Phrao, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Having been at Warm Heart for one month now, I have finally established my projects and learned a lot about my surroundings. My title here is a fundraising and public relations volunteer. During the first couple weeks I did a lot of brainstorming, planning and organizing, trying to figure out what my place would be here and how I would be of benefit. I had a lot of ideas and plans struck down with unexpected projects thrown at me, which constantly redefined my purpose here and made me think hard about what my projects would be. It turns out that my ideas like implementing a brand new annually-based fundraising system and my several suggestions for the website and social media pages were not a priority to the staff and were too complicated to take on for an organization that is too busy worrying about their current projects, much less taking on new ones.
By the second week, I had a good grasp on what the organization needed and began jumping in. Sometimes I consulted, other times I just hoped I wasn’t crossing boundaries. Turns out, there’s not much crossing boundaries you can do here as anything is better than nothing. My first big duty I took on was social media. I began to act as the primary handler of the Warm Heart Worldwide Facebook page as well as the Instagram account. At first, I was extremely conscious of what I was posting and was worried what the marketing director would think of my posts but quickly learned that she had left it in my hands because she trusted me. I began posting 3-5 times a week on each account, taking requests, but mostly just posting what I thought was most relative, urgent or engaging. So far, both accounts seem to be doing really well and I am having fun being the voice of Warm Heart online.
I also learned about the need for help on the Sponsor A Child program sine 11 new kids have been added to the Children’s Home this year, all without sponsors. Not only were photos and updated bios needed for the older kids who do have sponsors, but more importantly photos and bios needed to be taken and written for the new kids who need sponsors asap. Because my main purpose coming here was to fundraise and because James takes photographs, this has become our main project. It hasn’t always been exciting or eye-opening as it often requires the tedious tasks of organizing folders online, sorting through pictures and gathering information about the children, but the necessity of it makes it valuable and worth-while to me. Not to mention, I’ve gotten to know the kids REALLY well. To spice things up, James and I began working on a social media campaign to promote the program. He has been designing the graphics and I brainstormed the slogan and message while also gathering photographs and bios to share. I am extremely excited to launch it as it will be a visual product of what we’ve been working on.
Aside from the work I do in the office during weekdays, I have also occupied a lot of time with random visits to local events and errands with other volunteers. Because everything works on a last-minute schedule here, there have been several days when the other volunteers and I come into the office to hear there is something like a village’s festival, Buddhist house blessing or lunch at a police station we’re invited to. These outings keep things exciting and spontaneous, which I love. I personally go nearly all the time since I find those kind of visits to be great material for social media and a wonderful insight into the local culture.
I also have taken on many English classes at the Warm Heart campus, the local subdistrict offices and a restaurant in nearby Phrao, where a children’s class is hosted. While I expected to teach English a couple hours per week before arriving, I have found my teaching schedule to be very scattered and sometimes hard to keep up with. When I first arrived, I hadn’t been assigned to any classes so I began accompanying other volunteers to theirs and quickly picked up on teaching. Although it can sometimes be challenging to figure out what to teach, since there is a large range of skill levels, I enjoy giving both local adults and children the opportunity to learn English. I myself took my language classes for granted when I was in school and regret not putting more effort into learning a second language so it brings me joy to see Thai people eagerly wanting to learn my language. While my first class was an adult class at the subdistrict offices, I soon tried out the children’s class which I enjoyed more so I started making that a regular commitment. Since then, I have also taken on English lessons with the new children’s house manager, Surapee. She treats me like a granddaughter, always making me dessert and bringing me back fruit when she goes to the market. Every week day we try to meet and practice conversation and vocabulary. She is fairly advanced but still struggles with casual conversation so when she asked me to help her, I was happy to do so.
The children at Warm Heart know basic conversation and words but many of them don’t feel confident enough with their English to have in-depth conversations with volunteers. Lately it has become a campus-wide goal to get them practicing more and setting them up for success with the English language. While I already have several English classes to take up a chunk of my time each week, it looks like I’ll be beginning even more. With a large number of American volunteers this summer, there is a great opportunity for the children to practice and improve at English. Hopefully we can make some kind of impact and not only help them, but also make them want to learn.
Besides the projects and teaching, I have found great friendships and adventure here at Warm Heart. Although many of the other volunteers are also American, we all have very different personalities but get along well which adds a cool dynamic to our experience. Since we all enjoy each other, we’re always hanging out during free time. On weekends, we take trips to surrounding towns and waterfalls, and also make time for dinners out when we feel like changing up the routine. Adventuring with them has made my volunteer experience so far more than I could have expected. Of course I have learned a lot about Warm Heart and the Phrao valley region I am living in, but I have also learned a lot about other areas of Northern Thailand I once did’t even know existed. The region of Northern Thailand is filled with many possibilities and to be able to learn about it through service and in such an intimate way, has been a true privilege. I am looking forward to growing my projects throughout the rest of my summer here and hoping to make a lasting impact on an organization that definitely deserves the efforts.