Back in my volunteer day...
Upon arriving to work with the GVI Phang Nga team, new staff members are generally set one or two weeks as a volunteer before signing their contract. This gives them insight into what it’s like to be on the other side and what the volunteer experience is all about. Here, two of our current staff members reminisce about their first days as volunteers:
Arriving in Thailand, the first thing that strikes you are the vivid colours and immense heat. Especially if you’ve just travelled from a grey Irish winter. I made the journey from County Kerry in the southwest of Ireland to beautiful Phang Nga in Thailand to join the GVI conservation field staff; but first, I must experience a week in the life of a volunteer!
Upon arriving at the quaint little seaside village of Baan Nam Khem, I was immediately greeted by the friendly staff and volunteers at GVI base. Once I was settled in and all the introductions were made, it was time for the health and safety seminars and emergency action procedures, followed of course by some unimaginably delicious and authentic Thai cuisine! My first full day involved training in the field identification of birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates; as well as procedures for recording data in the field and subsequent data entry.
Tuesday morning we awoke before dawn to catch a longtail boat over to Koh Kho Khao, a nearby island where we watched the sun creep over the trees as we completed a bird identification survey. The afternoons can often be too hot for field work so we seek solace in the shade and get stuck into data work; entering shark sightings from local dive shops into Shark Guardian’s eShark website and recording and identifying our own sightings into our database.
Midweek it’s turtle time, and we visit two nearby sanctuaries where we help clean the turtles and their tanks. Cleaning the tanks can be very physical work- and the larger turtles can be surprisingly strong!- but it’s incredibly rewarding when you see what a difference you’ve made and how much happier the turtles seem in their squeaky clean enclosures! (Even if we’re left a little on the filthy side for all our efforts!)
Thursday morning we participated in a beach clean, helping to restore some of Thailand’s most beautiful beaches to their pristine natural state by removing styrofoam, plastic bags, light bulbs, lighters and oh so many abandoned flip flops from the sandy shore. We then had lots of fun engaging in a little afternoon swim to harvest seaweed to supplement the turtles’ diet of pellets, and even more fun watching them appreciatively munching on a natural snack! In the evening, the conservation volunteers were given the opportunity to visit the local orphanage- another GVI partner frequently visited by the Community Project- and we were overwhelmed by the energy and enthusiasm of the kids! Two hours flew by in a haze of laughter and play until we were left exhausted and ready for sleep! Who needs the gym when there are dozens of kids to be played with??
By the time Friday morning rolled around, the conservation, healthcare and community volunteers banded together for our group project and we all worked together to finish painting a mural at the CDC- a local learning centre for Burmese kids- and to continue perfecting our own garden at the volunteer house. As a large number of the current volunteers were leaving that weekend, an obligatory trip to the beach was in order, followed by a farewell dinner in nearby Bang Niang. Saturday I accompanied the departing volunteers on their drop-off to Phuket and was amazed that even after one short week, I was sad to see so many of them go! But every cloud has a silver lining, and as one group of volunteers left, another group arrived and we all set off together, eagerly anticipating another action-packed week at the Baan Nam Khem base.
Leanne Doran (Ireland), Groups Coordinator
Sonkran – Thai New Year. My first time in Thailand what an amazing week of cultural celebration! Locals and tourists join in what can only be described as a mass water fight, coming together on the streets with buckets, water pistols, hosepipes and anything that can expel water. Water, that I may add, comes in all temperatures and colours, alongside clay of many colours that is rubbed onto your cheeks and foreheads. (The water represents washing away the bad or any sins of the past year and cleansing oneself for the New Year ahead, the chalk is a symbolic blessing used by the monks).
So here I am on my first day preparing myself to have a bit of a water fight, oh how naive I was. We first drove around the local town of Ban Naam Khem where families would throw buckets of water at us whilst we are sat at the back of the Song-tow: taking great pleasure from the screams coming from the staff and volunteers as ice cold water gets thrown over us. After six energetic hours of water fighting and not a single dry part left on any of us we finished the day off with smiles on our faces.
My teachings have begun… I spent the afternoon learning about the local wildlife that will be found and recorded from the rainforests. Not only have I learnt about the local birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and turtles but also the extent of the biodiversity in Thailand.
The following days are a mixture of training and occasional outings to the national park beach cleans. From previous experience of beach cleans, it is surprising the amount of strange and unexplained items that are collected a mixture from lightbulbs to flip flops and clothing!
One thing that has struck me more than probably anything else up to now is the kindness, unconditional respect and support from the local community. Walking around the town results in smiles, hellos (sa-wad-dee-ka), high fives from the children and complete support and open arms. Anything that you need they will do the best they can to help you out; it’s the most motivating and welcoming feeling.
We started the week off with an energetic biodiversity survey hike through one of the National Parks (Ton Prai). How lucky and overwhelmed I felt by the end of the walk, not only from the amazing environment I can now call my office but the new friends I have made and ones I have yet to make.
My afternoon involved preparing a lesson plan for the similan national park rangers for their English lesson. This is the first time I have carried out such a task and after observing the lesson the next day I feel it went well. It’s a very satisfying job to watch the improvement of the students, especially when I have worked first hand towards the planning and running of the teaching.
First week of becoming an official staff member, this has to be my favourite week so far. This week has consisted of our normal timetable of forest biodiversity surveys, teaching, beach clean, turtle cleaning and data input. Alongside our standard week we have also had extra project work for the volunteer base, as earth day was on this 22nd April we decided to do some work in our garden and plant some new plants. The conservation team got stuck in greatly by painting the outside kitchen walls and planting plants alongside the footpath. Everyone has got involved and put their ideas in place, it’s always nice to put your mark on somewhere and make a difference, no matter how big or small. All the work that has been carried out over the past few days will be at GVI Phang Nga base for years to come and something that many volunteers to come can appreciate.
My week is finished off by dropping three of our long term volunteers at the airport and picking up 6 new volunteers! This is something that is definitely going to be one that I will never get used to. The environment on base is very much a family community, as time goes on; everyone has their unique qualities, roles and personalities. It is very difficult to see these volunteers leave who you have bonded with and friendships have built over time. It’s always exciting to meet new people, find out people’s nationalities, backgrounds, passions and dreams, make new friendships for the future, friendships that last forever. I speak as a past GVI volunteer who completed my programme over 4 years ago and am still so close to many of the other volunteers that were on my programme. Now I am looking in as a member of staff and I can tell this is going to be a period in my life where friendships will build and continue for years to come.
Hayley Juniper (England), Conservation Field Staff
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