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Sunday, 29 April 2012

Volunteer Teacher Thailand

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Asia 133

Volunteer Teacher Thailand (or VTT) is almost single-handedly run by Ken Hyde, a British school principal who went to Thailand after the 2004 Tsunami to help rebuild houses and discovered the great need for learning English in the area since 90% of the English-speaking population of Khao Lak was killed in the disaster. Many of the tourism facilities and employees were located right along the coast where the tsunami hit. Upon returning home, Ken decided to take early retirement and go back to Khao Lak and offer English classes led by himself and volunteers.

The volunteers work in teams and go out to mostly elementary and middle schools in the surrounding community who have limited facilities and resources. When enough helpers are available he’ll send them to a high school and a local orphanage.

The first day of our week was spent lesson planning. Ken helped pick out the lessons for each level based on the school’s curriculum and then we were on our own trying to figure out how the lessons would go. This was pretty self-explanatory based on the lesson plans in most of the already prepared boxes of materials, but some were missing plans as they were probably lost over time. With a little help, we figured out the instructional gap and were ready to go.

The drive from VTT to the various schools ranged from 20 to 45 minutes. We sat in an open-back pickup rigged with bench seats (a very common configuration on the roads of Thailand) This was an adventure in and of itself.

Our first day in the classroom we were with 4th and 5th graders and taught 4 classes, and even though they were all in the same school, they all seemed radically different in behavior and comprehension. One group were absolute angels and another group we could barely keep in their seats throughout the lesson.

An example of one lesson we taught was ‘Geography of Southeast Asia’.  We had a large map made of a plastic board with Velcro pieces placed in each country and its capitols. We had many plastic cards with the names of the country’s and capitals and handed them to kids asking them to place them on the map and correct one another as a group before filling out worksheets on their own. Another lesson was on the environment and recycling with the English words for various recyclables such as bottles, cans, paper, etc.

The next day we went to the high school and again the differences between classrooms were substantial. The following day we went to a predominantly Muslim elementary school, and after that we were at a school for the coastal boat people who were a more tribal culture. Last, but definitely not least, we went to the Home and Life orphanage to teach a lesson there. The kids were not grouped by age, so we had real youngsters with teenagers together in the class. Still they seemed like the most motivated and well behaved group and worked very hard. Perhaps their incentive comes from knowing they’ll be on their own sooner than their counterparts who are not in orphanages, or perhaps it’s just the community feel of the place and the strong but loving support of the house mother and father.

While in the schools we were immersed in Thai culture – it was so interesting to see how things are done there. I enjoyed eating school lunches with other teachers and kids, people I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. It was very valuable for our perspective and even though we only participated for a short time, we felt like part of the community rather than just tourists passing through. We also received quite a bit of appreciation which was nice.

Ken operates VTT on a very limited budget, basically just the registration fee (of 3,000 Thai Baht - about $100) charged to each volunteer when the arrive. Even if one stays for 3 months they just pay the fee once, so that encourages long term participation, but one nice thing is that if people have less time they are still welcome. Some other volunteer programs either require long term stays or charge much larger weekly fees, so it can become quite expensive to volunteer your time!

With VTT you must find your own accommodation, but places like the one we stayed in (Khao Lak Seafood Family House) with hot water, but without AC were about $30 a night. The weather, even in early February, was extremely hot, so you may want to consider AC. Even swimming in the ocean didn’t help as the water was not cool enough to be refreshing.

Khao Lak is a resort town that gets lots of German, Russian, and Scandinavian tourists. Although most of the infrastructure is brand new from rebuilding, there is very little ‘local feel’ to the town. Without doing the volunteer work we probably would have left quite soon. There are many restaurants in the town – from stalls that serve cheap, basic dishes to more upscale places like Smile Khao Lak which has a delicious French-Thai menu.

Unlike some other volunteer programs there was quite a bit of downtime, so after school we went swimming and for long walks on the beach. Weekends were free as well and we were invited by the high school coordinator on an outing with other teachers to a special island for a picnic. We would have loved to join in, but that was our departure day, so we weren’t able to, but it was nice to be included after only a week of volunteering.

If you’re looking for a way to contribute to children’s education and try your hand at teaching English, VTT is a great place to start.

©Christina Kay Bolton

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012
Christina Bolton

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