Building Schools and Character in Thailand

Written by: Rebecca Welsh

Don’t Let Your Age Hold You Back

When I signed up for five weeks in Thailand as part of a Madventurer development project, I thought going alone would be daunting. I was only 17 years old, and I soon discovered that the average age of the group was around 21. I was worried it would be difficult to make friends and I would regret my decision.

So it was a relief when right from the start I felt comfortable with the other volunteers, regardless of their age. We were all there to work, after all.

Working overtime

The project was based at the Akha Training Centre in Northern Thailand. This is where children from the Akha hill tribe went to get a basic education and learn rudimentary life skills. It acts as a sort of substitute for school in an area where there aren’t sufficient schools for the tribe’s children. Our task was to build a new classroom for the kids as the centre had become horribly overcrowded. We would also have the opportunity to teach during our stay.

A typical day started with laughter and continued in much the same fashion. I would fumble around in my mosquito net, a good way to get yourself awake at 6.55am, before sprinting to breakfast at 7am. It would be 8.30am before we started teaching or building, and water breaks were taken frequently throughout the morning. The heat was brutal and I was slathered head-to-toe in factor 50 sunscreen. Lunch, which usually involved vast quantities of rice, couldn’t come quickly enough to help us replace the energy we had burned away.

Lunch would usually come with some chill out music and chat until about 2pm, and then it was right back to work, weather permitting. When the day was over I would preface dinner with a refreshingly cold shower. Once the food was feverishly put away we were serenaded by four hundred singing kids, who would hug and kiss us until we were all absolutely shattered. It was back into the mosquito net by 9.30pm, where I’d fall asleep chatting with my new friends about the day’s events. Although the routine would be familiar, each day managed to feel unique.

Learning the local lingo

At one point in the project we paid a visit to a local village, which proved to be an invaluable experience as it allowed us to see where the children at our centre had come from. We also received some Akha lessons (the local lingo), and the children were thrilled when we learned some phrases in their native tongue. It was a great way to really feel a part of the culture.

When the five weeks came to an end I didn’t want to leave the children or my new friends. Our parting gift to the kids was a cringeworthy dance routine that they at least pretended to enjoy! The fact that I cried on the plane home sums up how much I missed the experience, from the place itself to the people I had spent it with, kids and adults alike.

My time on the project made me look at myself from a completely different perspective. I enjoyed both the building and teaching, things I had never done before. I learned so much, and it made me think that teaching might be a possible future career for me.

A life-changing experience

Back home in England the experience has remained with me. At the annual Madventurer Ball most of my project group were reunited and I’m still in contact with loads of them.

Not only that, but I plan to return to the Centre soon to teach during my gap year travelling in Southeast Asia. The Mad project has given me the confidence to travel independently but I am seriously considering doing another Mad project during my time out. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone with a sense of adventure!

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