So you want to volunteer while travelling.
We volunteered for the first time while staying in Chiang Rai where we had a so-so volunteering experience. Up until now looking back, I can’t help but laugh at what I was thinking then when despite hesitating due to some conditions, I still agreed to volunteer.
Some backpackers volunteer to save some travel mullah while doing a good deed for the community. Sites like World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (www.wwooof.net) and Friends for Asia (www.volunteerasia.org) offer a wide array of volunteering opportunities. Most of these organizations, though, require fees to be paid. While volunteering provides an opportunity to learn and help, payments from volunteers sometimes turns down prospective volunteers.
Volunteering, in its rooted sense, generally means you sweat the stuff in exchange for something valuable whether it’s food, accommodation or both. The reason for fees, according to the organizations, was for the basic necessities of volunteers while immersing in the programs they choose. The reasoning didn’t work for me. It meant I had to pay to work instead of getting paid in kind for my industry.
I learned about fees when I started searching for a volunteering opportunity in Thailand. It was solely to sustain a few days more of staying in the country. The search took longer than expected but I finally found one that offered free accommodation in exchange for maintaining a park. I contacted the owner and agreed to meet in the place to discuss the terms.
He was an agreeable Australian man in his sixties who owned three big properties in Chiang Rai. He decided to live in Chiang Rai since he set foot in South East Asia in the eighties.
We visited all his properties. All had potential for business and growth but all needed serious maintenance. We chose the most accessible property – an untended rock climbing park – with neighboring houses. We only had to clean and maintain it for the four days that we intended to stay. It was an okay deal although I hesitated for a few hours when I started thinking about the return for us. Nevertheless, we started the following day.
The moment we set foot in the park, we started securing what we needed for our stay.
First, water and electricity. He taught us how to operate the main switch. We filled the tanks. The result?
The water tanks weren’t washed for so long. We decided to drain the first and second fill until the water coming out of the faucet cleared. Of course, it wasn’t potable for drinking.
All things and common placed needed thorough cleaning.
There were two shacks. One contained the rock climbing equipments which were locked the entire time except when there were backpackers who came to climb. The other shack had a room for volunteers with two adjacent toilets. We had to clean it thoroughly before it became livable based on my standards of a basic room! I can’t imagine how the previous volunteer stayed in that room for a month, or maybe he added to the mess.
My consolation was it felt like Bramasole when it was first acquired by Diane Lane’s character in “Under the Tuscan Sun” where everything needed fixing at the start. She was able to bring back its former glory with the help of the original carpenter of the house and his small team. If only I owned the place!
I support volunteering for the contribution it provides a community. However, we just need to choose what best fits us to be able to serve better. Our experience in Chiang Rai was not what I envisioned it but I learned a lot from the experience.
Everyday was survival-mode camping. Good thing I learned how to start a fire during my girl scouting days. My brother learned it when we were there. See, those little things they teach you in your elementary years are the most useful! *wink*wink*
Cleaning the park was fine because there were available tools.
Even the kitchen area needed a whole lot of cleaning which we cleaned up the first day we were there. Most of the kitchen equipments weren’t functioning but at least, we had usable utensils.
Waking up to this
and seeing this.
And I learned bouldering from the backpackers who visited the park on the second day. The advice given before by a climber, in order for you to be safe (especially if you have no gear), is to “feel the rocks” so that you know where to step or hold. I find it effective until today when I hike.
Given the chance, I will still join a volunteering activity but next time, it had to be with a bigger team helping a bigger community. It takes more courage to do volunteering on your own or with someone. :-)