I feel as though the blogs I've posted so far are too impersonal, so today I'd like to redress that balance by giving you all an inside view of a day in the life of a social manager in Thailand. It mostly encompasses encounters with animals, but still...
I've been quite lucky since starting with Projects Abroad, I had never heard of the company till I was introduced 6 months ago and as I've said before I think the whole idea of the Projects is wonderful. So, naturally, I wanted to do well, fit in and progress through the company. After staying at the guesthouse, where the conservation volunteers reside, for about 2 months, I found a wonderful place to live next to Baan Laempho river and mangrove forest.
It's an awesome place and brings me to peace everytime I get home. Even more fortunately, it's right next door to an old family friend of mine. It's a little far from work (15 minutes if I drive 90kmh - on my old tramp of a 100cc scooter that's done 700,000km) but the distance is both a blessing and a curse. In the rain it becomes a monstrous journey, but once I get there I'm reminded why I chose to live here. I'm greeted with a serene and complete sense of detachment, the sound of the river, birds and the wind in the trees. I hear no cars, building or voices of a disturbing nature. Just a beautiful peace and quiet that seems to rid me of any stress or worry. There are buffalo in the area who are free to roam wherever they please along with goats and an army of mutated cats. I returned home last night in the pitch black only to be greeted by large, intimidating shadows at my front gate. Slightly scared, I employed the use of my incredibly poor phone screen light to see what the threat was. As soon as my light kicked up I was semi charged at by 4 very large buffalo. I say semi charged at, they were probably more scared than me and wanted to escape via the only exit - directly behind me. Ha, all good fun at 1am! Matters didn't exactly improve when I stood on a cat outside my front door and recieved a leg scratch of possibly diseased proportions. It's fine, don't worry. The cat isn't though. I may have helped the deformed little fella out by straightening it's tail out slightly. Well, I say straightened, bent the other way would be more appropriate. Anyway, I doubt I'll find him outside my door again, and if I do I'll be sure to work on another area of his corckscrew tail. Snakeskin was the 3rd animalistic event of the night (if I exclude the lewd, weird yet strangely alluring movements of an inebriated American girl at the bar dancing somewhat disturbingly to commercial pop) as I opened my front door it kind of floated down onto my head. I love snakes, so wasn't freaked out at all on discovering it, it was more to do with the size of it. Like I say I love snakes, but the idea of a fat, possibly 4metre long python wrapped around my roof beam made me slightly uneasy. Gorgeous, beautiful creatures they are, yes, but to sleep with? Sometimes it's literally like being in a reality T.V version of animal planet where you have to fill in the narration by yourself. Which, when alone, is quite amusing. I've found myself narrating to myself 3 times in my new house. 'The giant centipede is a viscous little sod. Enough poison (strategically placed) to kill a man. A fearless attitude and dangerous demeanor, he is no match, however, for the ELEPHANT BRAND WOK!' *Cue a frantic scrabble (we fought, I don't mean I got a board game out and challenged the little bugger because frankly, my English is probably better) to which I emerged victorious, geared up from adrenaline with a meal on the wrong side of my wok. Don't get me wrong, I love all kinds of animals and am a peaceful nature loving person, but a centipede very nearly killed my mother once and I now take no chances with them at all. It's probably the only animal in Thailand I have any real fear of. I sat for half an hour maybe 4 metres away from a 3metre King Cobra once at a waterfall in Koh Phangnan. As anyone will warn of this animal, it's exceptionally dangerous, fast and lethal. Yet for some reason I feel no threat nor fear with snakes. I've allowed scorpions to explore my arms, big hairy spiders to walk across my face, dived with 5metre bull sharks and slept in a room with a man called Butch. Still, the centipede is the only one that instills fear. Well, Butch was quite intimidating, but only to look at. He is essentially quite a nice guy.
I awoke this morning to the slight sound of something moving outside and chose to ignore it as I stole another half an hour of sleep. A little later, the light filtering into my room was interrupted which woke me for the second time, as I struggled to gain focus, vision failing, I was shocked to the core as a deep, gutteral grunt echoed through my room. And there he was. The whole head of a fully grown buffalo poking through my window maybe 2 feet (1metre) from my face. Morning! Banging a water bottle against my hand seemed to do the job and he fled, with 3 others in tow that emerged from behind the kitchen. A little scary, funny as hell but not the way I would prefer to start my day. When my heart rate declined eventually, I sped it up again with a cup of coffee in the hammock and some friendly banter with the neighbor, it's time to make a move. I've come to realise you can hardly ever plan anything in this country, even strategically parking your bike so that the seat doesn't become a cooker for a hammy backside. So the first part of the drive to work is usually a roasting, then a treat as the road widens, speed increases and the wind hits. I love this job. Sometimes I'll be out joining in on the muddy mangrove days, helping or taking pictures, or I'll stand in for a sick divemaster and have a couple of random dives, going to schools and checking up on the community team, liasing with local businessess or sat in the office writing things like this. It really is wonderfully versatile and I've the chance to stick my fat fingers in all aspects of the Projects. Recently I've spent more time in the office writing up the newsletter, organising next months activities, blogging and arranging pictures and such. Quite literally everyone says I'm mental for giving up my diving job for this but I'm standing strong in my belief that I made the right decision. I quite like office days. Having never worked in an office before it's an interesting experience, I'm the kind of guy who enjoys physical labour - working on a building site, farms, the freight company I worked at for 2 years and being a divemaster. So this is quite a contrast. Strangely enough, after a day in the office I feel more exhausted than I do after 3 dives or 14 hours on site! This job is brilliant though, organising get togethers and meals, climbing and kayaking trips - it really offers so much more than I ever anticipated. The hardest part is perhaps getting verfication from the volunteers on whether or not they'll be joining in on the activities *shakes fist* but it usually always works out, and even when it doesn't it is still 'all good'.
I realise now after writing this that it doesn't really seem like a 'day in the life', more like 'animals of the area' Hopefully though it's provided a small inside perspective of a social manager tormented and inspired by beasts big and small in Thailand.
Ben Lemon - Social/Media Management for Projects Abroad Thailand.
It's been a successful couple of weeks for the English Summer Camp, the final day on Friday 22nd saw the finishing ceremony as all the kids displayed what they had learned and thanked all of our volunteers and staff from Projects Abroad for their time and effort. Unfortunately I was not present for some of the days at the camp but have been assured of the fun and mess that ensued through visual evidence and over-elaborate story telling.
Kids recieve their certificates and thank the volunteers
All fun and games...
Following up to some technical idiocies, here are some more pictures based around National Volunteer week...
Evidence of previously stranded volunteers....what happened?
Succesful, tired, hot and sweaty beach cleaners.
Will again, getting stuck in
Cleaning tools at the lake after the mangroves...
During National volunteer week, we took a collective overview of our volunteers and documented their progress, experiences and varying personalities. It really is a wonderful opportunity for these willing individuals wanting to make a difference, and not necessarily fussy about how they do it. Mangroves day is a day for the conservation team that has, shall we say, different outcomes and perspectives for all our volunteers. Some love it, some hate it. One thing they all have in common though, is that they are involved there all together, and while some may complain more than others or look to be in dire states of unrest, it really is fantastic watching everyone get on and bond and share experiences together. Stomping around in knee-deep mud, digging holes, clearing jungle and rescuing destitute saplings is not for everyone, but even those it is not for its still enjoyed. I think. Diving days are, generally and pretty much always, enjoyed by everyone. For most, it is what they come here to do. There is a sense of accomplishment, pride, and breathlessness whenever we return to the boat sporting a large and harmful fishing net, fishing cage, lines, ropes, plastics and other debris in the ocean. Smiles nearly always accompany them out of the water as the volunteers also have a wonderful opportunity to see rare and exotic marine life, learn more about them and just to sit and watch them go about their aquatic life. Laughter, jokes, and big big grins are the order of the diving days, along with fingers like prunes, super-tans and exhaustion. The beach cleanup days are sometimes my favourite for watching volunteers working together, making fun and making a difference. Some of the beaches here are really neglected and treated with an air of disregard by some locals and it’s rewarding to watch our volunteers efficiently clearing up the rubbish and actively attempting to educate the locals or trying in sometimes some exceptionally awkward ways to get them involved. It’s not always a success story and in many cases the locals will sit by and watch, apparently clueless as to why these foreign people are clearing up some perfectly good rubbish, but in terms of our volunteers, I think the mere thought process of trying in their own way to get locals involved is a remarkable compliment to their personal development. This is especially true in volunteers who were initially shy and quite recluse. I have seen some wonderful transformations and progressions through volunteers unconsciously emerging from an insecure state of mind. Whether they are aware of it or not, they go home as different people, more confident individuals and story tellers unlike any of their peers.
As for the community team, their experiences will likely shape them for years to come. Personally, I don’t react well with kids, rather like oil and water, cheese and chalk, whisky and wine. I have been told this is not true as I held a rather adorable little girl during the first day of the English Camp for no shorter than 45 minutes as her mother worked, to which she seemed to take a liking to me. However, this is not about me and what I get on with, it’s about the volunteers and how they grow as individuals during their placements here. Much like the conservation team, many are shy, slightly insecure people unsure of their place in society and it’s testament to their enthusiasm and dedication when they leave Projects Abroad as much more confident and assertive people, with a finer grasp on what it is they aspire to do or be in later years. Of all the volunteers I have encountered so far, not one has surprised me in the way I thought I might be surprised. They are all literally wonderful people who share similar views in life and are generally on the same path. I can’t remember meeting someone I disliked or felt uncomfortable with and it’s truly a great experience working alongside these inspiring individuals. Sure, there’s always ONE, but even that one is ok for the most part.
The Projects Abroad English Summer Camp at Baan Nong Thalay is approaching the final ceremony, our community volunteers have been working tirelessly with all the kids there, playing games, teaching, singing, dancing and just being there for the kids. It’s been a wonderful 2 weeks and everyone has thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Pictures and videos will be uploaded as soon as possible!
Happy New Year!
April the 13th marks the start of the Thai New Year, traditionally a 3 day celebration of family reunions, new year well-wishes and the cleansing of others through a polite and respectful flicking of water onto faces.
But it's 2011. We're not in the 18th century anymore.
Water guns, oversized buckets loaded onto pick up trucks and filled with crushed ice, buckets of chalk mixed with water, hoespipes, talcum powder, and of course, water trucks. A few tools deemed necessary to pass on good fortune for all around. Songkran is the best loved and by far and away the most celebrated festival in Thailand. For 3 days the country stops to sling water over the people on the other side of the street. Kids run around smearing multi coloured paste onto your face screaming 'Sawat Di Pi Mai!' (Happy new year), trucks full of people surrounding a massive bucket of ice-cold water shriek with delight as they freeze everyone in the vicinity (a shocking experience as it's all warm sun cool water and fun till the ice trucks get you). We had a simple program. As anything in Thailand is challenging to organize at the best of times, I didn't want to put myself in difficulty by organising something impossible on this day (travel doesn't happen as the roads are jammed, food will not stay dry and electronics will get wrecked). So we quite simply armed ourselves with our 2litre water guns, filled them with chalk water and walked through Noppharathara beach, the local Thai gathering place for Songkran, and had a brilliant time greeting and drenching the locals, getting our faces coloured and spraying everyone we could see. We then managed to reach Ao Nang and the foreign adaption of Songkran celebration - a big water party in Chang plaza. Music, water fight, sunshine. Brilliant. I feel safe to say that everyone had an awesome time, albeit a little chilly on the walk home due to the rain.
Traditionally, day one is Wan Maha Songkran - the day of Songkran and New Year.
Day two is known as Wan Nao - directly translated as The Cold Day, although the 14th is also regarded and respected as family day.
Day three is Wan Thaloeng Sok - No direct translation, it is a religous verse and refers to the spritual aspects of Songkran which are often overlooked in favour of fun and water splashing. Traditionalists sometimes complain about the lack of respect or loss of spirituality in terms of Songkran water fights, but often go unheard as the vast majority of the nation enjoys cooling down with a national water fight. Of course.
Unfortunately experiencing problems uploading the video...
About 10 minutes outside of Ao Nang is the Laempo fish and marine nursery. A branch of the Krabi coastal marine services, the fisheries is a nursery for a large variety of local aquatic wildlife. As they are only basically funded by the government, their finances for further research and expansion are quite limited. Throw on extra costs for maintanance and repair and they can only just manage to stay afloat (in business - I was being ironic). Our conservation volunteers regularly visit the fisheries to help out by removing the invasive algae, cleaning the banks alongside the enclosures and just doing a bit of general maintanance. Fishery days are enjoyed by most as if any of our volunteers fail to see specific wildlife on a dive, they can see them here and learn more about them. The local authorities have praised our help and we are more than happy and willing to continue assisting them.
Removing the algae from the giant grouper and black trevally pond (who's feeding time is a spectacle not to be missed)
Nong Thalay English Camp
Yesterday was the first day of the Nong Thalay English Camp for the 4 schools – Ban Ao Nam Mao, Ban Nong Thalay, Ban Laem Pho and Ban Nai Chong. As far as initiation goes, day one was a total success. Which I found suitably amusing as the volunteers told me that all they had planned had been thrown out the window at the last second. You would never know. The day started with a register. All the kids formed disorderly lines and mobbed the registry desk where our volunteers sat off guard, the first sign of a fun-filled day. There were speeches from Projects Abroad Thailand representatives community officer Ruang and community director Ant, introducing themselves and explaining what was going to happen over the course of the next week. Deputy director of Krabi Primary Education Pra Mot Geow Pan gave his speech and thanks to all who attended and wished us all a happy, productive week. We then witnessed a performance from some of the kids from Nong Thalay, the boys playing a traditional musical number using Angalung, a traditional Thai instrument of varying sizes of bamboo filled with beans – much like a rainmaker but with a beautiful wooden wind chime sound. The girls gave a dance performance incorporating hand fans to go along with the music. Having witnessed a few roughly thought out performances from the Thai schools, I have to say I was substantially impressed by their act. It was nice to listen to, easy to watch and honestly quite nice first thing on a morning. The volunteers act was next, marching onto the stage in a funky-army-esque style, attitude, dance and song. This was more amusing and got the kids smiling and laughing. No offence to the volunteers of course, that’s exactly what we want – smiles and laughter, and at the expense of volunteers humble pie? No problem J With the kids showing ample enthusiasm, we began with the first games – introductions and song learning (Simon Says, BINGO, and various other childrens rhymes). The kids were initially nervous, but upon seeing the volunteers jumping and dancing around, shouting out strange foreign chants and constantly thrusting the English language upon their ears they readily showed off their English skills and got properly involved. Klaus, Amy, Zach, Cornelia, Tanja and (arriving later on) Julie did a wonderful job, delivering their lessons with energy, passion and enthusiasm that would infect even the most stubborn of people and get them on their feet to join in. Smiles and laughter filled the halls as we danced around, sang and learned.
Volunteers get mobbed at registration
The Baan Nong Thalay kids' performance
Let the games begin
Simon Says - Zachary shows
The kids were divided into 4 groups and the schools mixed, one volunteer for each group, everyone had fun - kids and volunteers alike. The kids got to mix with the other local schools and it was lovely to see them socializing and meeting new people, new friendships were formed and existing ones made stronger.
Watch and learn Volunteers teach the kids their dance and song
The last week of March presented the south of Thailand with, according to a certain information centre, a bit of 'light rain'. This 'light rain', a coupling of words usually associated with a gentle drizzle, lasted for nearly 2 weeks, devastated Nakhon Sri Thammarat, Koh Samui, Suratthani, Krabi, Trang, in fact the vast majority of southern Thailand. I like watching the rain as much as the next person, I like walking through it after a particularly hot day. After the 3rd day of solid rain however, you begin to remember what it was you liked about tropical countries - warmth, and you begin to miss it. After a week, warmth is not the issue anymore, you begin to remember what it was you liked about 'western' culture which for me was - my car. Impervious to British rain. My motorbike is far from impervious to tropical rainstorms and any trip of any distance is an opportunity to become saturated to the point where, upon returning home, you mutter to yourself 'I didn't know bones could get wet' as you unsuccessfully attempt to dry yourself. After the 2nd week, the issue becomes calling friends and family to check that everyones still alive, attempting to stem the water from entering your house and fathoming as to why, when surrounded by water from an endless skyward source, that there is no water in your plumbing system. Everyday responsibilities and tasks go straight into the backseat as more pressing issues take hold. Suddenly you realize you're in the middle of quite a bad flood. From dealing with the situation and thinking 'Does anyone know about this odd amount of water? Is it just me that deems this unusual?' to the awareness of a flooding event being broadcast globally and it is only then that you realize the level of severity of the present situation you're standing in. Within moments reassurance kicks in, the dawning reality that hundreds of people have half their house underwater, their cars submerged and stranded in a brand new brown lake - miles from any medical attention or supply stores and separated from family and friends. Suddenly, you feel lucky, safe, fortunate and in a damn good position compared to hundreds of others. Thankfully, not so many died this flood, with the death toll standing at around 40 but with many hundreds of people stranded inside their homes or away from their city sat under 3m of floodwater. It is now April 3rd and it's as if there never was a storm or flood (Krabi area anyway) a pale but warm blue dominates the sky, much of the water has drained or dried up, people have rebuilt, repaired and restored what the flood has claimed and are resuming their lives. Unfortunately, at present I have no footage of the floods themselves (it's kind of the last thing on your mind when driving through a river road under torrential rain while watching the devastation, to whip out your camera and snap happy - the focus was on getting home alive, if at all). However, the volunteers here at Krabi helped the locals deal with the aftermath - taking relief supplies to the Krabi Municipal hall where the flood relief centre had been set up, and clearing the local streets of the debris, dirt and sand that came with the water. Ecstatic that no one was killed or injured and impressed with their efforts, I say well done girls and sirs. On an interesting end note, I had organised a camping trip to Khao Phanom Benja national park on the 26th of April and unfortunately not many were able to go as they had alternate plans for the weekend. It turned out that no one would be going camping, which was a little disappointing, however, we later learned of the 5 deaths at the national park landslide caused by the rains, right where we would have been camping. So thanks to everyone who had alternate plans! I owe you one.
After the Kindergarten graduation ceremony, a much deserved breakfast and a tasty cup of coffee, Ruang and I left Estella to do her thing and collected Klaus, Amy and Tanja to bring them to a language school in Krabi town for their English camp preparation. The volunteers were on a crash course to learn some new and different teaching methods designed specifically for the camp. These include using songs and games as methods of repetition to help drum the English lesson home with the kids, while at the same time giving them something fun to focus on and participate in. It won’t all be lessons and learning though, the kids will be taken on excursions to do some sightseeing and to just have some fun too. It was very interesting to learn of the different perspectives in teaching and our volunteers left enlightened and eager to try out the new methods they'd learned.
Kindergarten Graduation Ceremony – Krabi
On the 24th of March, Estella, Ruang and I attended the Graduation ceremony for the kindergarten students in the Krabi area. Soon to move up to first grade, these kids have been through 3 years of kindergarten, and some a preparatory year before that too. Here in Thailand they start first grade at six, the school year runs from may to march and is divided into two terms. So they donned their robes, applied their little caps and with an energy achievable only through being an excited 6year old dressed like a priest, some giggles and hair pulling the 200 or so kids celebrated their graduation. Looking resplendent in their outfits and sunburned from the beaming faces of parents, aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters and family friends, the kids re-enacted their practice run of receiving their certificates (to great amusement for all as some pushed and shoved, forgetting to bow, taking the certificate with the wrong hand and tripping on their over-sized gowns). As guests of honour we were presented with ornate orchid flowers to stick in our shirts and front row seats (which I feel slightly bad about as we’re a little taller than the Thais) in which we witnessed the ceremony with smiles and a camera suffering from an over-excited flash bulb. NongKok daycare centre kids were there excitedly shuffling, shifting, scratching, laughing, crying and just generally being kids at a serious function. We know how they are. And we love them for it! We also donated money for the swimming project for them to buy new toy floats and swimming aids.
Estella experienced a dose of Thai culture and was being admired by the kids, teachers and parents alike – some asking for photos of her with their children even though they had never met! Congratulations to all the kids who graduated - may the coming years of school bring them joy, happiness and an intriguing desire to cause trouble...
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