Disadvantages nothing major
|Value for Money|
|Ease of getting around|
I decided that for some of the summer I wanted to go abroad somewhere and do some volunteering. After some deliberation I decided upon going to Thailand (I’m still not entirely sure why, I just felt like going there). After I had decided upon my destination I then began trawling through various websites in an effort to find a volunteer organisation that was at a reasonable price (couldn’t believe it when I first saw that you actually have to pay to volunteer) but also seemed like a decent company to go with, especially as I was going alone. Friends for Asia looked good and although I could find very few reviews on it, they were generally very good reviews.
Friends for Asia is a relatively small volunteer organisation that operates projects in two key locations in Thailand – Surat Thani and Chiang Mai. Projects are also offered in other countries – Bali, Nepal and Vietnam. I am not sure of exactly when this organisation was set up but it seems to be relatively new – possibly from around 2008. The director is an American who has lived in Chiang Mai for many years and was a peace corps volunteer in Kyrgyzstan. He works as a full time teacher but is still often found in the office most days if needed. All projects have a co-ordinator and almost all staff are bi-lingual (all staff are Thai locals).
Friends for Asia run various projects in Thailand in both Surat Thani and Chiang Mai. I have briefly listed them below with starting prices:English Education – minimum 2 weeks at $695 (additional weeks at $100 per week)
Volunteering in an orphanage - $895 for 2 weeks (at the start of each month) onlyVolunteer in children’s home – minimum 2 weeks at $695 (additional weeks at $100 per week)
Teaching monks – minimum 2 weeks at $695 (additional weeks at $100 per week)Volunteer in an elephant camp – minimum 2 weeks at $1295 (additional weeks at $300 per week)
Medical internship – minimum 2 weeks at $995 (additional weeks at $200 per week)These were the most popular although there are a few other projects. See http://www.volunteerthailand.org/projects/ if you would like to know more.
I have to admit I was mildly horrified when I first started to look into volunteering abroad and realised that I had to pay – I was giving up my free time and having to pay to get there etc, was that not enough? But as I looked into it some more it began to make sense – these organisations employ people and use resources – all of which cost money. That being said, some prices I saw advertised from some other organisations were just insane and I really couldn’t understand how they could justify charging such prices – some at around £2000 pounds for a month. Mine was far more reasonable and with the conversion rate of dollars to pounds I estimate for four weeks the volunteer fee was around £600 – far better than most other companies I had looked at.For this price the following is included (for all projects) :
This leaves a potential volunteer to fork out for the following: air travel, travel insurance, getting to the airport after service, spends for meals/excursions etc.
A deposit is needed to secure your place with the remainder of the balance needed to be paid fully one month before your project starts. All money is paid via the website using paypal – or alternatively Friends for Asia will give their bank details so that you can do a bank transfer. I used paypal to pay and found it to be hassle free and very secure.
To apply for a project with Friends for Asia is very simple. There is a form on the website which is fairly brief – basic details, which project you want to apply for (with other choices if yours is not available), why you want to do the project, and another box if you have any other questions or comments to add. I filled this form out one evening and had a response the next day which asked me to arrange a suitable time for a phone interview. This was slightly tricky as Thailand are 6 hours ahead, but was manageable. During the phone interview Todd probed me on what I had written in my application to give more detailed information and asked me more about what I expected to gain from the project, and what it would gain from me. I found this interview reassuring as I think if people sound really unsuitable on the phone then they probably can’t participate in the projects. Following the phone interview it was confirmed that I had a place on my project should I want it and that I needed to pay the $295 deposit to secure it. Following paying my deposit I received vast amounts of information in the form of email attachments, and needed to send a cv that contained any relevant information that related to teaching/working with children. The whole process was incredibly easy and I felt very secure the whole time that Friends for Asia was very well organised and reliable.
Before I left I was fully informed about everything. I am a very questioning person and like to ensure I am fully prepared so this was brilliant. Before I left I was in regular contact with Todd (the director) who sent me large amounts of information regarding my particular project in addition to general notes about volunteering (e.g. what you need such as visas) and the culture of Thailand. Although this information was incredibly comprehensive and extensive, me being me, I often found I had more questions. I frequently asked Toff questions and always received quick responses that didn’t make me feel like I was pestering him. Due to my project requiring me to work with children I needed to show proof of a CRB which I thought was fantastic. In my opinion this showed that they were more interested in the safety of children rather than just my money.
Part of the fee I paid was for airport pick up. After a very long trip to get to Chiang Mai I was relieved to see that my luggage was first on the carousel so I could get out as quick as possible. As soon as I left with my luggage I saw a member of staff with my name on a card. She took me to the waiting jeep? (not sure what to call it but I’m going to go with a jeep) which had a couple of others in it already. It was a short drive to the volunteer house but it was reassuring to know that I was now in the capable hands of Friends for Asia.
The volunteer house is situated just around the corner from the office of Friends for Asia, and is located in the older part of Chiang Mai with the centre a very short walk away. I was very glad to get to the house as I was desperate for a shower and some sleep. The house is what I would describe as basic but clean, but does have everything that you need. There are 6 rooms in the house if I remember correctly with varying numbers of beds in each room. Rooms have 2,3,4 or 6 beds, with all rooms having air conditioning. Some also had fans and balconies. All rooms have a basic bathroom attached. Most rooms have bunk beds in, and I have to say I was a little disappointed on arrival to see I had been assigned the top bunk. The beds weren’t the most comfortable things but I wasn’t there to live a life of luxury! The cleaner came at least 2 or 3 times a week to clean the house and the fridge and shelves were always well stocked with food for snacks and for breakfasts. The house comprised of the various bedrooms over 4 floors, a kitchen with a washing machine and some cooking facilities, and a living room with sofas, a large table and a tv in. I found the house to be very safe (everyone has a key to the house, and the door automatically shuts when locked) and comfortable during the time I stayed. It truly felt like ‘home’. There were a couple of problems however – the toilet in our room must have blocked at least 3 times for no apparent reason (we didn’t flush any toilet paper as we had been advised not to) but this was fixed relatively quickly which was handy as we were on the top floor! At one point somebody flushing a toilet caused some flooding going through the ceiling underneath resulting in some volunteer temporarily moving into the rooms above the office. Again this was at least in the process of being fixed relatively quickly. We also had some house ‘pets’ - a rat, a mouse, a cute lizard, and often cockroaches (eugh). Overall I was very satisfied with staying in the house.
Some of the fee went towards the orientation activities that were provided the first weekend (all volunteers should arrive on a Friday to begin orientation on the Saturday). In a way this was fantastic as a chance to get to know everyone/learn more about Chiang Mai, but if you weren’t staying for long then it could be a little annoying as that weekend could be spent doing other things. Personally I wouldn’t recommend staying for any less than 4 weeks as I think it is just not long enough. The orientation consisted of some Thai lessons, general information about Thailand (e.g. how the Thais ‘wai’ each other), and some more detail about individual projects. We were then taken around the significant temples before being taken to some beautiful waterfalls. The following day we were shown around the Chinese market and were given various things to try – including crickets (gross). In the evening we were driven to a restaurant to have a traditional Thai meal and see some traditional Thai entertainment. Overall I think the orientation was very useful as a time for us all to bond but I found some of it to go on for too long, and the information about the projects not detailed enough for my liking. We were given a map at this stage and had notes of the Thai we had learnt which was very useful.
I only did one project here (but you can combine and do more than one) so can only really comment on my own. Having said this everyone else seemed satisfied with theirs, and where they weren’t this was soon rectified. I knew prior to leaving which school I was in and on my first day was told that I was going to be in grade 5. The staff took me to the school on the first day and introduced me to all of the relevant people who were all very nice and friendly. Personally I think how you feel about a project is only partially down to the project itself and is actually more to do with the expectations that you have. I tried to have very little in the way of expectations but at first I was slightly disappointed that I wasn’t doing more teaching on my own which I guess I had kind of expected to do. I didn’t enjoy the first two weeks as much as I would have liked but in my third week I had the children all on my own which I absolutely loved. The fourth week was also brilliant and the teacher they had put me with was lovely. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my project and feel like I have actually made a small difference to quite a lot of Thai children. I was really sad to say goodbye to all of the children and would whole heartedly recommend this particular project. Other volunteers in my house were doing various other projects – elephant camp, medical intern, teaching monks and helping in a care home – all of which have also commented on how good their projects have been. The medical internship is probably not a good idea for anyone expecting lots of hands on work – it is more about shadowing a doctor.
After completion all volunteers are required to attend a close of service interview, which is actually nothing like an interview whatsoever. On the Friday when finished, volunteers go and speak to Todd about their experience. He asks basic questions such as did the project meet expectations, how was the house, what could be done in future to improve things. This was handy as it allowed all volunteers to help further improve the programs in the future.
Throughout my time in Chiang Mai all members of staff were incredibly friendly, polite and helpful. It was never too much trouble for them to help you if needed. They were always happy for you to pop into the office if you ever needed a chat and arranged taxis to go back to the airport if required.
Overall I am beyond impressed with this organisation. It was a little scary going so far away on my own so I needed to feel reassured that on the other end everything would be ok. I had an absolutely fantastic experience in Thailand which I feel I would not have had as much was it not for Friends for Asia. It is an incredibly well run organisation which seems to really care about the volunteers and who they are helping. I think that the value for money was also fantastic considering how much other companies charge for the same kind of things. I don’t think that I can recommend Friends for Asia highly enough and would definitely not hesitate to use them again if I want to volunteer in Nepal, Bali, Vietnam, or even Thailand again. Just brilliant.Thanks for reading.
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