Project:Restore recently had the privilege of having Michelle and Vicky, 2 students from the Spring Semester in Thailand, volunteer with us. They wrote the following about their 2 week experience and included some advice for anyone interested in volunteering with us for a short time.
“Our internship experience might be different from many others. First of all, we are sisters and went on this journey together. We are first generation Hmong-Americans and can speak Hmong and a little Thai from a Thai language course. Through Project: Restore, we were blessed to be placed into a Hmong and Karen village named Mae Hae in Chiang Mai Province. In these two weeks, we stayed with three different Hmong families and one Karen family. Our main purpose was to teach English to the local children and to see what life was like for Hmong people in the village.
We want to point out that we are not professional teachers by any means, nor had ever taught before. Also, we are city girls and knew that the village lifestyle would be very different, but this did not discouraged us from going. We said that we dedicated these two weeks to God and allow Him to lead us wherever His will would lead us. We promised to do everything that will be thrown at us.
The first home we stayed at was tough, only because we learned how difficult it was to live without electricity, running water, and an electrical stove. The first night, the children had carried enough water to fill the big bucket for us to shower. We felt bad because we were their guests and that our presence had made them feel obligated to do that for us. After we had showered, we carried the emptied buckets down the pathway to the village water source and carried water back to replaced what we had used. The pathway seem short at first, but when we carried buckets filled with water back, boy, was that path long! It was embarrassing that one of us used 4 buckets to shower, but only have enough strength to carry 2 buckets back! The family laughed at us for trying, they knew that we were city girls. During this home stay, we visited this family’s farm, picked strawberries, and other fruits to eat. They also harvest flowers and package them to sell. We helped them cut flowers in their farm. It was hard work and they work really hard.
In the next few days, we found ourselves in a staff meeting at the church where we were going to teach English. They wanted us to teach English for their Saturday programs and also during their two-day camp event. We quickly became friends with the staff because they were friendly and they were interested in American lifestyles. At one point, the staff took us to a Karen wedding in the village where we ate the best food ever! Strangely, that same day when we returned home to our host family, there was also a Hmong wedding! The mother of the groom had heard that two Hmong-American girls were here in the village and had personally come invite us to go join and eat. So we attended two weddings in one day!
Soon, it was time to teach English at the church. We rode on the back of a truck that routinely picks up children in the area we stayed in. It was a few days before Songkran (Thai New Year), but the celebration (throwing water at people) had already started in the village. As our truck drove by, villagers threw buckets of water at the children and us in the back of the truck!
The Saturday program had 38 students, and the two-day camp had 80 students. The children ranged between 8-19 years old. It was nerve-wracking at first because there were so many students! All the staff watched us from the back of the room. We were nervous, but we had to build the courage to teach because we promised we would do everything God threw at us. For the next few days, we co-taught English to over 80 children. We taught them the alphabets, vowels, numbers, colors, animals, objects (kitchen materials), body parts, families, greetings, food, emotions, the Lord’s prayer (Matt 6:9-13 ), Wise Men Seeks Jesus story, song (Jesus loves me), watched cartoon videos (Gogo’s English Adventure video #1,2,4), and we managed to play a few games that included all 80 children!
Not only did we taught English, we also passed out free reading glasses to the local villagers. The glasses were donated from Aa-jaan Michael Leming who is the director of the study abroad program, Spring Semester in Thailand, which originally brought us to Thailand. We were sorry since it was difficult for a few villagers to find us for reading glasses because we stayed with 4 different households. Nonetheless, we were able to pass out over 100 pairs of reading glasses. The village life was very busy since we had to manage helping out family chores, going to the garden, English lesson planning, attending worship nights, and passing out glasses.
Our village stay quickly came to an end. Our last day was Easter Sunday and we had prepared a speech, gifts, and a song to sing. Many people from far away also came to this church because it was a special Sunday. We had a special visit from Tatupah who was once Aa-jaan Sombat’s teacher. Tatupah preached that day and after the church service, they held a baptism. It was then that we both decided that we would like to be baptized as well.
One thing that we learned about villagers is they are always content. For example, the first family we lived with had no electricity except 2 flashlights that everyone shared. However, they were the most happy and content family, always laughing, and sabay-sabay [Thai for very relaxed or easy-going].
Overall, this was an amazing experience for both of us. We have not only made life lasting friends, but we have grown in Christ both mentally and spiritually. This village stay made us realized that the American culture is focused on too much on individuality. We often forget that there is an important element in community connections, in giving and receiving help from each other.
Villagers are aware that they are not privilege like others. When foreigners come to the village, the villagers put themselves down. We would advise anyone who wants to spend time in the village to humble him/herself and become like a villager. This way they will see the values in village life.
A village stay may be very difficult for you if you are not open to flexibility. You have to hide the lazy side of yourself and have a positive attitude. If everyone wakes up at 6, wake up at 6; if your family goes to the farm, go to the farm with them! Be prepare for some labor work! If two city girls that never do labor work at home can survive in the village for two weeks, you can do it too!”
Thanks for sharing Michelle and Vicky! We really appreciated your flexibility and willingness to serve and learn in Mae Hae. If you are interested in serving with Project:Restore, feel free to contact us!