Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

dreaded goodbyes

I’ve been home for a full week now. To be honest, I feel more homesick from Thailand than I ever did when I was actually in Thailand. I’ve been putting this post off…not wanting to write it, not wanting it to be over. However, my dad keeps reminding me every day that I need to put out this last one, so as I sit at this coffee bean here in America, I sadly type these last thoughts and last experiences that I had in that faraway land of Thailand…

Let’s start with DEPDC. DEPDC was where I first started, the majority of my experience was at this school, with all of the same sweet kids I saw the first day…waiting to be taught, anxious to learn. The first day I got back to DEPDC after my trip to Bali, I was anxious to see the kids. Being away for one week was harder than I thought. As I was walking up to the classroom, I could see them through the window before they could see me. I told Krystal I wanted to pop up from the outside of the window that is at the front of the class. It seemed like a fun thing to do…so, we did. Krystal and I got on our knees and crawled beneath the window and, at the same time, popped our heads up with huge smiles on our faces. I caught a glimpse of their faces before I ducked down again, they were so excited to see us and starting laughing and calling out “jaMIEE! krySSY!” We did it a couple more times until I thought I should let Lauren and Monasa get back to teaching their lesson. When I hopped through the window, I was greeted with the mass hug with dozens of arms wrapped around me.
 My last day of teaching was priceless. I got to co-teach with my better half, Krystal, and we had the best time. She’s the type of person that is just always on the same page as me. She knows when to jump in, she knows what I’m thinking and always knows how she should respond when I say something to her in front of the class. She has an enthusiasm and ambition that no one else does. She never slacks off and always stays on task, going above and beyond. Needless to say, our lessons went great. We taught them basic conversations. They did really great. Krystal and I did a little role play with standard greetings back and forth to each other and made ourselves look ridiculous while we did so, just to get the point across. Then we called up pairs of students to act it out like we had, I was amazed by how well some of them did. My favorite part is just seeing their proud faces once they realize that they can do it. I really think they surprise themselves sometimes. Another topic that we reviewed was emotions. You know, the “I am happy. I am sad. I am mad.”…etc. They seemed to get that down really well too. I enjoyed every minute of that class, not wanting it to end. But it flew by and, soon enough, it was time to dismiss them. I was pretty put together the whole time because I knew I could see them after lunch as they played on the playground.  However, I had to tell them it was my last day. I asked Hudson if he would tell them that I had to return home and today would be my last day there and my last day teaching. I watched all the kids’ faces as they listened to his words. He must have said the words because, all at once, they turned to look at me with sad faces. Within moments, they were all crowded around me and I was, once again, encompassed by their arms wrapped around me. One of the boys, a long time favorite (yes, I have favorites) looked up at me as his arms were squeezed around my waist and said, “Jamie. I am sad.” If only they knew how sad I was.
I still held it together pretty good and simply enjoyed all the hugs and embraced every single one of them. They all waved goodbye and then took off for lunch, my group and I did the same. After lunch, we had a meeting with one of the staff members so we returned to the school. After the meeting, I just sat and watched the kids play. As I sat there watching, the emotions started flooding. I didn’t want to leave, I wanted to stay with the kids. I wanted to be there as they progressed through schooling. How will I know, from another country, if they’re doing okay? What about all the other kids in the surrounding areas that don’t even have this opportunity to be at a school? The kids who get lured and sold to be trafficked throughout their childhood. I hated these thoughts. I already missed these kids and this place so much, yet I was right there. Tears started coming up. I tried to hide them. But Piyu, one of my favorite little girls from my class, saw me. She approached me and sat on my lap and put her hand on my shoulder. Of course, this only made me cry more. Then, she looked into my eyes and wiped away my tears with her little hands.
Driving away in the song taew from those DEPDC grounds was one of the hardest things that I have done. As we drove away, I stood out the back and held up my hands in the shape of a heart. Every set of hands went up in the air and made the heart in return.

And then there’s recovery school. The last week at Monsaengdao was so much fun. Wednesday we did a creativity project with them. First, we taught them some vocabulary pertaining to nature: tree, leaf, flower, petal, dirt, etc. We then played a game where we split the group in half and numbered them off, 1-15 on each side. They were in two lines facing each other. I set a few objects that they had learned in the middle of the two lines and would call out, “Seven. Flower.” Both girls who were number seven on each side, would have to run to the center, grab the flower, and bring it back to their side of the line without being tagged by the other girl. They LOVED this game. They were dying with laughter and became very competitive. And, they got all their vocabulary down perfectly. Then the creativity project, we had them walk around and collect material from nature. Then they made pictures out of the items they collected. And let me tell you, they are beyond creative. I was really excited about making a little picture of a sun…until I looked at their pictures and practically had to bury my own out of embarrassment. They are all so talented.
Thursday we had the opportunity to help them plant rice! Has anyone ever planted rice before? I never knew what a tedious and backbreaking task that this was. They had many rice fields and you are to insert the previously harvested blade of rice/grass into the thick, flooded, field…one by one. All day you are bent over, standing in mud and water, sticking your hand deep down in the mud, row after row. Luckily, I had a bunch of my team members come and help so we were able to get it all done in one day. But let’s be honest, it was the girls who speeded the process along. They are pros. We all had no idea what we were doing when we got there. Oh, and did I mention crabs? About a month ago, I saw a crab walking in the front of our house. Seeing as we’re hundreds of miles away from the nearest beach, I found this strange. Until I planted rice. There are crabs that roam through these fields! So, that was another thing to watch out for. The girls were much braver than us and captured them whenever we came across them, which was more frequent than I would have preferred.
let's be honest. we were clueless.
they're my favorite.
We spent the entire day there on Thursday. After we finished planting, I was simply able to hang out with them. I went into the forest and collected some bamboo shoot with them. Then I played ping pong and badminton. It’s funny how there is so little I can talk to them about, yet endless things to do. I enjoyed every minute.
Friday was hard. It was the last day. We were only able to have a brief lesson as I was rushed to get back home, finish packing, and hop on a bus to Bangkok that evening. Regardless, it was a good day. We taught them about families and also went over basic pronunciations. They are quick learners and always enjoy a new topic and learning the correct way to say things. They get so excited being able to communicate with me in any possible way…even if it is just, “How many brothers and sisters do you have?” I also left with a parting gift, a disc packed with Justin Bieber songs and the JB movie, 'Never Say Never'. They loved it. After the lesson, I decided we had to end with “a-tootie-tot” Are you guys familiar with this song? It’s the song where you sing and start doing ridiculous movements with your body to the point where you’re crouched down, have your head back, your elbows in, knees together, tongue out. We did this the first time and the girls went crazy. That’s what I love about these girls. They take every moment and find humor and happiness in it. They laughed just as hard the last time as they did the first time a few months ago.

The girls knew it was my last day, and I wanted to get a couple more pictures with them at the end of our lesson. But before we even got to that, the girls took me by surprise as the teacher told me that they had some gifts for me before I left. By some gifts, I mean that practically every single girl came up, one by one, and presented me with cards, bracelets, handmade scarves, even a cactus assembled carefully in a glass container with colored pebbles. I was so touched by their thoughtfulness. One of my favorite girls, Nam, became tearful as she gave me her gift. She started to cry and told me “I miss you, Jamie.” I gave her a big hug, while holding back my own tears. She then slipped a shell bracelet onto my wrist. As the girls tied around the bracelets on my wrist, they spoke to me while dave translated. They wished me a safe journey and happiness. The notes, written both in English and Thai, were filled with kind words of thanks. They expressed their appreciation, how much they would miss me, that they loved me, and they asked me to please, never forget them. How could I ever forget them? Or forget this experience? They are unforgettable. Everything about my experience here is completely unforgettable.
up to my elbow with love.

As I pulled away, in the pouring rain, I held out my hands in the shape of a heart. They all lifted their hands and shaped them in a heart towards me.

I rushed to the bus station, with not even a minute to spare. I tearfully said goodbye to the team members that remained. Krystal, Monasa, and Lauren sent me off with some Golden Flake cereal and soy milk for dinner, along with notes. It was probably a good thing that I was in such a hurry, or else I think I would have really lost it. But it was hard. As I got onto the bus, I crossed the aisle to see them as I pulled away, and that’s when it hit me. I just started bawling. But I didn’t let my tears get the best of me before I held my hands up in the shape of a heart towards them.

As I drove off, I read the notes from my friends. I read the notes from the girls at recovery school, and I looked at all my pictures of the kids at DEPDC. I couldn’t believe that three months had passed so quickly. And I couldn’t believe how much I cared for these kids, for all of the girls. I missed them so much already and I just wanted to stay with them, there in Thailand.

As I was thinking this, I remembered what Dave had told me earlier that day. As I was sadly saying goodbye to my girls, he whispered to me from behind, “Jamie, It seems like you need Thailand even more than Thailand needs you.”

I think he’s right. I truly feel like I have gained so much more than I gave. I have learned more than I taught. My heart has been filled, my eyes have been opened, and I have loved more than I ever knew was possible in the course of three months. This journey was nothing but priceless and unforgettable.

i can't thank you enough for your support. for the donations. for spreading awareness. 
for simply taking the time to read this...
this experience wouldn't have been possible without your help. these children and the girls at recovery school wouldn't have been taught and wouldn't have been helped without your help. thank you for making a difference in the lives of these kids. and thank you for giving me the opportunity to have this life-changing experience.
nothing but love.

Monday, July 25, 2011

bali && back

Once again, I have left too much time between the last blog post. Thus, making it simply impossible to remember all that has happened over the course of the past few weeks. But as always, I will do my best to recount those details that stand out most!

I don’t know how it’s possible to love these kids even more with each additional day that I go there, but somehow, I always leave that place with an even greater love for those sweet kids. Recently, we were finally able to teach in an actual classroom instead of in the gated area we usually teach where the kids feel free to run around instead of sitting in one spot, behind desks. But now, thanks to the help of another NGO, a classroom has been restored where we can now teach with desks for the kids to sit at on the floor. It’s amazing how much structure those pieces of wood have instilled in the classroom. The kids love the room. One thing that I’ve come to love about these kids, as well as the majority of Thai people, is there constant effort to keep their surroundings clean. Without ever being asked, these kids are constantly sweeping up the dirt and filth left behind to leave the floor clean. The students at DEPDC are always sweeping up the mess they have left behind; always in better condition than when they entered the room. They do this multiple times throughout the day in the classroom.
Along with the desks, we have also developed the infamous star chart. On the chart is each student’s name with a red/yellow card next to it. If they misbehave, we have the authority (so official, right?) to give them a yellow card, as a warning. If they continue to misbehave, we flip it to red. The students who go throughout the day without receiving a red card are able to put a sticker next to their name at the end of the day. Once they reach three stickers, they get a prize. The kids have come to love this. I must admit, though, it’s often hard giving out red cards to those sweet faces.
We have taught them so much already, and it’s amazing how well they retain all the information. Especially the songs we teach them. (Days of the week to the Adam’s Family tune is an all time fav, thanks to Coco) We have covered lessons on geography, transportation, directions, colors, days, months, occupations, family, the list goes on. I love reviewing what we’ve taught in the past at the beginning of each lesson.  They love showing what they remember and I think it’s a good confident boost for them to see how much progress they are making with each day.
even the girls loved playing american football w/ us:]

Recovery School
I love these girls. I love this school. I only wish I could speak more Thai.
These girls are so sweet. I admire each and everyone as they carry themselves so well, always with such a positive attitude; never without a smile. However, I wish more than anything that I could connect with them more. The language barrier that I’ve experienced since my arrival in May has, by far, been most difficult for me at this school because I so badly want to openly communicate with these girls. I want to talk with them and learn about their life, their concerns, their worries, their hopes, their future, but to be simply honest, I cannot. That has been really hard for me, and I try, instead, to focus on what I can do. I can teach them basic English. I can teach them how to make a bracelet, draw a picture, sing a song, play a game. Or what I’m especially good at, sing Justin Bieber with them.
Those things may seem so mundane, but I really have come to believe that these simple things are the things that can make a difference. I really feel like they have come to enjoy learning a little more. They enjoy working and gardening a little more. And doesn’t that enjoyment bring about a greater desire to continue working? Continue gaining an education?
We have been teaching our weekly English class and our weekly creativity class. We have also begun helping with anything else they may need a hand with: digging trenches, helping with construction, moving a huge pile of dirt one bucket at a time… My biggest goal with these girls and with this school is to be there, every day that I initially said that I would. Even if something comes up and the girls can’t come to class, I ask what we can do instead—what manual work do they need help with? Anything. And so, we really have been doing a little of everything around there. And I really think they love us just being there. The last week there was a holiday and the teacher told us that a good portion of the girls would be gone (some girls still do have a family that they are permitted to visit on special occasions) and, therefore, only some would be able to come to class. She told us that we didn’t need to teach. I replied by telling her that we would do whatever the girls wanted. I assumed the girls would want the day off and thought that we could help out with grounds work instead. To my surprise, when the teacher asked the girls if they wanted us to come the next morning for class, every single girl’s head nodded as they excitingly said, “yes!”.  And so we did.
their awesome lily pond serves as these girls' pool
every time they swim, without fail, they pick me one of those flowers

I love the schools I am working with and love their goals and aims to help these kids. DEPDC is such a great organization and is truly effective in their prevention against human trafficking. Monsaengdao school is amazing in their protection program, teaching these girls who have been victims of trafficking and abuse an alternative lifestyle as they gain an education and learn new life skills. They both help so much in improving these kids lives in all areas, and instilling a greater confidence in each one’s heart. I love this and I love that I am able to be a small part of all that they do.

But I still worry about all those who don’t have the opportunity to be a part of such organizations. The kids who don’t have an opportunity to go to school. Or the kids who haven’t been rescued and are still suffering from all forms of abuse and exploitation.
The other day, as I was doing some research, I randomly turned to look out the window and saw a truck packed with children. Literally, packed. I wondered what all these kids were doing as this was not a typical bus or car for school children or anything of the sort. My eyes fell to the words written on the truck, ‘Destiny Rescue.’ I immediately pulled up the website to learn about this organization. Only to find out that this organization goes into areas and brothels to rescue children being trafficked. My heart stopped and I just stared into the faces of these innocent children. I silently prayed for their safety and thanked God, from the bottom of my heart, that these kids were on the way to a better life.
Two minutes didn’t pass before I began composing an email to this organization, inquiring more, and thanking them for their effort in helping children like this.

And now, I selfishly end with my recent adventures. It’s scary to think that I am coming to my last weeks, my last days, here. I don’t want it to end. I’m not ready to leave. Had I been following my initial plans, I would be gone by now, for good. Traveling to other countries. But I wanted to prolong my stay here in Chiang Rai as long as possible and, instead, decided to take just a few days off (along with the days off I received from another Buddhist holiday) to spend a week in Bali, Indonesia. It was amazing. I loved it. And I’m completely satisfied with my decision to come back to Chiang Rai instead of traveling elsewhere. Because there was nothing better than coming back to this town and to my rock hard mat on the ground. And there will be nothing better than seeing my kid’s faces at DEPDC and Monsaengdao when I go to teach some of my last classes.

But for now, a little recap…
before leaving for bali, i was able to spend a few priceless days in phuket with these two wonderful people.
sonny & sharmila
i had the best time with them. they were far too kind to me. they let me stay w/ them at their nice hotel (i practically went into shock after showering in a bathroom that is separated from the toilet, with hot water-can you believe it?) and took me along on all their fun excursions they had planned on the island. we went to phi phi island, snorkeled, saw a monkey show, kissed an elephant, had italian food, played at the beach, and went to a cashew factory to fill up on endless samples of every different flavored cashew and dried fruit. sharmila & i indulged in the fresh fruit as we were never capable of passing up a fresh fruit stand anywhere we went.
words cannot express how much i love these two && how thankful i was to be able to meet them here in thailand. they have been so kind and loving to me throughout the years and also supported me so much when i told them i was planning on volunteering here this summer. it was one of my favorite weekends here, by far. can't wait to see them again when i get home.

ohh && did i mention harry potter?
yes, this is me. seeing harry potter. alone. in phuket. vip theater. after taking a taxi across town with some strange man requesting to be my 'thailand daddy'? long story...
all you need to know is that it was amazing. && to all you in america, keep in mind i saw it one whole day before you:]

and then comes bali...
padang padang. complete surfer town.
balangan bay
this was our hostel, directly on the beach. our floors where nothing but wood boards and our walls were weaved leaves. so sketch, but so fun.
and then to ubud!
monkey forest
our favorite hostel of all!
the rice fields built upon the hill of the mountains were indescribable
breakfast by batur volcano
me & my holland friends
biking ubud!
did you know poinsettias grow in bali, year round? it's like christmas all year long!
got rice?
lembongan island
which means diving, of course
manta point--where i saw giant manta rays :]
and then to sanur
and then we made our way back home to chiang rai on endless taxis, flights, and buses.
i had subway twice at the phuket airport while waiting for our next flight. it was a necessary fix.
krystal & i were unsure of if our bus would make it back to chiang rai as it stalled and stopped going up the hill.
once again. unable to pass up that fresh cold fruit.

happy to be back home in chiang rai!