This past summer I was blessed with the opportunity to volunteer for a couple weeks in Thailand. Volunteering had always been something I wanted to do but I had a hard time figuring out what kind of volunteering was right for me and finding an organization to volunteer through. After a lot of research I found an organization called We Are Bamboo.
Bamboo has many different volunteering and adventuring programs, but the one that I chose was their Elephants to Islands tour. I spent a little over two weeks traveling from Chiang Mia to Bangkok stoping at Ko Samui and Ko Tao in between. While in Chang Mia I spent 4 days living in the middle of a jungle volunteering at a elephant sanctuary. During my time there I lived in a bamboo hut and helped take care of the elephants by doing things like planting bamboo for them to eat and bathing them. The sanctuary is run simply on volunteers and donations. They rescue elephants from circus’s and other places where elephants are being mistreated. Working with such amazing animals and knowing that I was part of the reason they got to live a peaceful life where they would always be cared for was an incredible feeling.
After leaving Chang Mia we spent a few days touring Ko Samui before heading to Ko Tao. While in Ko Tao I spent the week volunteering at a school. My friend Claire and I taught three different classes English. The experiences and feelings I felt while being at that school are indescribable. I was the teacher but they taught me more than I feel like I taught them. Being able to not only experience their life but make a difference in their lives was the best decision I’ve ever made.
I can truly say that my trip to Thailand changed the way I live my life. In America there are a set of social standards that define happiness and success for a person, there is a certain way of doing things that a person is told they have to do to be considered “successful” such as; going to college in order to get a good job to make money. Success and happiness are taught to go hand in hand, if you don’t make enough money you aren’t considered successful and your amount of success is supposed to determine your happiness. We are raised from a young age to believe these things.
In Thailand things are completely different, money is only important to them because it is essential to surviving. A person is considered successful if they are living a happy life, doing what they are passionate about, surrounding themselves with their loved ones, and constantly helping one another. Their kids are raised and taught to be kind and to work hard at what they love, whatever that may be. They are not pressured to go to college and get a high paying job.
While teaching at the school something that really stuck out to me was the smiles on everyones faces, and how excited the kids were to just be there. These kids lived hard lives compared to most kids in America, they came from small homes usually with no air conditioning, most kids had to walk fairly far to school every morning and home every afternoon, but every single one of them came to school so eager to learn. Even at the elephant sanctuary, the elephant’s caretakers didn’t get paid much but still dedicated their lives to making sure these animals lived the best lives they could. No matter what it was the people in there were doing, they did it with love and compassion.
I originally went to Thailand with the intentions to give back to people in need but they ended up giving me more than I gave them. My experience there taught me to throw all standards that society has forced on people and focus on the things that are truly important in life: helping others, being kind, and doing what you love.