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13 Jan 2018
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Volunteer articles

A section dedicated to the thoughts and opinions of our volunteers. If you wish to submit a piece for publication, please contact us via email

IMG 1371On my first weekend, we decided to rent scooters in Chiang Mai. 

I had already been clearly warned about the rate of motor accidents in Thailand being amongst the highest in the world (around 80 deaths a day nationwide, for the record) and the consequences of an injury regarding outdoor work. However, I believed that I was competent enough for a 125cc scooter having ridden a motorcycle in England for a few months, which paved the way for perhaps a little too much complacency. The rules of the road, navigating and sharing the road with other motorists gave me no trouble, which probably led to overconfidence on the winding mountain road to wat prathat doi suthep. Sadly, thin tired scooters don't lean quite as well as motorcycles with thick wheels and a combination of sand and dust on the road, a sharp corner and far too much speed sent the wheels slipping underneath me and I had to lay down the bike with one of my feet underneath (see figure 1...). I collected a nice set on my forearms, thumb, toes, elbow, knee, shin and the worst by far, still not quite healed, on my ankle. We had to turn around to get to a pharmacy immediately to wash the sticky tar out of the grazes with alcohol, which is one of the worst pains I've ever felt. The cuts also made outdoor work (wearing shoes, walking) difficult. I was pretty lucky nothing got broken.

We tried the same route later that day and went a lot slower, and it was 100% worth it. The temple is an amazing sight with fantastic views of the sprawling city and a modest but interesting stretch of handicraft/street food stalls.

Mistakes:
Overconfidence (and overspending)
Lack of protection: some jeans, shoes, even shin pads would have been nice

I don't actually regret any of this happening, as it turned out OK in the end and the day still ended up being one of the best of my trip. I don't want to put anyone off, but you have to be competent on a scooter already, extremely careful and cover up properly.

IMG 1462Scooters can be rented for as little as 250 baht a day (24hrs morning to morning) for each one, and two people can fit on. They give you a great deal of freedom and while riding you get a real sense of adventure you can't get doing many other things. The rental companies are very meticulous about damage to the bikes and will keep your passport or 3000 baht as a safety deposit. I ended up having to pay 1500 baht for the damage caused and on top of that they piled expensive parking fees and arbitrary administrative costs on a whim to bring it up to 3000 baht. In conclusion, just be careful...


 Staff comment

As you can see from Theo's account and photos, you can get badly injured from riding motorbikes over here. To be honest, his injuries are mild compared to many we have seen - volunteers are not indestructible, immortal, or outside the laws of nature.

We strongly recommend that volunteers do not hire motorbikes, especially if they do not have a full licence at home. Even then, we discourage it - the law and the everyday rules of the road are not the same as at home.

Our province has one of the worst RTA records in Thailand, and the country as a whole has a fairly bloodcurdling history of traffic accidents.

But, having said all that, we are not here to stop you doing what you want at the weekend, during your time off. But, we have certain rules and advice regarding motorbike/scooter/car hire.

Rules

  • You cannot rent a vehicle during your working week, and bring it/use it onsite at our foundation, or offsite at a work location
  • You cannot stay onsite at the weekend if you wish to rent a vehicle and use it
  • You cannot visit our foundation during your time off using a rented vehicle
  • We do not support financially any medical costs, repair costs or any other costs, so don't ask
  • Non-compliance will result in a warning and possible dismissal from the programme

Advice

  • Don't hire a vehicle. Seriously, don't do it.
  • If you hire one, make sure you follow the rules above
  • If you hire one, don't hand over your passport to the hire company - find another company
  • If you hire one, take photos all around the vehicle for damage already sustained before handing any money over, and/or driving off
  • If you hire one, always wear the crash helmet and drive defensively
  • If you hire one, only drive locally - not on the motorways
  • If you hire one, learn about the idiosyncracies of Thai driving, before you hire
  • If you hire one, understand that you can, and sometimes will, be stopped by the police. Crash helmets are mandatory for passenger as well as driver. Always carry your passport or a photocopy (including the visa stamp page)
  • Don't hire a vehicle. Seriously, again, don't do it.

Haylee Gillies 00001We arrived at the Song Kwae Pattana village on a humid Tuesday morning to find the village roads bustling with Government officials and university students. There were people everywhere, with music playing throughout the entire village. Needless to say, it was the opposite of what we were expecting to find. The one thing we all had in common though was our assignment; to build a check dam. The check dam would assist in slowing the flow of water through the river during the raining season.

After finding a shady hut to leave our bags and water we wandered off uphill where the water was flowing and the base for the check dam had already been built. With the large number of people visiting the village there wasn’t a great deal we could contribute at first but it didn’t take long for the man in charge to assign jobs to Joe and Ricky.

After settling into their role cleaning out the dam area and lifting materials, the rest of us headed off with our leader Pi-O to find work. Our task for the reminder of the day was to cut bamboo, after strict instructions and guidelines to using a machete and weave it around the base of the trees throughout the village. Wondering what use the baskets would provide, Pi-O explained that the villagers use this base to fill with leaves and scraps to make fertiliser.

Read more: Check Dams at Song Kwae

Ricky Patil 00004During our time volunteering in the Outdoor program at the Mirror Foundation, we experienced work that not only challenged us in a mental and physical capacity, but also gave us a greater appreciation for the tradition of the various Hill Tribe and mainstream Thai cultures that we encountered.  During our time volunteering around Chiang Rai, the outdoor volunteers gained a better understanding of the various seasonal climatic complications that affect the northern Thai community.  The volunteers, both the Japanese and English speaking groups, combined efforts to build a river dam that would last the heavy monsoons.

Read more: Work with what you have

IMG 6342Be warned - the night before joining an International Volunteer work camp can pre empt a stress dream - particularly if you and your wife's combined ages total more than that of half a dozen physically and mentally agile University graduates ( or seven would-be graduates.)

The long and the short of enlisting with the Mirror Foundation as a willing but apprehensive 'sixty something' is that the experience may constitute a sharp and rather uneasy learning curve but it is far from a nightmare. The 'education process' commences early on - to be specific at one's first communal breakfast and Orientation meeting.

Lesson One

'We are here to work'.

Whether it be 'indoors' via helping to teach the children of the various surrounding Hill Tribe communities - or 'outdoors' via labouring upon their own subsistence farming land - it soon becomes evident that this is going to be no vacation because Hill Tribe life is no holiday.

I can only comment upon the 'outdoor' option as this is what my wife and I opted for. It may be harsh and unforgiving at times - but always fruitful and wholly embracing. Nobody said that 'enlightenment' would be easy - if it was we wouldn't all be here. The learning curve becomes steeper still with the growing and often awkward awareness that these Hill Tribe people have so much  to teach us sophisticated 'outsiders' about how 'civilised' life can and should be led. 

But let's return to that first breakfast and initial Orientation meeting. Impeccably prepared and organically nutritious home cooked  food served in breathtaking outdoor mountainous surroundings sets the scene for Mirror Foundation volunteering. One is suddenly appreciative of the need to 'fuel up' for the day ahead. We are now in the Far East where people 'eat to live' as opposed to the opposite commercial junk food philosophy increasingly sold to us in the West.

Read more: The Unfounded Fear Of The Ageing Volunteer

My experience on the outdoor volunteer program with The Mirror Foundation has been the most amazing experience. I didn't know what to really expect when taking this challenge on, but I am sure glad I did. Yes the living and food experience is much different than what I am used to living in America but was easy to get used to and actually very nice to live as the Thai people do.

The friendships and relationships with the other volunteers and Thai people has exceeded my expectations and has been the highlight to my stay. I will remember these moments and experience forever. The Mirror Foundation does a lot to keep the volunteers happy and comfortable to the best they can and the food is always ready to be eaten. I want to say thank you to all the staff who prepares the food each and everyday .Yes it is a lot of the same thing (rice mostly) for breakfast , lunch, and dinner however you do get used to it and find ways to enjoy it every time.

You do get to go out on the weekends and eat what ever food you want . As well as have fun with your fellow volunteers, this has been another highlight of my experience here. The beauty of the compound and animals running free was a great thing to see, yes there are bugs, so expect that when coming here, but it is not so bad considering the beautiful landscapes.

Read more: Thanks for everything!

Week 1

Picture3Week number one was a huge success! The group that showed up to mirror at the same time as me was incredible. Amazing people from all around the world; England, Sweden, Australia, India, China, United States, Germany, Korea and Canada. Orientation was very informative and explains a lot about what to expect throughout your time volunteering. We spent most of our time this week working on rebuilding the road leading up to the Mirror Foundation. I'm not gonna say it was easy and the boiling heat didn't help, but overall it was a good work week.

An impulse decision was made to go play a football match at a local village against the local kids. It was about 50 kids against eleven of us. We left the pitch that day victorious with myself scoring the game winning goal. I was very proud. We also took a trip to the White Temple on Saturday morning. I can firmly say it wasn't my favourite. It does look quite interesting on the outside, but with all the Harry Potter and Transformers posters everywhere the only way to describe it is "cheesy." I think everyone should check it out at least once and gather their own opinion.  

After an easy three hour bus ride we spent weekend number one in Chiang Mai. Overall, week number one was great. 

Read more: Reflections

In the summer of last year, I decided I was going to take a career break at the start of 2014 and do a round the world trip. I love my job back in England and everything else there, but I needed a fresh challenge and now seemed as good a time as ever to take four months out. However, I wasn't going to just do the usual travelling and sightseeing - the start of my trip was going to see me become a volunteer on the Mirror Foundation outdoor programme.

I chose the outdoor programme for two reasons - partly because I do enjoy fitness and physical work, but also because getting my hands dirty (and blistered) would be right out of the comfort zone from the warm office, comfy chair and computer I am used to in my job in England. After making my way up from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and then Chiang Rai, I headed to the foundation in a van with four other new volunteers on a warm Monday morning.

Read more: Outdoor and out of the comfort zone

Rushing out of breakfast to pack our bags for our first home-stay experience, we loaded up our bags on one truck and jumped on another. We headed to the Huay Mae Sai waterfall to relax and have lunch before beginning our challenging hike to the village which happened to be inaccessible by car.

After a 45 minute hike we got to the village and started settling down. Everybody was starving, so after making our beds and setting our mosquito nets we gathered on the porch of the bamboo hut to At first the locals were shy and even had a hard time looking into our eyes. There are clearly some cultural differences in such a remote place, for example: they had farm animals underneath the house and fed them through the cracks of the bamboo floor.

Sunset came shortly after our meal. The lack of electric power encouraged us to use our imaginations to keep ourselves entertained : Master Jeda showed us his best magic tricks, Ben cracked his best jokes and Henry got peed on by a innocent local kid.

Read more: Homestay at Yafu Village

Halfway through my Mirror Foundation two-week stint, Christmas arrived and what a unique experience it was. Despite the majority of Thais being Buddhist, the villages our outdoor group encountered were primarily Christian, so Christmas was in fact a time of celebration. We were on a Karen hill tribe homestay with our Thai leader’s (Leck) extended family for this period, which meant we were really able to experience a Thai Christmas. (As a side note, I thought it was interesting that this village was made up of mainly concrete homes. Not all villages are, with some continuing to live in bamboo style huts).

In the days leading up to the 25th we banded together with the community and a full-forced team, of what looked liked 40 people, picked up hoes, machetes, wheelbarrows and rakes to clear the road gutters, gardens and graveyard on the church grounds. At times there weren’t enough tools for everyone, but it was nothing a bare set of hands (with hardy gloves on) couldn’t do! It seemed as though this was their annual ‘clear the land’ working bee as so much of the lawn was overgrown with weeds and vines, while the dirt gutter leading down the hill required some serious hoe swinging. Despite the lack of English spoken amongst the locals and lack of Thai understood by us volunteers, we still managed to communicate with smiles and through our actions!

Read more: Christmas - Hill Tribe Style

Martin-Nolan02My name is Martin, I am 23 years old from Britain. This is the first time I have undertaken any voluntary work, before this I studied Architecture in university and I am currently taking a year out to travel, and I want to try and experience as many different experiences as I can so when I saw the outdoor programme offered by The Mirror Foundation it struck me as something a little different to the usual gap year experience.

I arrived at the Mirror foundation on 1st July 2013, to work here for 8 weeks. I had never really done anything like this before, so it was comforting when I met my fellow workers that they were all in similar positions. There were 13 of us starting the outdoor programme on that date, from all around the world including Britain, France, USA, Canada, New Zealand and China.

Read more: First impressions

When the program coordinator at Mirror asked for someone to write an article on our homestay at Jalae Village, I eagerly accepted. Now here I am, sprawled out on our bamboo sleeping arrangements safety tucked away inside the mosquito nets of a new hut, on yet another homestay and I’ve found myself at a complete loss for words. I wouldn’t know where to start or the appropriate arrangement of words to convey that type of experience. There is no way to really do it justice, like trying to explain the Mona Lisa to someone who’s never seen it. In the most raw and unbiased perspective I can offer, this homestay was one of those trips where no detail or event could be forgotten. Every emotion and triumph will forever be preserved in a special place in your heart. 

Read more: "...we all smell like poop"

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