First day volunteering in Chiang Rai. We stayed with students and commuted with them on their children sized bicycle (and by with them, I mean they were on the back as we pedaled up the hills). Our own bike gang.

For the first time, I felt as though I was really making a difference. The children were pretty good at English, and after school they wanted us to continue teaching after dinner. We sat on the ground and had broken conversations with them in English, and in turn they taught us Thai. They laughed at our horrid pronunciation but that worked to establish rapport. Chan chup mahmuang!

All Thai kids choose an American nickname (that seems to be just a random word from the English language). Our girl’s name was Gift. She lived with her grandmother who cooked us dinner, but as we learned through experience, Thais will never eat with you but wait until you’re done to eat the leftovers. Gift was such a gem, she would come up to us and say “volunteer shower”, “volunteer eat”, or “teacher go to school”.

Teaching was more fun than I could have imagined. I was nervous because I usually don’t like children, but I loved these kids. Some took my hand because they wanted me to push them on the swing set, while others responded to “what would you like?” with “your phone number”. On the last day one girl wrote “I love Erika” on her arm and made me a heart shaped letter expressing how grateful she was. They all wrote us little notes and some even played a song for us in the end.

But nothing beats watching 5 year old Thai children get down to “Pop Lock & Drop It”. Musical statues is so much more bearable with Jay-Z and Huey.

Unfortunately, Jennifer did something to her knee and had to go to the hospital. This poor girl had surgery on her knee three times yet it gave out on her again. Gift’s grandma was so cute and wanted to put a herbal cream on it, but we said it needed surgery and cream probably wasn’t going to help if something was torn or dislocated. One of the teachers came and took us to the clinic, and eventually to the hospital. Another girl Alexis came to the clinic but decided she wanted to leave before the hospital so I volunteered to go with Jennifer instead. Although I’ve known this girl for all of two days, she’s alone in a foreign country, needing surgery, not speaking the language, and not knowing how the health insurance is going to work. Girl needed some moral support.

Once at Chiang Rai hospital, Nikki (the Mirror Foundation coordinator) sent me back to Pan village to finish up my teaching. Although I was reluctant to leave Jennifer, I had no other choice. I went back with the two teachers, who bought me dinner at a nice restaurant and allowed me to stay at their house instead of Gift’s house (which had hot showers and AC!). Jennifer ended up leaving two days after that back to Canada to get surgery.. cutting her volunteering short.


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