VOLUNTEER IN THAILAND By Yuka Sato
I participated in the volunteer program in Thailand for about two months (1/4~24/5). In this program, I lived in the folklore museum at Yo Island in Songkhla district and helped the work of the museum. I sometimes visited to the local university and primary school and I interacted with students. That was the first time I stayed in a foreign country for such a long time, so there were some difficulties. But I could learn many things about Thailand.
Folklore museum in Yo Island
My work was studying about the collections in the museum and making a Japanese instructions. I also made English sentences which are same content as Japanese instructions. I used unfamiliar words for explaining the collections, so works were very hard for me. But I could learn about the folklore culture in Southern Thai deeply.
The museum was closed every Tuesday and the staffs cleaned the museum. We tidied up the garden and sometimes I repaired the collections. It was rare experience that I could do the work unique to the museum staffs.
My accommodation was the guestroom in the museum. My room had so nice view of the Songkhla Lake and the houses on the lake. In addition, I could observe the plants, fruits and insects peculiar to Southern Thai in the museum site. I went to many places in Songkhla district through my staying in Thailand but I had never seen more beautiful place than the museum in Yo Island.
I had an opportunity of participating in Songkran Festival which represented Thai culture only two weeks after I came to Thailand. Songkran is the Thai New Year’s festival. Thai New Year’s Day is 13 April, but the holiday period includes 14-15 April as well. It is known as ‘‘Splashing water festival’’ in the world nowadays and the young Thai people and many foreigners splash the water each other in downtown. But the Songkran originally means a prayer for water’s blessings and rich harvest. Songkran is on the Hottest season and it was a traditional custom for Thai people to pour water on Buddhist image or hands of elders and take players or congratulations of New Year’s Day.
The traditional Songkran ceremony was held in the museum on 11 Apr. A lot of the local people gathered in the museum. After they were blessed by the monks, they said the New Year’s greetings with the elderly people. Furthermore, “Nora” which is the classical theater and originated in Southern Thai was performance. Songkran festival is known as only splashing water festival among the world today, but I could see many beautiful folklore culture such as the way of thinking about respect toward elderly people, strong faith in Buddhism and folk dance by the dancers wearing gorgeous dress.
Buddhism in Thailand
Most of Thai people believe in Theravada Buddhism and it is much different from Mahayana Buddhism in Japan. Theravada Buddhism has more strict precepts, so I think Thai people has more strong faith in Buddhism. When I was getting on the local bus and we passed in front of the Buddhist image, I saw people put their hands together and pray. And more, women must not touch monks because doing that disturb the ascetic practices of the monks.
I participated in the funeral of a relative of the museum staff on 1st May. Around 30 monks came to the funeral and chanted sutra. Then, many of participants also recited sutra. That sight is unbelievable for Japanese. We can invite only 2 or 3 monks to the funeral at most in Japan because we should pay a large amount of money to monks. In addition, almost Japanese people can’t recite sutra without books, so in general monks give the participants the sutra book.
I visited to the ceremony that young monks officially became a Buddhist priest on 21st May. In Thailand, young monks help adult monks as apprentice monks. When the young monks become 20 years old, they participate in the ceremony and become adult monks. Therefore, this ceremony also plays role as a coming-of-age ceremony. For the ceremony, many relatives and acquaintances came to the temple. After an elder monk preached to young monks, they received Buddhist priest’s sash and the ceremony finished. That ceremony was also a traditional custom unique to Thailand, so I was very interested.
Pattani Kingdom which was a Muslim state existed in deep-south of Thai such as Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat province and a part of Songkhla province in past. For that reason, 80% of the population believe in Islamic and speak Malay language. A part of them became radical. After 2004, there were more than 16,000 acts of terrorism and more than 6,700 people were killed. In actually, there were 3~4 acts of terrorism a month during my staying in Thailand. Furthermore, there was a large scale terrorism in Pattani province on 9th May and more than 60 people were injured.
In the beginning when I came to Thailand, I didn’t know about those tragic incidents in “Land of Smile.” I knew about that a month later and I became scared to live in Thailand. When I used bus or go to the place where there were many people such as departments and markets, I was very careful. Of course, I have Muslim friends who are very kind. But, when I see Muslim people in the town, sometimes I’m worry about terrorisms.
On 21st May, my leaving day from Thailand is approaching. The concert was held in the museum on the last Sunday. Many audience gathered to the museum and the concert started at 6 p.m. The band which has 7 members includes a keyboard and a sax player performed music for 3 hours. In the middle stage, five Muslim men appeared and sang songs in Malay language. Those songs were so wonderful and removed my fear. Many of Buddhism people and Muslim people respect their culture each other and live in harmony, while a part of Muslim people attacked other people. I am very sorry that the terrorisms keep beautiful cultures in deep-south of Thailand away from Buddhist people and make Buddhist people deepen their skepticism for Islamic people.