After a long flight from Germany to Thailand, I finally arrived in Chiang Mai on the 5th of September, excited but nervous at the same time. I did not know what to expect, how the work would be in such a different country and how the students would behave, so I entered Freedom House on a Monday with mixed feelings and was surprised when Lisa, the director, came around the corner, with a big, friendly smile on her face! My first day at Freedom House was pretty much a day of orientation. Lisa tried to tell me and Rachel, another volunteer from California, all of the problems of the Shan State and the issues children and adults have to face there everyday.
A lot of this was completely new for me. I knew that Burma had a lot of social issues and that a lot of cruelty was going on there, but to hear that kids at the age of 12 finish school and the boys become soldiers, was really something I had never heard before. Furthermore, Lisa tried to tell us more about the students and their stories. It was really interesting to hear about all that, but it is a totally different experience when the kids and young adults finally arrive for class and you get to know them by yourself!
The younger kids are really energetic and behave like kids do, I really could not believe that they actually have a hard time living here. It was fun to watch them while they were playing and observe the English class for the first time. The young adults seemed to be a little bit shy at first, but also seemed really curious about learning English. After my first day I was pretty tired, but excited to think about working there for the next 3 months!
The first week was surprisingly long, but really good. Lisa told me about the fundraiser on the 26th of September and so for the last weeks Madz, a volunteer from Australia, Lisa and I prepared a lot of things for the event. I learned to fold little origami cranes (I’m still practicing!) and how to make earrings with them (I loved doing earrings!). I also made paper bags for selling nuts at the event and besides all this I learned how to prepare a class and got used to all the teaching materials at the school.
The first days I was pretty busy with the fundraiser and with helping to prepare English classes for the kids, but soon I was asked to teach the lower class young adults…
I started to talk to John, one of the English teachers, who is teaching the higher class adults and he explained to me what was important to keep in mind. So I started to plan everything for my class on Monday. I never taught before, so I was quite excited to see how it would go. My first lesson was good and I liked teaching a lot. The next weeks, I planned new activities for them and teaching got easier and easier with each lesson.
Even with teaching, I was even more excited to see how the fundraiser would be, as the date came closer and closer. We all prepared the last things for the fundraiser, for example some more masks (because the fundraiser was all about masks and what you connect with it).
By the time we did the last steps for Saturday evening, I got to know a lot of people. The whole time that I’ve been working at Freedom House, I’ve met a lot of people, from all over the world and all are very open and fun. Finally, Saturday came and Lisa, me and some other volunteers who offered their help went to the Jazz Club to set everything up and prepare the exhibition for the night.
The Fundraiser was a great success and it was so much fun. We sold a lot of earrings and masks, which the kids made. The live music was great and a lot of people showed up. Now, I cannot wait for the next fundraiser and while I am waiting I still enjoy preparing the classes, teaching and also enjoy the art classes on Friday and different workshops such as Yoga or learning how to paint landscapes.
Furthermore I really recommend the Free Bird Café. Some people might think that I can have every food and drink for free, because I am a volunteer, but I have to pay for it and I am totally fine with it, because as a non for profit school we really make sure that the donations are used carefully and all sales from the Cafe go to support the school. But anyway, I really love the food there (they have organic food!) and all the smoothies (my favorite one is “black and white”).
I am so happy I came to Chaing Mai, Thailand and absolutely love the decision I made to work here! It is really a great place to be and apart from work also a lot of fun! I will see how the next weeks are going…