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Offering rambutans to the head monkWe are Emily Graham and Olivia Hanson, two English eighteen year olds who had the most amazing experience volunteering at Baan Tharn Namchai orphanage, Thailand, in July 2008. We particularly wanted to volunteer there because I, Olivia, lost my cousin in the 2004 tsunami and I wanted to give something back to the people who had helped my family so much in the aftermath.
We didn't know what to expect, but when we arrived at the orphanage, it was better than anything we could have wished for. All of the children came running out to us,
Dressed up for dancing introducing themselves, hugging us and holding our hands, before settling down to their homework - they are such good students! There's a warm, peaceful atmosphere about the place, which is due, in most part, to the friendly children and the lovely staff, notably Rotjana, who looks after everyone she meets! After a delicious dinner of local Thai food, we moved into our tiny bungalow in the village - now we truly were living in Thailand!
Soon everything fell into a natural rhythm, with us eating breakfast at the orphanage (we got used to rice three times a day!), before carrying out tasks like ironing,
Peace out!making jigsaws and sending English emails for Rotjana. Then we had free time until 4pm, when we joined the children for their snack, helped with homework, played and took them for walks around the village. On weekends, we ran English lessons for all abilities, and joined the children on trips, whether it was to the beach, the temple or Phuket zoo! Some of the children's favourite things to do were dancing and crafts. The girls (and sometimes the boys too!) loved to dress up and perform traditional Thai dances for us, laughing as we attempted to copy them!
We also took part in another initiative run by the orphanage and Duang Prateep Foundation, the travelling puppet show, which was set up to provide entertainment for schools in the aftermath of the tsunami. We loved joining the enthusiastic staff for these day trips, as it enabled us to travel around the region with the locals, visiting schools in areas such as Phang Nga and the famous fishing island of Koh Panyee. It was lovely to see how well-received these shows were by the school-children, and the happiness they created.
Mm...snack timeAs two 'farang' (white Westerners), we were greeted with some rather bemused looks and felt rather like a freak show, especially when we joined in the crazy dances!
It was so incredible to become part of the orphanage, and, in fact, part of the village community, towards the end of our month there. Despite the fact that most of the children at Baan Tharn Namchai have been through horrors that we can hardly imagine, they are all beautiful individuals who have so much going for them; and with the education and care they receive at the orphanage, bright futures ahead.
Group photo at our goodbye partyVolunteering there was such an eye-opening experience for us, one that we can never forget. We now have a lasting link with Baan Tharn Namchai and want to continue helping them as much as we can - we encourage you to do the same.