In early January we (a couple of dashing young lads from London) got on a plane to Thailand, heading off to work as English teachers in the impoverished hill tribe regions of northern Thailand.
Upon landing in Chiang Rai we had a few days to relax and acclimatise to our new environment, which we thoroughly did– embracing the delicious taste of a spicy meal and beer for the price of a pound and the not so enjoyable eating of crickets – the beautiful thai culture; friendly, giving, with a great sense of community (which everyone wants you as a 'falang' to be a part of) and a love for alcohol that suggests a hatred of ones liver. After exploring the local sights and ubiquitous markets our acclimatisation phase was soon over and we headed off to Fang (a town in the far north of Thailand) where we were to be handed over to the Blood Foundation. This unexpected change of NGO (we were originally meant for the Khon Loy foundation in Chiang Rai) is typical of Thailand, where people treat life with a casual attitude; plans and events are all subject to their fluid concepts.
Over a lush dinner we discussed what we would be doing over the next few months; how we would be based in Moung Choum (a tiny remote village set against a stunning backdrop of mountains and agriculture) teaching English in a school populated by hill tribe, Shan and Thai children.
Although admittedly a daunting challenge after a bit of brainstorming about how to effectively do this we were rearing to go. Although unknown to us at this time we would also be involved in the blood foundations work in Burma, a country significantly oppressed by a corrupt military junta with a violent and horrific legacy that shows no sign of waning, unlike protests and any possibility of action against the regime by the outside world. A people truly forgotten, a basket case regime held up by the complicity of neighboring nations.
The friendliness and forthcoming nature of the children is something we really tried to mirror, whether eating and drinking with the teachers or in the lessons themselves, the children respond really well to a friendly, confident fun teacher (serious teaching should be and was our aim, but a joke here and there-usually involving us making fools of ourselves-worked wonders) and this is something we really aspired to. In one impromptu lesson a girl suddenly burst out momentarily in song about a chicken, so we got her standing up and singing with actions to the class-everyone enjoyed watching her flap her arms and dance around, singing about a random chicken she wanted to eat that night!
This kind of laid back fun attitude really helped the children-they became confident enough to approach and speak English to us (confidence of thai school kids, or rather their lack of it, is a major hindrance to their learning ability) and it broke up potentially stuffy lessons.
Sometimes lessons didn’t go so well, with cancellations, lesson changes and half empty classrooms all run of the mill. Sometimes we would also run out of ideas, and some desperate quick thinking and all too often hangman (gold dust among volunteer teachers) would come to the rescue!
Overall teaching was a great experience and left us with many friends, where by day you are free to interact, teach and have fun with the kids, and a night will turn from a boring shut in with a book to with no warning being picked up by a teacher (‘jame, you come…...me……..whisky?!) and having an awesome night at a festival, local pub, or some other place where the Thais can further their liver savagery (whisky bottles seem to magically appear from nowhere with alarming frequency!)
We have also met a extremely varied group of people through our travels, from kick boxing journalists, students and wealthy credit crunched city workers to theatre directors and fetish party organizers, all enthralling characters (many of whom seem to love a bit of good old English bashing-jealousy, of course) who have come together either as volunteers or in the monk for a month project despite having such divergent pasts and futures.
To have taken part in this melting pot of individuals, and been so readily welcomed to help the blood foundation in just a small part of what they are doing to relieve and help those most threatened and persecuted, we feel truly indebted. Our time here has been truly enjoyable, eye opening and fascinating, it has positively moved us in ways we hadn't thought possible.