As a healthcare volunteer in the small town of Ban Nam Khem in Phang Nga, Thailand, I devoted my time to creating and presenting basic health education in schools and surrounding community centers. I taught basic English to four, five, and six-year olds as well as human anatomy at the local schools. I also led physical education programs, sports, and crafts at the center for those with disabilities to promote healthy lifestyles and creativity. I helped conduct physiotherapy exercises for those with special needs at the center to promote mobility and functional ability. When I was not volunteering within the local community, I had the opportunity to explore Thailand with other volunteers and make memories and friendships that I will never forget.
During my time abroad, I found myself questioning my future and noticed a change of perception on life and those around me. When I first proposed to go on this journey, I was unsure of what my future profession would be. Although I did not gain a specific answer overseas, I did find some clarity into where and who I would want to work with. I realized that I greatly enjoy working with children and helping those with special needs. I also noticed how quickly I was able to make the unfamiliar become familiar. I acclimated to the Thai culture rather quickly and found myself feeling comfortable and welcome wherever I went. With this acknowledgement came the realization that my future profession must include traveling and working with other cultures.
While in Thailand, I gained some new perspectives into how I want to carry out my life. The Thai live their lives through a simple phrase: sabai sabai – meaning take it easy or relax. They carry out their lives in tranquility and are never in a rush to get things done. They tend to go with the flow and rarely get frustrated or angered with someone. I was able to experience this mentality and enjoyed it immensely. I never found myself rushing to accomplish a task or worrying about getting to a destination on time. If I mispronounced a word or phrase, I never feared ridicule or embarrassment. The Thai generosity, friendliness, and serenity was apparent everywhere I went, and as a result, I have embodied these same principles and hope to carry them with me wherever I go. I want to spread this sabai sabai mentality and let others know that it is okay to take it easy or go with the flow every once in a while.
Many of these realizations and transformations came from working within the local schools and community centers. I was deeply moved by the work that we were doing at the Camillian Social Centre, the center for those with disabilities. Founded after the 2004 tsunami, the center was established to provide support to marginalized children with disabilities in the area. I was grateful to work with the center three times a week for four weeks. My work and our work as a volunteer organization focused on assisting and engaging the children. Each of our two-hour sessions followed a similar routine: we would all sit in a circle and introduce ourselves in Thai, do some simple stretches, devote approximately 45 minutes to a large group activity/game/sport, devote 45 minutes to crafts and/or smaller group games, and end each session in a circle saying our goodbyes in Thai.
During our time, I, along with other longer-stay volunteers, would do physiotherapy with some of the center’s members. I spent most of my time with Off, an incredible 18-year old boy with physical disabilities primarily affecting the right side of his body. He was very competitive, and we would always do the large group activity together to beat the other team. I also played countless games of Jenga with him and loved watching his dexterity kick in. I think my biggest takeaway from my relationship with Off was his friendliness, despite our language barrier, and I marveled at his improvements from the physiotherapy that I helped him with. He truly made a difference in my life and was a big influence on the clarity that I received to work with kids and those with disabilities.
I can also accredit our Friday projects for the transformations I experienced during my time abroad. Friday projects occurred every other week and consisted of our whole volunteer organization coming together and helping the surrounding community in some way. My first Friday project consisted of a garden clean up at a local school not too far from base. Each year, the school utilizes its garden not only for produce but also for education and development. Many of the volunteer teachers gave lessons on gardening and botany weekly at this school, and I was happy to contribute to this growth through the clean up that we did that Friday. Although I obtained four blisters on my palms and watched my shirt change colors from my sweat, I knew that our time was greatly appreciated by the school, the students, and even the teachers.
My second Friday project involved our volunteer organization traveling to the neighboring town of Takua Pa where we painted doors and windows at a school. As we painted, classes were still in session, and students kept coming up and interacting with us. They asked for our names and gave us many thanks. Their principal was also very grateful and kept walking around to check and thank our work. It was through these Friday projects that I was able to appreciate the little acts of kindness that people do for others. Whether it was the warm welcomes or the cordial smiles and goodbyes that we received at each school, I felt the gratitude and appreciation for our simple contributions. Although I had previously experienced this feeling, the Thai influence created a new perspective and angle that I had not encountered before. It may have been my newfound comfort or the openness of those around me that led me to this unique feeling and it may have not, but I do know that I was positively stirred during these Friday projects and my time in Thailand.
As a result of these transformations and realizations, I have gained some comfort in my personal and professional goals. I will approach my daily tasks with more ease and avoid placing unneeded stress and pressure on myself. I also hope to spread a more go-with-the-flow mentality within my friends and family in order to diminish their stressors and that go-go-go mentality that seems to burden our Western culture. In addition, I am looking forward to finding and becoming involved with an organization that works with those with special needs come fall semester. I think that this will push me even more and hopefully provide some more clarity for my future endeavors. I know that my experience in Thailand was life-changing, and I cannot wait to share my journey with those around me.