the village, all very nice and kind with me.

The next day, Nina didn t have time to come to the house to pick me up to go to school because the children of the village, very excited, came very early to walk with me to the school.
After a short walk, I discovered it : a school of a bit more than one hundred students, divided in the pre-primary school, then the primary school from Prathom 1 to Prathom 6 (6 to 12years old) and then the secondary school, Matrium 1 to Matrium 3 (12 to 15 years old).
I met the teachers, a bit more than 10, all very nice and the majority of them happy to practice their english.
And so, after three weeks, here is what I usually do here, and so, what a normal day for a volunteer can look like:
  • Get up around 6.30a.m., eat breakfast and get ready
  • Leave the house around 7.20a.m with the student with whom I live and some others from the village to walk (not even 10 minutes) to school
  • Between 7.30 and 8.15 a.m, conversations with the children, good opportunity to get to know them and teach them some new words 
  • 8.15a.m to 9a.m : it's the time for the school assembly, during which several actions and activities are done, like singing the anthem, doing some brain gym games, english games, etc.
  • 9a.m to 12 p.m : three lessons of one hour each for different grades
  • 12 p.m to 1 p.m : lunch 
  • 1 p.m to 4 p.m : three lessons of one hour each for different grades 
  • Walk home with the children
  • Free time
  • 6-7p.m : dinner with the family
  • Free time
There are 6 hours of lessons everyday, but following the english teacher (Kaem) schedule, I am working 2 to 4.30 hours per day. During the free time at school I can help the teachers to teach english in the classes with younger students (Pratom 1 and 2), use a computer or sometimes go to Khon Kaen with Kaem for some work. If I want I can also go back home, but I usually stay in the school and come back home with the children.
During the free time, I do many different things, play with the children, learn and help the grandmother of my hostfamily with some thai cooking, read, write, walk around with the student of my hostfamily and take photos, go to Khon Kaen. We are also planning to organize some time after school during which I d talk and teach with anyone from the villages and the school who want to practice or learn english.
My weekends are free and there is always something to do: there are often some ceremonies and village events to go to, spend time with the children and teenages of the village doing different activities and games, spend time with university students who are very happy to practice their english, visit Khon Kaen with Kaem or Nina, and I also travelled a bit in Thailand, the flexibility of the program allowing me to leave on Thursday morning to have a long weekend.

My time here is a really great experience.
Discovering the thai culture and the way of living here, learn to live like them and to think differently, learning a bit of thai, seeing the students being at ease with me and daring to speak english, build some relationships with the students, speak about our different cultures and habits with Nina and Kaem and see if some ideas used by my own english teachers can be used here...
It is interesting, also challenging, to live so differently and to live the language barrier and its limits, and thus, very enriching. :)

Some pictures


Welcome ceremony in Khok Pia village





At KhokSiKhokPia school

Morning assembly

Morning activity


New school joining the program! Thairatvitaya 84 School







Anecdotes from the volunteers :)

From myself, during my time there (june 2015)

"As the day was passing by, I ended for the last hour in Pratom 2. First the main teacher stayed in the class, but after 10 minutes, she left, leaving me with those adorable little heads, who were very excited to stay alone with me. The hour went quickly, the children repeating after me as I was showing and saying parts of the body. They love that exercice so much that they already know all of them. So we did some handwriting exercices, still about the body, with colouring pictures. But as the hour was ending, a strong wind got up, bringing very quicly big dark clouds and slamming the shutters and the door. All the kids got even more excited and as I locked the shutters and the door, a heavy rain started to fall. The whole atmosphere in the school became electrical, the storm and the rain putting every children in an excited mood. The hour ended, and I joined many children, running from one shelter to another, hesitating to walk home or to wait the end of the storm. That's what New (the girl in my hostfamily) wanted to do. So Tangmo, Jan, Cat, her and me stayed there for a while, but the rain didn't stop, so finally, we started to run under the rain, laughing. Tangmo disappeared for a minute and re appeared with huge tree leaves, under which we could walk to protect ourselves from the rain. 10 minutes after we were back home, the rain stopped, and eventually, the clouds flew away, leaving a nice sky and a beautiful lighting in the air. So as usual, New asked me to go take pictures around the village. So we left, and walked around, soon joined by Tangmo, Cat and Bamby. Again, the atmosphere was incredible. We laughed a lot, communicating as we could."

 


 









Interested to join the program? Here are some informations

What you need to know

I think the first thing to know is that this program is very new and very flexible. So things and facts I m telling about in this blog is what I lived and experienced.
Nina, inhabitant of Khok Pia, set up this volunteer program on her own with the idea to give the opportunity to the students of the school, but also to the people in her village, to meet some people coming from an other country, to motivate them to study and speak english, be less shy with foreigners and understand they are people just like them with a different skin color.
The people here are very happy to welcome anyone and they are very open to any suggestion if one wants to come and do something else, wether it be teaching an other subject than english or doing some complete different work in the village(s).

Where

The volunteer will live in Khok Pia or Khok Si village (just a few kilometers away from each other), and can work in KhoksiKhokpia school (where children from both study). In order to give the opportunity to both village inhabitants to talk to you and practice their english, Nina will try to alternate between Khok Pia and Khok Si village for the hostfamilies.
!News!: An other school took part of the volunteering project, and now you will work in two school : KhoksiKhokpia School, and Thairatvitaya 84 School (3kilometers away from KhoksiKhokpia School)Here is the link of a map with some notes about the area! Click here to see it !

What to do as a volunteer

There are plenty of things a volunteer can do when she/he comes here, and any suggestion or propositions will be happily heard by Nina, and if possible, accepted! It is of course possible to do several different activities and to alternate them.
  • In the school: One can come to help teaching in the school. It can be:
    • English (if your mother tongue is english, it's great, but if not, as long as your english level is good it's also great!) : help with the english morning activities (5 to 10 minutes, easy games), assist and help the english teacher during the lessons, one can also give some lessons alone (following the student's english books) if one wants and feels comfortable with it, give some conversations/grammar/vocabulary/... class after school for motivated students but also for the teachers and staff in the school
    • Music, Art, IT, Sport, Cooking, or any other class depending on your skills
  • In the village: One can also come here to see and live the thai rural way of life and help in the village in different ways.
    • Give some english class (simple conversations, grammar, vocabulary,...) to the children, teenagers, university students and adults
    • Photography, writting, design a website,.. for the volunteer program but also for personal wishes
    • Work in the farm, rice fields, cows farm
    • Work in temple : help construct the new building
    • Support the monks in temple
    • Help the village sellers in their everyday life (go to the markets, sell foods and vegetables,..)
However, if you don't want to take part in the school, you can only do the "homestay experience" in the village, you will find more informations about it on this website : Isanexplorer website

How long

Once again, this is up to you :) If you're travelling and just want to come for a few days, even one, it's possible. You can come between 1 day to 1 month, or even more if you want to.
You just need to think that if you come to the school, the more time you stay the better you'll be able to understand and adapt, but also the children will have more time to get to know you and vice versa.

Price

You ll be asked to pay 1750 baht (≈US$53) per week, which includes accommodation, three meals, laundry and transportation when needed. This money goes directly to the hostfamily.
And you ll also be asked to pay one time 1500 baht (≈US$45) for your first day here, with introduction and orientation in the village and a traditional bai-si-su-kwan welcome ceremony in the village.
Nina is currently looking for sponsors who would support the program, and hopefully, this program will be free for the volunteers eventually.


Accommodation

You have 3 possibilities of accommodation, depending on the time you stay there:
  • Taking part of a family: you can chose between living in a family as "a part of it" which means living like them, eating with them, which can also mean not having a lot of time on your own and a reduced privacy. It is better if you stay at least 3 days.
  • You can chose to live in a family who will consider you more as a guest, giving you one room with your privacy and time for you. It is better if you stay at least 3 days.
  • You can chose to live on your own, in a private house in Khok Si village. It has 3 bedrooms. And you'll have wifi, and will have to buy and cook food for yourself. In you stay here minimum 1 month.
In any case, please be aware that those are small rural villages, therefore, the accommodations can be very different from what you're used too (different commodities, different beds, etc.) There might not be wifi in the family you're staying, but you'll always be welcome to go in Nina's house, or some other neighboor's house who has wifi. It is also very easy to get a thai simcard with internet (if your mobile phone is not locked for you country!)

If you have any questions or if you are interested to come, please feel free to contact me via this blog or to contact Nina :) You can also find informations about the volunteering progam on the facebook page :

Facebook: Nina Merlion