On Christmas Day, I made my way to Chiang Mai, Thailand to begin my volunteering adventure vacation. COSA is the organization I decided to become involved with and, after going through the application process, was approved to spend 5 weeks of my winter vacation volunteering at Baan Yuu Suk, their first and primary shelter. [A new location, Baan Yuu Suk 2, is scheduled to open later in the year.] Because of the holiday season, all the girls were off from school and 27 of the 34 girls at the shelter went to spend a week with their families, most of whom live in the Hill Tribe lands of northern Thailand, near the Burma (Myanmar) border, some taking 3 hours to get home.
Seven girls didn’t have a safe place to visit so they remained at the shelter. Although disappointed that I would miss a week with those 27 girls, I was happy to have the opportunity to learn the names of, and bond with the 7 remaining girls.
For New Year’s Eve, we all settled in one of the four houses on Baan Yuu Suk (BYS) and watched a movie, then chatted around a bon fire. Just before midnight we lit fireworks, oohing and awwwing at the beautiful colors and crashing sounds of the firecrackers bursting in the air. We ushered in the new year by sending lanterns full of wishes into the night sky. It was a great time!
We took the girls ice skating, which was an adventure for all of us. There were only two of us volunteers who had ice skated before (it was only my 4th time) and it was the girls’ first experience on ice. What a hoot! I had a minimum of two girls hanging on to me at a time, doing their best to stabilize themselves and find their feet on the ice. It amazed me at how quickly they learned. At different paces, almost every girl went from clinging onto the side wall to standing – and moving- all by herself on the ice rink. Of course, at first, I heard a lot of “I can’t”s. My calm, confident reply, “Yes, you can. I’m right here to help you.” It took some girls longer to trust me than others. Not all of them chose me as their “coach” for the night. Some independently ventured to figure it out themselves, some got aid and instruction from Merry, the other volunteer who had skated before- who actually knew what she was doing on the ice. Rahtee was fantastic! She worked at it, slowly and steadily, and she eventually skated on her own, without holding onto anyone or anything. Although I did catch a glimpse of her holding another COSA sister every now and again to aid in that sister’s stability. Way to go, Rahtee!
Gig was my favorite to watch though. She was super clumsy on the ice and I think she spent more time falling and sitting on the ice than she spent standing on it. She was able to laugh about it and I think she found such joy in the process of it that she didn’t mind all the falling. She is the one girl who got me on the ground. lol She skated right into me, grabbed me with a big hug and fell backwards, unintentionally of course. She just couldn’t seem to keep her balance. We had a good laugh, got up and continued on. Isn’t that how life is, though? We fall down, get back up, and hopefully carry on with joy.
The 27 girls came back after a week’s time and school resumed to a somewhat normal schedule. There were mid-terms for the middle and high school girls so there were always a couple girls here during the day, the schedules were one-on-one-off. Basically, we volunteers would walk the 12 elementary school girls to school at 7:20am then come back to the shelter and hang out with the girls who were off from school. Playing games, talking, helping them study their English, etc. If no one wanted to hang out, we’d work on projects for the organization. I especially loved our morning walks (to school) with the girls because they usually ended with a dozen hugs! The pick-up walks, at 3:30pm, began with a dozen hugs, so they are also a favorite time for me. lol
Weekends are the busiest times as we have English lessons for 3 hours (90 minutes for each level, dividing the 5 levels among the volunteers),then a late afternoon activity, usually some kind of arts and crafts. We made New Year’s Eve hats, friendship bracelets, had manicure parties, and I am hoping for a super bubble activity before I leave.
On Children’s Day, which was January 4th, the local school had a celebration that we took the girls to. The older girls joined and it was a morning of great fun. We had taught the girls a couple dances in English class, and they ended up performing it in front of almost a hundred people at the celebration! BRAVE girls! A few of the girls won prizes in a drawing. May won a new bicycle! She kept the plastic on it until it refused to stay attached. She wanted to protect it from scratching. That evening we had an ice cream sundae party.
The girls got to choose their toppings and boy did they load it on. They sang a bit of karaoke in the soon to open BYS Cafe as well.
I have just one week left at the shelter and it is really gonna be tough to leave.
I have bonded with several of the girls and I feel myself tearing up even now as I think about departing. My plan is to return on my next vacation, just four months from now. Who knows, maybe I can recruit some other people to come with me and share the fun! Are you up for it?! ^^