The Hardest Part

Teh Iman (Mai)

ICL camp@RPK24 Phayao, Thailand 1-29 July 2022

People say that the first step is always the hardest, scariest. Have no expectations, come with an open mind, and you will be fine. So, that was exactly what I did. I packed my bags and came to Thailand with nothing on my mind. All I had was the desire to finish everything up nicely and go back. Trust me, I know how horrible I’m sounding right now but I swear the story only gets better.

First day in Bangkok, immigration is already giving my friend, Eisma and I a hard time. The language barrier between the immigration officer and us made it so complicated for us to do such simple things that we had to resort to using some sort of hand signs and short English phrases. To be fair, it was partially my fault for not being more prepared and learn more Thai for my own good. Then, we arrived in Chiang Rai where I lost both my luggage. Long story short, I got both my bags back after plenty of phone calls with a really friendly staff of the airline I flew with, and a lot of patience. Personally, I think that I had a rather rough start to my time in Thailand but that was really the least of my concerns. I was more worried as to what I can offer to the children of the school I was volunteering for and whether I would be able to adapt to their environment.

We were greeted with friendly faces who introduced themselves as the teachers of the school as we arrived in Rajaprajanugroh 24 School. They were very warm in taking us in and had prepared everything so thoroughly for our one month stay. Everything was taken care of and the teachers are all so friendly as they kept on making sure that we were comfortable given that we were so far away from home. I remember thinking that this was the start to our little one-month adventure in Thailand as English teachers to more than a hundred students of Rajaprajanugroh 24 School and it could not have been any better.

We met our team leader for the first time, Joy and she is really the sweetest person you could ever imagine. Joy was more like our friend which really helped in making it easier to talk to her if ever any problem arises (like the lost luggage) or just in general. I feel like we could not have gotten to this point where we are now at the end of this project if it was not Joy that led us which proves just how much of an amazing person she is as both a leader and a friend. It was also where all of us volunteers properly introduced ourselves to one another and were paired as teachers with our co-teachers from the school itself.

After all the waiting, it was finally our first day of teaching the kids. I was paired up with Oliver and we taught English classes along with Teacher Jae according to her timetable for more than a week. To be honest, I do think that our timing was a bit off. There was a tad too many holidays during the month that we were volunteering which was a bit sad and felt a little wasteful. Nonetheless, every day was as interesting and we learnt something new every single time. We taught kids around the age of 12 to 13 and needless to say, they were absolutely wonderful. On the other hand, on the days that we were not teaching, we were either brought out of the school to see the beauty of Thailand or stayed inside the school and spent more time playing with the kids. If I think about it again, maybe it was not as wasteful as I have thought it may be. Maybe I was just greedy to be in the classroom in front of the kids teaching, and learning together with them. Perhaps, greedy for more time with the kids.

From the classroom, to doing the ‘tuktuk dance’ on stage, to joining their dance activities, to painting in their dormitories, to making turmeric soap and having balloon fights among other great activities with the kids. All of which are things that I wish to never forget even if it meant that I have to replay it again and again in my mind just so I could remember it like it was just yesterday. The children are literally walking angels. I have never seen such beautiful kids and I really wish to never forget them, even after 20 years from now or even when I’m really old. They have changed my mind on volunteering in schools forever and I am forever in debt to them.

One month has never felt so short. The time I had and spent with the people I met during this project felt like it was flying so fast that I could barely grasp that I was meant to be leaving the school today, on the 29th of July. As I am typing this on my way back home, it still feels like I will be coming back to the school the next day. I do not think that I will ever forget this project and the people I have met on this project. A big thank you to all the other volunteers, Libby, Hannah, Meg, Lily, Hac, Henry, Ruby, Ayesha, Brooke, Eisma and Oliver for making this such an amazing memory of which I promise to always remember and cherish. Thank you again to Joy and Tum who had been there for us along the time of the project

Talking from experience, I can tell you this. The hardest part is not and never the first step. It is the last step of which we have to let go. It is leaving when you are fully attached to the people that you were meant to leave. As heart breaking as it may sound, it is only the truth. However, endings only bring to new beginnings and I am absolutely sure that this is not the last I see of the people I met on this project. Be it the children, the volunteers or even Joy (and Tum, can’t leave my man Tum out, you know?). I have faith that we will meet again someday and until that day comes, I will replay these memories in my mind over and over and over again