Voluntary work around the world
What if we could make a better world? Here I want to share with you something very important for me: voluntary work and humanitarian missions. I wish we all could make at least one trip in our life to help any cause that needs it. I do not want to convince anyone, I just want to share my experiences and show you that voluntary work is a very beneficial experience for everybody. I promise, you will come out grown up. But PLEASE, be very careful before you chose the association which one you will go on mission. It seems that bad people are taking advantage of the growing interest for the volunteering to create orphanages where the children are NOT orphans only to get money from the volunteers and donations...
Have a look on the UNICEF article about this sad topic.
My first humanitarian experience dates back to 2013, when I participated in the 4L Trophy : a famous humanitarian raid organised every year for thousands of French students. For those who do not know, it is a question of making a raid - driving a Renault 4L - in the Moroccan desert whose goal is to carry school materials to the poor children of the villages'schools. Actually, the humanitarian side was a little disappointed because I expected there to be more exchange with the children but the adventure was still incredible. It was the trip that changed my vision of things and way of travel. The fact of being cut off from everything for 10 days, to be able to exchange with the locals, to discover another culture, to realize that our capitalist society is based on an overconsumption, in short, a real return to basics. I will always remember how I felt when I returned to my apartment, after around 6000 km travelled, sitting on my comfortable sofa and wondering what I was doing there... If you want to know more about the 4L Trophy and even maybe participate to the next edition, you can have a look at the official website or contact me for any question you may have.
I always wanted to go on a humanitarian mission with an NGO but I could not find any that was totally transparent with the requested price. So I had put the idea in the closet until one day while talking with a friend of mine in Barcelona she told me about an association that had just been created and looking for volunteers to help. This association is called Un Llapis per Ghana - a pencil for Ghana in Catalan. This association has a beautiful project and what convinced me was that you pay the fees for accommodation and food directly to the orphanage, without any intermediary! So I immediately started the registration process. A flight for Accra bought, vaccines up to date and the visa obtained I am ready for departure on May 12, 2019. Here I am back and once again completely transformed by what I lived. What better way to tell you my experience than to illustrate it in pictures ... I leave you a short video of 3 minutes in which I tried to summarize the best this beautiful trip. Of course it does not even transmit a tenth of all that I lived, shared and felt ... But at least you have a brief overview! If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.
I would never have imagined that my third volunteer would be with elephants in an absolutely magical place. When we arrived in Thailand for the second time, we returned to get together with family and friends. After two weeks of visiting the country, we had ten days left before flying to our next destination: Myanmar.
I started sending requests from Workaway and what luck was ours when they accepted us at the Somboon Legacy Foundation to help with the completion of the elephant museum. The place is located about 3 hours from Bangkok in the Kanchanaburi area. It can be reached by train for 100 bat (about 3€) or by van for 120 bahts. Then you have to take a taxi to the place because it is lost in the middle of the forest (the taxi cost us 400 bahts, do not pay more than that, they will try to scam you charging 500/600 bahts). Volunteers have free accommodation and food in exchange for 5 hours of work a day. The hours are usually from 9 am to noon and from 1 pm to 3 pm. The accommodation is a wooden cabin with private bathroom, fan and every morning the noise of the birds to wake up. I immediately felt super comfortable in this little paradise.
Somboon Legacy is a foundation that was born with the desire to change minds and sensitize people to the issue of sanctuaries. Elephant rides are increasingly reduced as tourists become aware. We know that this is very bad for the animal (unfortunately there are still some areas in Thailand where this activity is still very active as in Ayutthaya where tourists, mostly Asians, continue riding elephants...). Faced with the decline of this business for Thais, many sanctuaries have been opened with a more ethical image that promise not to ride elephants. In these sanctuaries tourists pay to feed the elephants and wash them but many of these places are also bad for the elephants. The owners just want to make a profit and fill the sanctuaries with the maximum amount of tourists they can. Imagine a poor elephant surrounded by dozens of tourists touching him and pretending to wash him... This is overwhelming and stress for the elephant. That's why Somboon Legacy is a Hands-off sanctuary, which means you can't touch elephants at any time. There are currently two female elephants, Malee and Kammoon, who each have their Mahout, that is, their caretaker. They are dedicated 100% to the welfare of elephants.
What do the volunteers do?
We arrived at the time they were building an elephant museum. With which our main mission was to help with this. From looking for information for the museum, to varnishing the museum's bamboo and even making organic paper with the elephant poop! The usual thing for volunteers is to help with social networks, contribute new ideas and lend a hand when there are tourist visits.
What is a volunteer day like?
This was our day to day: 8:30 a.m. breakfast, 9 a.m.-12 p.m. work, 12 p.m. lunch (you have to go mentally to eat rice every day and the food is spicy ...), 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. work, 3 p.m see the elephant bath, 4 p.m see how they feed them. There is no obligation in these last two points but it is so beautiful that you do not want to miss it! It is a joy to be able to cross the elephants in freedom at any time. Every morning they passed in front of our cabin, a show that I remember with a lot of love.
By chance we spent Valentine's day with the elephants, for me, it was the best way to celebrate love!
If you want to know more about the two elephants Malee & Kammoon, book a site visit, contact the team to volunteer, or just make a donation for the elefants, here is the foundation's website: www.somboonlegacy.org
For any questions you may have, you can contact me HERE.
After the 4L Trophy, my humanitarian mission in Ghana and my volunteering with elephants in Thailand I could not imagine better than this new mission in Myanmar. I think I will never get tired of traveling like this, I’m starting to wonder if I’m going to get tired of traveling like a simple tourist. Humanitarian missions are so much more enriching and allow you to get to know the country and culture in total immersion. It was via Workaway that we found the association MuditaFoundation which works in a school of Buddhist monks where nearly 3300 children go every day. The school, called Aung Myae Oo, is 100% free for children and is mainly funded by the donations made by tourists who come to visit the school every day. It is a Buddhist school, so the children all have their heads shaved, the girls and boys are differentiated by the color of their tunics: girls in pink and boys in burgundy. The school also has a boarding house where part of the orphaned children sleeps and another part who lives too far from the school to go back and forth every day. Buddhist children must follow a certain routine, they get up every morning at 5 am to go and collect the offering (donation, as they call it). At 6 p.m. every day, they go to pray to Buddha. This mission was a real personal enrichment, being able to share the daily life of these kids for two weeks was one of the most beautiful experiences of my trip to Asia (if not the most beautiful).
How to get to school?
The school is in Sagaing, a city full of monasteries, temples and pagodas. It is located 20 km from Mandalay, across the Irrawaddy River. We arrived there directly from Mandalay airport, there is a bus that goes to the center of Mandalay for 4000 kyats (about 2 € 50), we took this shuttle which dropped us off at mid- way then we took a touk touk for 6000 kyats (around 4 €) and dropped us off in front of the school.
What do volunteers do?
When we got to school, there were already a lot of volunteers (about fifteen), so we spent a week in kindergarten playing games and teaching English to 4-5-year old. The second week there were only 5 of us so we spent the whole week in the clinic where the volunteers are most useful because there is only one nurse for the whole school (I remember about 3,300 children in total). Children need regular care, as they shave their heads often, many of them have crusts or fungi that need to be treated. The little ones often have scratches or wounds which must be disinfected because there is a lot of dust and the wounds get infected quickly. If you never have any knowledge in health do not panic (I myself am not at all from this environment) but everything is very well explained and the nurse is always there in case of doubt (for communication it's not always easy but I used VOICETRA as an application for translation, better than Google Translate for Burmese).
What does a typical day look like?
Volunteers have their common space for sleeping, a room furnished with mattresses and mosquito nets where children like to come and play. In terms of toilets and bathroom, one and the same common place for all volunteers, so it gets complicated when there are a lot of volunteers… Here is an example of a typical day at school: 8 am-8.30am breakfast ; 9 am-11.15am work; 11:15 am-12:30pm lunch; 1 p.m. - 3:45 p.m. work; 4pm shower for the little ones (no obligation here because there are two people who are paid by the association to do so); 5.30-6 p.m. dinner; 6.30-7.30pm meditation (optional, but it's good to go there once to see how it goes). Just as I advise to test meditation once, I strongly advise go with the children at least once to the donation at 5 am, hard to get up so early but believe me it is worth it! And think that the children do it every day…
Best time to help?
Help from volunteers is welcome throughout the year, but more during the school period from June to early March. The summer holidays start at the beginning of March until the beginning of June, so during these three months (March, April and May), the clinic is closed and there are only children left who have no family to return and some teachers. Volunteers present during this period could teach English or do some activities.
I have made a small video in which I tried to summarize these two magnificent weeks but not easy to convey the feelings and emotions experienced in two minutes. Once again, I can only advise you to go on a humanitarian mission, anywhere in the world and to any cause that is close to your heart. If you have any questions about the experience at this school, I will be happy to answer you HERE.