What I Learnt as a Volunteer at a Thai Orphanage
Christina Qvam volunteered as an English teacher and Nursery Assistant at Pattaya Orphanage for a month in 2014. Here she shares her experience of working with some of Thailand’s more fortunate vulnerable children.
I lost both of my parents at a young age. This happens to many children all over the world. I was lucky. I grew up in a safe and supportive environment. Not all orphans are as fortunate as I have been…
I was taken in by my grandparents and grew up in Norway. I was given a second chance to have a childhood, to grow up to follow my dreams. These dreams included helping to provide children around the world with the same chances that I was given.
During my gap year I travelled to Thailand; one of the world’s most popular travel destinations - tropical beaches, idyllic islands and clear waters. This is just one side to one of Asia’s pearls. I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at the Pattaya Orphanage for my first day as a volunteer. What conditions would I see? What state would the children be in? There were so many unknowns.
Now, I can happily assure you that the Pattaya Orphanage and the NGOs it works with make sure that the children they take in are very well cared for. They are healthy, clean, happy and bright characters. Inspired children. The joy in their eyes as they did well in class or the outstretched arms as they ran towards me, seeking comfort or sharing their affection, will sit with me forever. I’m humbled to have been a part of their teaching team; teaching them both academic and valuable life lessons. The children may not know of life outside of the orphanage, but you can be sure that they have been given a great alternative to what could have been.
Toys are shared and food is received on a charitable basis at the Orphanage. The children are taught to function as a community and to value the privileges that the western world often takes for granted. What the Pattaya Orphanage does is inspiring and the same can be said for the organisations they work with such as the Human Help Network Foundation in Thailand and their Children’s Development and Protection Centre.
They keep children safe from the street. They give them love. They give them the chance to be children, but they also prepare and provide them with a future. Street children are taught street safety so they can survive. It was an honour to be a part of this structured environment provided for the children who, without such organisations and their support system, would be left to survive alone.
The safe and comfortable environment of Pattaya Orphanage can make it easy to overlook the true situation in Thailand. If you look closer, beyond the safety of Pattaya’s NGOs, you’ll see evidence of what happens to several thousand children who have fallen out of the system; violence, child labour, trafficking, abuse. Take a stroll along Pattaya Beachfront or have a closer examination of a street child’s back, legs and arms with the emergency medical unit and you will understand. The sex industry is very much alive in Pattaya; the transaction can happen right before you. It’s incredibly difficult not to feel anger towards the ignorant tourists that fuel Pattaya’s sex industry.
One day, one of the children that organisations such as Pattaya Orphanage don’t manage to save (potentially numbering many thousands) may be in the place of the woman or boy being taken to a hotel for a night of “pleasure”. Children are trafficked into Thailand for money; uneducated and forced to spend the rest of their lives in a way that will break them down psychologically and physically. Tourists may not realise that they are feeding a life of torture, pain and humiliation.
Yes, it’s easy to fall blind to the charms of Thailand. Whether you are holidaying or volunteering, it’s important to see further; behind the ocean waves, the glittering temples and the bustling markets. You’re coming to a place where there is still so much to be done to help and where it costs so little to do so.
Don’t know where to start? It starts with the children’s organisations and the people within them. The children would not be safe without them. Lives are saved, right before your eyes. The world becomes a little brighter. That’s how you can help. That’s what I experienced as a volunteer at Pattaya Orphanage.
You can read more about Christina’s experiences in Thailand in the archive of her blog.
Written by Thai Children's Trust