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Donate for Children's Day

 Childrens day donate
13 Jan 2018
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20% discount for returning volunteers

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.

A couple of things immediately strike you when you arrive at the village. First of all, the setting is very natural and peaceful and you are greeted by a clean river, singing birds and beautiful forestry in and around the dorms and other rooms. Secondly, you quickly realise that the volunteering programme, both indoor and outdoor, brings together people from all ages, backgrounds and nationalities. On my first afternoon I found myself making conversation with Canadians, Americans, Germans and Australians to name but four! A good ice breaker on the first afternoon was joining the kitchen staff and new volunteer intake in making a Thai desert which was banana and rice folded inside a leaf; some parcels were definitely of a better quality than others but it was a nice introduction to life at the village.

Tuesday morning of the first week saw all new volunteers attend an orientation meeting to introduce themselves, learn the rules and customs within the village and about what to expect from the volunteering itself - one memorable moment was an American reading out my interesting fact as 'playing spoons' instead of sports! After lunch, we were then straight into helping build a new toilet block for the village as well as getting used to eating plenty of rice three times a day, morning meetings at 8.30am after breakfast and bucket showers which you grow to love after a hard day's work!

The next three days involved the outdoor volunteers digging holes which will be the foundations for a new home for those children whose parents may have been jailed for a long period of time. This was gruelling work in 30 degree-plus heat but you are instantly struck by the team spirit and bond that develops between volunteers to encourage each other. In our third week we returned to finish these holes, as well as finishing the toilet block and helping a hill tribe village rebuild their museum, and it was also extremely rewarding to visit the children in their current home and play badminton and other games with them.

In the second week of volunteering, the outdoor volunteers went on a three-night homestay with an Akha hill tribe. In terms of stepping out of your comfort zone, this is about as good as it gets as you have no phone signal, no wifi, no convenience stores and no electricity after 6pm. In the four days we spent on homestay, we were able to widen a road and rebuild a bridge to allow the transportation of goods into the village; the gratitude and thanks we got from the family we stayed with was extremely rewarding and it felt like we had made a real difference in our time there.

The three weeks passed by so quickly, and saying goodbye to people on the last weekend made me realise I had met some amazing people and shared so much with them. In terms of lessons learned from volunteering, you appreciate the comforts you have back at home and you also realise the importance of having a positive attitude, being a team player, being flexible and accepting things can change at short notice, and respecting the local culture whilst also introducing elements of your own to the local people.

Perhaps the best illustration of what volunteering and the Mirror Foundation is all about was a photograph someone took for me in the final few days on the programme. Standing together in one of the many holes we dug was a man from the local village with a vision of building the new children's home, a Canadian with an amazing talent for playing the guitar and smashing rocks, and me from a small town in North-East England wearing a Middlesbrough football shirt and holding a copy of the local paper. 

There is no doubt that I met some very special people and had a very special experience.

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Thailand Volunteer! - by The Mirror Foundation