I had wanted to volunteer in Thailand for a long time and when I finished my teaching contract in Rayong, I thought that it's now or never.
My time in Rayong was challenging at times, and if you want, you can read more about my time as a Social Studies teacher here.
I had heard through a friend about an orphanage located in Chumphon called Baan Eurphon and it seemed exactly the kind of place I was looking for. I could teach English, do some activities with the kids, such as yoga, muay thai or acrobatics and help in the kitchen.
The busy children's home
There are about 30 kids at Eurphon, ranging from toddlers to teenagers. A lovely Thai couple, P'Nui (Mama) and P'Nong (Papa), run the house. They were exceptional Thais not only because they were Christians, but also because they were so warm and friendly. I was made part of the family straight away, no questions asked. I was also in awe of their patient and gentle characters.
Can you imagine what it would be like living with 30 children almost 24/7? It is not quiet and uneventful, that's for sure. Papa's father also lived on the premises. A very sweet, old man but unfortunately, his memory isn't the greatest. At times, he was seen walking around the premises wearing just a towel. He had forgotten where the bathroom was. Sometimes he couldn't even remember where his bungalow was.
My worry about the girls
I was happy teaching English to two of the older girls who were homeschooled. I realised that there isn't actually too much schooling for them because of the hectic lifestyle there. These girls had taken the role of a big sister. I don't think the place would run without them, they did A LOT of work there. More than perhaps anyone else.
Unfortunately, I got the impression that the girls worked more than the boys. I didn't ask about this or mention it but I found it a bit unfair. The stereotypical gender roles got a headstart, which I feel shouldn't happen at a children's home. However, we are in Thailand so I thought best not to mention it.
It's not all negative though because this is what big sisters do. They look after their younger siblings. I'm sure that these girls will be great mums and wives one day. They already know how to raise kids and run a household. The only thing I'm a little bit worried about is that they are omitting themselves. At 15 years or so, they should be thinking about their future.
Now the English lessons that we did together were constantly interrupted when something around us demanded or "demanded" attention. The younger ones perhaps wanted food or were crying. Or at times there was just too much noise and hassle, there was no way you could concentrate. I needed to remind them of the importance of a good education, and that the English lessons were their time and investing in oneself.
What I also liked about Eurphon was that the villagers pitched in. Women helped with the children, cooking and cleaning, while the men perhaps helped in maintenance work or fetching hay for the horses. There was also a police station just around the corner and one of the policemen was a frequent visitor. He came talking to the kids about doing the right thing and disciplining them if they had been naughty.
He was a good father figure and a role model to the boys. We also went running with the youngsters quite a lot and he joined us a few times. I have to reveal that this Finnish girl seems to be fitter than the Thai police officers, hehe.
In the evening reflection period, everybody could voice their opinions and if there had been a dispute, it was all settled amicably. It felt like a big family, a bit crazy though, with big sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, in addition to Mum and Dad, of course. I'm sure the children will have a wonderful support group or safety net, by the time they leave Eurphon. So many brothers and sisters!
But there comes a time when you feel you've had enough...
I spent two weeks at Eurphon and really enjoyed my time there. Then again, towards the end of my stay, I was also ready to leave. The number of bugs and mozzies was just a bit too much. The little bloodsuckers were eating me alive! Well, almost... but I was scratching myself like crazy and I knew my legs would be scarred for life.
Yes, I know, I know. It's terribly superficial but what can you do?! Then there was the mud, dampness, rains, kids demanding attention. I wanted to have a good sleep in my own bed, not having to worry about the monsoon which would attack my treehouse, all my stuff and keep me awake the whole night.
Bugs, bacteria and fungus
Oh yes, one more thing. I was sure that I would get sick there. The level of hygiene was pretty low by Western standards. We are in Thailand so I'm used to it but living it 24/7 and not being able to do anything about it is another thing. Or how would you feel if the cooks never washed their hands, the same chopping boards were used to cut raw meat and vegetables, or the fact that 30 kids played outside, grabbing everything, being with the animals and definitely not washing their hands?
And the same food from the previous night was eaten for breakfast. And it was NOT refrigerated in between. Very surprised that I didn't get a single bout of food poisoning because I tend to get them frequently in Thailand.
On my second to last night, I got the flu. No surprise there. And when I finally got home, I noticed that I had developed ringworm on my feet. I know, it's gross. For those of you who don't know, ringworm is a fungal infection and spreads easily when it's wet and dirty. The kids' legs were covered with ringworm. I really don't understand why they didn't treat them. When I realised that the children, in general, had ringworm and not bruises, I knew that it would be a small miracle if I didn't catch any.
Overall, I will go back
So how are you feeling now? Has this blog completely put you off the idea of volunteering? Or perhaps given you inspiration? I have to say that I miss some of the kids. I had a few favourites, though I know you are not supposed to be biased.
I had a really good time at Eurphon when we did activities together and I was happy showing them some new things, for instance, some acrobatic tricks and cooking Finnish food. Some of the children were really smart and you could see the potential in them.
I know I will return to Eurphon at some point because the people there were just lovely and so welcoming. And it's relatively close to Koh Phangan, where I live, enabling shorter visits as well. If you got interested, read this blog post on how to get in contact with the family, or you can also contact me personally.
If you want to read more about what I did at Eurphon children's home, check out this link I would love to tell you a bit more, but it would make this blog so long. That's it for now. Thanks for reading!
From the crazy Finnish expat girl.
Check out Anna's blog - Hammock Stories - for lots more articles on living and teaching in Thailand, etc