Most of the time at Elephant Nature Park is spent at the park, caring for elephants and helping maintain the facilities. However, our calendar of volunteer activities clearly shows that on Thursday, we are heading out of the park to do some volunteer work at the village elementary school with the kids.

I love my elephants, but the idea of getting out and into a Thai village really excites me. I know I’m falling in love with the country, so spending time seeing how people live in the small villages rather than the cities really fascinates me.

So, on our fourth day at the park, we board our two white vans with the ENP  logo on the side, and head off to the local elementary school.

Muangkud School takes only a few minutes to get to from the park. When we arrive, the students, all in uniforms, are either in their class rooms or outside, playing.

Unlike the elementary school I went to, this school is one floor and very basic. It is a U-shape, with classrooms opening into a large courtyard.

That’s it.

The principal of the school comes up to us and begins to tell us about what we are doing.

“You can teach them English or play with them over there,” he says, gesturing to two of the rooms. “Over there, you can learn how to  weave jewelry, bake sesame balls or get a massage from the students who are training.”

The children take to us immediately. I head over to a mat to meet with a 12-year-old girl who shows me how to weave a beautiful bracelet.

While I sit there, younger kids come up to me, handing me pieces of paper. I look at the paper — on it are volunteers names with the places they are from. I am handed sheet after sheet and write the same thing over and over: I am Diana. I am from America.

One little boy sits with me as I write, placing his tiny hand on my leg and looking over my hand as I scratch out the words in pencil.

Pam and Steve are covered with kids when I arrive to the classroom of little ones. Pam, laying on the floor, is balancing kids on her legs, extended in the air. Another volunteer, Sonja, is walking around with two girls attached to her hip, one on each side.

I sit down on the floor and am swarmed. The kids are in love with my digital camera. We don’t speak the same language, but it’s obvious what they want: photos.

Of course, I oblige.

There is one little boy who can’t get enough posing. He stands there, flashing the peace sign, looking gangsta, whatever he feels in the moment, and looks at me anxiously, waiting for me to snap his photo. After each photo, he rushes up to me and stands next to me, looking at the image on the tiny screen.

 

He’s not the only one who hams it up for the camera. The boys are far more intrigued by seeing their photos than the girls. The girls are being carried around the room or juggled on Pam’s legs.

I stay with the younger kids for a little longer, letting them take my camera and take their own photos, then I head over to the food area and grab some sesame balls and a “milk shake” which is really powder milk with some generic Oreos and ice blended together. And, it’s damn tasty.

Drink in hand, I split off from the group and wander a little down the road from the school. There’s not much around it … just wooden houses and jungle. But, it’s charming and peaceful in it’s own right.

After two hours at the school, Jack and Chai gather us back into the vans and we return to the park. When we get back to the main compound, I am thrilled to see the founder of the park, Lek, sitting at one of the wooden tables and benches.

I’ve been wanting to meet her for days, and now I have a chance.

59 comments

  1. Great photos. Thanks for sharing. We are going to be in Thailand in about 2 weeks, and I am really looking forward to it (we are starting in the south and working our way up to Chiang Mai where we are going to spend the bulk of our trip.) Can’t wait!

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  2. Reminds me of when I was a volunteer English teacher in Sri Lanka. They went crazy for having their photo taken (unfortunately it wasn’t digital back then so I couldn’t show them the results) and were always writing me little messages like “I love you teacher!”. So sweet.

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      1. One of the saddest things we saw while living in Kenya happened when we were visiting a primary school. The little kids were essentially at recess but didn’t have any toys, so they were playing with rusty nails they’d found on the ground. It’s an image I’ll never forget.

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  3. Love this photo essay! You really take the reader on your journey with you! I hope even more travelers spend some of their time interacting with the local education system. It gives the traveler so much, and (as is evident from your photos) the kids, too!

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  4. I freaking love kids. I miss being a preschool teacher so much. It is so interesting to visit kids who speak another language. Kids just want attention and love and they are happy. Looks like you had a really rewarding, happy day!

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  5. Hi, it looks like you really enjoyed your time at the village school. I live and teach in Thailand, been here for 5 years. I started out my time with an amazing group of people called English Crazy Club in Ubon Ratchathani. I don’t know how much longer you have in Thailand but if you get a chance, maybe you could visit Ubon and catch a glimpse at the relatively untouristed part of this great country.
    I wrote an article about strange things to do in Ubon(including volunteering with the English Crazy Club). Perhaps you might like to check it out.

    http://www.infobarrel.com/Off_the_Beaten_Track_fun_and_unusual_things_to_do_in_Ubon_Ratchathani_Thailand

    Travel safe, travel free!

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      1. There is an orphanage in Chiang Mai. It’s just off the moat that circles the city. I think the name is Ban Kingkaew. I visited it about 4 years ago. I just bought some diapers and rocked up there. They were really friendly and invited my friend and I to hang out in the classroom for a bit.

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