This is a special guest post republished with permission from the Millet sisters over at their Beer and Backpacks blog.
Our second volunteer mission was building a new childcare centre. We worked alongside Monks, and local village volunteers on a project that’s has taken about five years just to get 80% finished. Limited funds allows for only small pieces of the centre to be completed at a time and when we asked our coordinator Tuk, (who happened to be the younger sister of Worn, our elephant coordinator) when she thinks it would be finished, she had no idea.
“Whenever we have enough money,” she said.
We spent our two weeks painting, grouting tile and laying concrete for the playground. Now I know most of you know what these things entail, but let us explain how construction works in Thailand.
Grouting tile involves finding an old pair of foam flip flops to cut up. This becomes your spreading tool. You scoop the thick, pink guck out of the bucket using the flip flop and then spread in between the tiles, making a fairly large mess in the process. After it’s dried, you go over all the tiles with a wet sponge to scrub off all the guck not actually in the cracks. Then repeat to fill in any missed holes. Pretty hi-tech stuff right there.
As for the concrete, it’s nothing but old school here. In a large bucket, we put sand with the grey powdered concrete mix and mix using a garden hoe. Water is added followed by stones, all while mixing together by hand. With the garden hoe.
After completing one bucket of the mixture myself, I understand how the locals are so strong, that sh*t is heavy as hell. And there are no precise measurements. It’s more along the lines of mixing about six ‘baskets’ of sand and six of stone with a few buckets of water and about half a bag of concrete mix. Sometimes the random village kid trying to help out puts in too much water. No problem. They just add sand or stone until it’s the right texture to spread.
While working, the Monks will occasionally bring us gifts. We got a couple of bracelets and a Buddha necklace from them. Since a Monk is not allowed to touch a regular person, we have to hold out our hand and the gift is dropped into it. We learned from our coordinator that anything received from a Monk is extremely good luck, so that was exciting.
We head in for lunch around 11-11:30, and spend a few minutes playing with the kids while Tuk cooks us lunch. She asked us our first day what we like to eat (One of us being veggie, we brought groceries and just had her prepare stir fry or curry from that) and we told her spicy was good. She told us that for herself, she doesn’t care what food tastes like, it’s simply a means of satisfying hunger. Definitely an interesting perspective, as we are used to the complete opposite, placing a high value on not only the taste, but even the appearance, of everything we eat. It just goes to show you that not everybody shares the same view when it comes to meal time.
The five weeks we spent in Surin was definitely an amazing experience. The staff at Starfish were organized, friendly and always took care of absolutely anything we ever could have wanted and more. We would definitely recommend them to anyone looking to volunteer abroad.
Now we find ourselves off and beginning the next part of the adventure. We are on a train heading to Khao Yai National Park for a weekend of trekking before heading back to Bangkok to meet up with Jac, and one final stint on Khao San Road (the backpackers party district). The three of us will then head south and begin beach lying and partying our way down the islands, starting with Koh Tao.
For those of you who remember our last train experience in Vietnam (here), we were forced to tempt fate again, as there were no busses from Surin to the national park. Luckily, it’s only a 3.5 hour journey (and so far everything is running on time). The bathroom is much less horrifying, despite the fact that you pee through a hole, literally right onto the train tracks. Maybe the Monks really did bring us better luck!
Signing off for now, cheers to an incredible volunteer experience and the excitement of what the next five and a half weeks will bring.