Ever wondered what it’s really like to teach English abroad and volunteer with children in a developing country? Two travellers tell us about how they are giving something back: International Humanity Foundation (IHF) is a not-for-profit children’s charity with ever growing projects in Indonesia, Thailand, and Kenya where currently up to 1,000 children now attend education centres. It is IHF’s mission to invest in children by providing them with a fundamental human right: education. In doing so they empower them with the skills and tools they need to overcome poverty and pursue rich and fulfilling lives, thereby becoming the leaders and pioneers of tomorrow.
In addition to the more conventional disciplines of Maths, English and IT, IHF centres also provide a variety of social enterprise workshops and cultural field trips. The company wants to instil within their children a sense of pride and passion in their culture and heritage and a desire to contribute to a prosperous society.
Here we hear from two IHF volunteers who share with us the first few days of their volunteering experience. Julia, from England, is volunteering for four weeks in Jakarta, Indonesia, while Laura is volunteering for a month in Chiang Rai in Thailand.
Julia: 21 days, 15 hours and 5 minutes since I landed in Jakarta (give or take a few minutes) and my body clock has finally registered that we are in a different time zone; I am now able to sleep through the night without waking every hour; hallelujah!
Nelson Mandela said that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Through educating the younger generation we are providing them with the life skills they need to succeed in this world. The children that I teach have hopes and dreams; many would like to attend university in the near future and I hope that their dreams come true because I cannot think of a group of young persons more deserving. It can be said that many of these children hold a skill that I have not yet mastered myself; the ability to be able to speak a second language. They many not be fluent yet but they are certainly at a high level, I wish the same could be said about my Spanish language skills.
Witnessing the children relaxing, laughing and having fun with their friends free from any worry is a wonderful sight. The girls below are playing Congklak, a traditional Indonesian game; they are very good at it, well they always beat me any way.
Last weekend we had to say our farewells to two of the volunteers; Sue and Yerik. They were both very lovely and it had been a pleasure to meet them. Luckily it wasn’t all doom and gloom as three new volunteers arrived at the centre this week from China: Sarah, Shelley and Weshey.
Some days the teaching doesn’t finish until 8 o’clock in the evening, you’d think by this time we’d be ready for crawling into bed with a good book to relax for the night. Well think again, the evenings are generally spent playing games with the centre children. My favourite is an unconventional game of hide and seek that involves a considerable amount of running and sneaking around. Once we have tired ourselves out we usually retire to the living area for a few rounds of the card game uno, although it’s made more intense because the loser has talcum powder spread over their face by the other players!
Laura: I arrived to the warm welcome of Ruth’s smiling face at about 6:30am having just spent the night on a bus from Bangkok. I met a few of the children as they got ready for school: Tuesday is ‘scout uniform day’. I learned there are 12 children at the centre and mostly they are aged 14 or 15, with one girl Ipo who is 12 and Chatagorn who is 8. I didn’t know there would be so many teenagers – I think this will make my time more challenging! I’ll have to think of new approaches to English class and activities due to the age group. The children are a little shy towards me on the first day and seem distant, I am a little disheartened but after all it’s just the first day! I had my first cold bucket shower that was surprisingly refreshing. The children cooked a spicy meal which I loved and we spent the time after dinner writing their sponsor letters. I helped Kataya with her letter; she is very smart and such a sweet girl. Before bed I was informed about many Thai teenage pop artists and watched many a video on youtube which Anashlee particularly enjoyed. I also sat though some Barbie videos with Ipo! I went to bed trying to remember 12 names and very much looking forward to the next four weeks.
I slept like a rock and woke up around 8am after the children left for school, ready to start my international hours in the town centre of Chang Rai. I jumped on a bike and headed off, a few hours later due to a massive detour where I ended up at the White temple 10km out of town, I finally arrived in the city and did my work. I headed back red-faced, hot and tired after nearly 30km of riding to be greeted by a laughing Chatagorn at the gate. The children got busy cleaning up the place for Carol’s arrival (the children call her Ma). I finished off dinner while the children were welcomed by Carol, they were all buzzing and full of excitement which I hadn’t seen before. The bewildered teenage looks turned to smiles and they all wanted to show Carol what they could do. Nupon started break dancing and some of the children joined in with their own gymnastic talents; I joined in and could do most of the tricks except the easiest crossed legged yoga pose. Darid showed us all his drawings and the girls danced and sang for Carol. I felt like I had a real chance to spend time with the children and introduce myself to the ones I had not yet met. I also learnt a lot from Carol and heard stories about the tribe the children had come from, the issues and the conditions of their infanthood and many fascinating facts about IHF centers all over the globe.
The past few days have been a whirlwind of experiences the past few days. I feel like I belong in the centre now, the children are slowly but surely warming to me. Ruth sat me down and explained the parts of the Thai culture that were different from Western norms and this was a huge help. I was getting upset that the children sometimes ignore you when you speak directly at them, but I now understand they are very unconfrontational people and so it is much better to address them as a group and let them approach you rather than pushing the friendship too hard too fast. Knowing this as well as their backgrounds has enabled me to be more patient; it has worked wonders. They show affection in their own way and we have had some laughs when we do dancing or play tug of war with a rope I bought them. Like most teenagers they want to spend a lot of time on the staff’s computers or phones but I want to reinforce sports, activities and interaction.
It has been hard to learn about past of the children; the horrible hardships they have been through being the unwanted children of one of the Lahu hill-tribes. Carol spoke to all the staff about the children being ‘bad spirits’ and how she started IHF because she saw a need. There were children that had no safe place to live and no one to look after then so she rose to the challenge.
The children have had exams for the past two days so they have been around a little more. Yesterday we walked down to the old airport which is now just a big strip of grass to play sport in. We played soccer, even though I am terrible at the game; boys verses girls then staff verses kids. I also tried to spend time with Kantaya who is having a particularly difficult time at the moment being a 15-year old and having a ‘broken heart’ – it’s so hard to explain how small and insignificant this will seem in a few years, but if it matters to her it has to matter to me.
I have tried new fruits the past couple of days, one in a little pod like a lychee and a green mango which tastes like a bland sour apple to me! We have also done an English class on instruments and on the weekend I plan to buy some potting mix and start planting a garden over by the old chicken coup. All in all it has been a very BIG first week I have learnt a lot and been richly rewarded by the simple things like singing Ipo to sleep when she was sick or the girls teaching me how to make rice.