Amy + Sid 2008

Summer camp at the orphanage

by Amy Fry and Nadeem “Sid” Siddiqui, volunteers in Nongkhai, Thailand

Amy and Steve

We decided to volunteer about half way through our round the world trip. Well, actually I decided and Sid needed a bit of persuasion, but I knew he would love it so I persisted!

Nong Khai is a lovely town and the volunteer house is in an ideal location. There’s a brilliant market a minutes walk away,where we bought a lot of our meals. The riverside is 5 minutes bike ride away and there are lots of great food stalls practically surrounding the house. We had a very warm welcome from Sabine, Bobby and Nalinrat. They showed us around the town and some good places to eat. Then we had an orientation, in which they told us some cultural do’s & don’ts and what to expect at the orphanage. We had a bit of a planning session, where we organised some games and activities for the boy’s but this was quite hard as we didn’t know the age groups, how many boy’s there would be and also their capabilities.

The first day at the orphanage was quite a shock. We were shown around the boy’s living area’s, bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchen. Basic would be an understatement to describe the rooms. They had a bed each but nothing more in the rooms. No pictures on the walls, no other furniture, nothing child-like in sight. The standard of cleanliness throughout the rooms was very low and this was reflected in the boys appearance. They also had many open cuts and sores all over their bodies. Looking past all of this, they were very happy boys and very excited about the “falang” coming to play with them. The boys were not shy, almost straightaway they were hugging us and holding our hands. It was quite obvious that physical contact is something they lack in their everyday lives.

On the 3rd day most of the boys we had been playing with were going to become novice monks at a nearby temple. Even after 2 days with the boys we felt sad about saying goodbye to them but we knew we would see them before we left. We felt very privileged to be able to watch the ceremony and take part in it. Sid was given the very special job of physically lifting the Abbott. He was the leader of all the monks and very respected. He was very elderly and frail, Sid had to lift him from his wheelchair to his table so he could eat his lunch and then lift him back. Sid was terrified he was going to drop him!

Next came Songkran (Thai New-year) which is basically translated as a big water fight! We had so much fun, for 4 days we were absolutely soaked and didn’t even notice that it was sweltering 35 degrees! We went to the temple to watch the parade, played in the streets with the locals soaking every passer by with ice water! and we joined the neighbours for some more water throwing. Sid was having so much fun, he carried on throwing water with the kids when we had all got tired and gone inside!

At the orphanage we had 2 days of playing water with the boys, which they loved! An Australian family joined us half way through out time and just in time for Songkran! It was really good timing as when the family arrived the number of boys increased as well! Some came back from the temples and some from foster families. There was enough of us to have several different activities going at the same time. Although some days even with 10 of us it was absolute chaos, but good chaos!

Living with Nalin added to the whole experience, she is such lovely lady and she taught us so much. We learnt Thai language, Thai cookery and lots about the culture. Before we came to Nong Khai we had been travelling around South East Asia for 4 months, but by living with a Thai person we learnt more in one month about the culture than we did in 4 months put together.

We didn’t know what to expect regarding teaching English. Neither of us are teachers but we were willing to give it a go. As it turned out at the orphanage there was not that much teaching involved. The boys were on their school holidays and it quickly became clear that the important thing was to let them have lots of fun, care and attention and not to focus on the teaching side too much. Although quite a few of the boys were very keen to learn. So they could choose to sit and do an alphabet game or go and play football. Twice a week in the evenings we taught some English to the neighbours children and some other local children from the market. This was optional, we really enjoyed it and it was an opportunity to get a bit more involved in the teaching side of things.

Our month in Nong Khai flew by and the time for goodbye’s came round far too quickly! The whole experience was amazing and definitely one of the highlights of our whole years trip. The combination of supportive staff, beautiful children, the lovely family from Australia and the friendly town of Nong Khai and it’s locals made it a very special and unforgettable experience which we would recommend to everyone.

text and photos: © 2008 by Amy Fry and Nadeem Siddiqui.