At XploreAsia we believe that small changes make a big difference, and giving back to the community should be the cornerstone of every successful organization. Giving back always feels good. XploreAsia proudly supports several non-profit organizations. We actively encourage our employees and participants to take part in various volunteer opportunities close to their hearts and make a positive difference wherever they are.
Here, one of staff talks about how they have begun giving back to the community through animal rescue work. If you feel inspired by this story we will be happy to give you more information and suggestions on volunteering in South East Asia.
Making a Difference In The Lives Of Street Dogs
RESCUE PAWS has been the centre of XploreAsia volunteering activity for years, as stray dogs are a huge concern not only in Hua Hin, but in Thailand in general. This is an issue that needs a lot of attention and is close to the hearts of many of our team. Our Senior TESOL Instructor, Jaco, is one of the founders of Rescue Paws. We are grateful for all of his work and dedication towards making a difference in the lives of street dogs in Hua Hin.
How and why did you get involved with Rescue Paws?
I arrived in Thailand in 2010 on Koh Samui. There I saw the plight of dogs in Thailand, and rescued my first dog. When I moved to the town of Hua Hin, I realized the extent of the problem was much larger. I had many stray dogs in my immediate area that I started to feed. In October 2013, The Global Work and Travel company owners came out and they also saw the huge problem we were faced with. Hundreds of street, and beach dogs. Together, both organizations started a fund to feed these dogs. We went out with XploreAsia students and found even more packs to feed. Almost immediately we noticed the difference that was being made, and they along with XploreAsia donated money to build 12 kennels and equip a very basic clinic.
What are the main activities/operations of Rescue Paws?
The mission for Rescue Paws is to over time get the beach, temple, and street dog population under control. We hope that in time we will see a decline in the stray dog population. Our motto is sterilization, vaccination, and education. It does not matter how many sterilizations we do, we need to educate the nation before we will see a real decline in numbers. Apart from all the wound care, parasite treatment, vaccinations, cancer treatments, and deworming we do, we also go to schools and into the community to educate the locals on proper animal welfare and the importance thereof.
What difference has Rescue Paws made to the lives of street dogs in Hua Hin?
Even though the decrease in street dog population and improvement in their health is a slow process, Rescue Paws has made a dramatic impact in the last 4 years. Since opening their doors, they have given over 3500 vaccinations to prevent future sickness, provided over 766 sterilizations to prevent future street dogs, and performed over 14,000 other medical treatments that have saved lives of many street dogs. Additionally, Rescue Paws is feeding an average of 750 dogs a week, and have given 129 rescued dogs new homes.
Could you share one of the most memorable moments while working with Rescue P.A.W.S?
There are countless heart warming, and breaking stories I could share, but 2 of my favorite ones involve Milo and Katinka, 2 street dogs that I adopted while living in Hua Hin. Milo was a poisoned and paralysed dog that suffered from major neurological issues. He was with us for 6 months in the kennel and got healthy through continuous massages, assisted walking and aqua training in the ocean. Katinka was found upside down in a drain. She was also poisoned. She was fully paralyzed and blind. Also, through the continued efforts of Rescue Paws she has recovered and is living with me.
How can others help and make a difference?
There are so many ways people can help and start giving back to the community. It could be anything from liking and sharing our RescuePaws Facebook page, to adopting a dog and donating money. Every little donation helps and makes a big difference in the lives of street dogs in Hua Hin. To get more information and ideas how to help, have a look at Rescue Paws’ home page.
Additionally, there are countless volunteer opportunities in all different parts of Asia. If you are interested in giving back to the community, wherever you are based, XploreAsia can help you find just the right one for you. Get in contact with us and we would love to chat with you more.
Have you ever wondered if you can actually make a positive difference as an English teacher abroad? We are so proud to bring you the story of Jazz McClure, an XploreAsia alumni who truly embraced an opportunity to make a change in her students lives, and took getting involved in a community to another level by planning, rehearsing, and performing a musical with her students!
I got my TESOL certification this past October in Chiang Mai. Currently, I’m teaching at a secondary school in Isaan, in Sakhon Nakon province. My semester has been rigorous, but I’ve loved it. This is exactly what I was looking for in coming to Thailand. I hold a bachelor’s degree in linguistics, and hope to pursue graduate studies, but I find myself teetering on my options (a career in ESL being one of them). I wanted to get a feel for this line of work before jumping into my masters. Yet after this experience, it feels right to continue teaching abroad for a while. I’m leaving Thailand after this semester though, and am going to look for work in Korea.
They learned all their lines in English, 7 songs and dances, and helped make all the props. I’m mighty proud of them!”
English Teacher in Isaan, Thailand
What inspired you to do the musical? Have you done something similar before?
Yes! I was heavily involved in the theatre when I was in high school. So from the minute I got here I had been looking for ways to get involved with the students musically. But after failing to find any type of choir or music club, I started to feel like there just wasn’t an opportunity. Thank god for Fallon, though. Hailing from the UK, she’s another new teacher who also comes from a theatre background. One Friday night, over a few cold ones on our balcony, we hatched this hazy idea to do our own musical. The veteran teachers said the kids would love it, and suggestions began spilling from all of us faster than we could keep up with. I went to sleep that night with my brain swirling in ideas, hoping that we could somehow pull this off.
The cheerleaders, who even choreographed their own cheer for the show!
How did your students and fellow teachers react to the activity? Where they excited straight away, or did it require some convincing first?
Oh, I’m laughing as I write this! Let’s just say that musicals are NOT a thing in Thailand. So yes, the idea required a lot of convincing! I think the concept of singing and dancing to songs that are a part of the story was strange to them. We actually had to go into our classrooms and pitch the show to the students, telling them they would get extra credit if they joined. At first, they seemed so unenthused, but after one or two students said they’d do it, more and more kept running to the office like, “Teacher! I want to do the musical too!” That went on for weeks!
Teacher Fallon with Best, who played Ms. Darbus
Can you elaborate on what the activity consisted in?
Who was involved in the planning and execution of the process?
After weighing our options, we decided to do a simplified version of High School Musical. The songs are easy, the English is reasonable, it appeals to a young audience, it teaches students about the culture of their American counterparts, and the kids could wear their own clothes for costumes (hands in the air for a $15 production!) Yet even with a simple story, getting it all together was not easy. We wrote a script, cut songs, added songs, played with harmonies, and held auditions. I made a proposal to my boss, who translated to the higher powers and asked if we could have stage time for rehearsals. I think he was cynical at first about being able to pull the show off, but once he saw how invested the students were, he was incredibly supportive, and even started coming to rehearsals to watch.
How often and when did you do the rehearsals, and how did you manage to find extra time?
We started practicing at the end of November, and just performed the show on Valentine’s Day. When classes were cancelled for things like Sports Week, we’d have big group rehearsals. For the main characters, we practiced mostly during lunch, or whenever they had free time. Sometimes, it was when they came running to the office with lyrics in hand and only 10 minutes to spare! After we could run the whole show, we started rehearsing on the stage after school. We usually stayed for about an hour 3-4 nights a week.
How do you think this has made a difference in your students’ lives?
The three M6 students in the show. They were really glad to so something like this the year they graduated!
I think it’s made a huge difference in their lives. First off, it must be hard for them to build relationships with their foreign teachers. The Thai school system usually sees a new foreign teacher every semester and, since the students are shy, having a stranger in the classroom every six months must be challenging. The musical was a good way for them to shake their shyness and feel comfortable with us. It also was our way to show them that we cared enough to spend an extra ten hours a week with them!
Bonding aside, the show forced them to speak a lot of English. They were exposed to new vocabulary, both about American high schools and about the theatre, and got to dabble in expressions that young English speakers use all the time.
In what way did you see the difference and growth in your students throughout the rehearsals and after the performance?
There is one student who envelops this the most. The M4 boy we cast to play Ryan was hesitant to accept the role; he didn’t think he was good enough to play the part. Even during rehearsals, he was always doubting his capacity. Fallon and I were always encouraging him, and that combined with unwavering support from the other students helped him have some faith in himself. As we neared the end of rehearsals, he and the girl playing Sharpay were stealing the show! Every time we did a run-through, they would add some new pose or reaction to different scenes, and by the time we performed, some of the funniest things in the show were things Fallon and I didn’t even stage. Seeing our Ryan so uplifted by his friends and watching his development into this super awesome character filled me with unspeakable pride.
Would you like to do this again? Would you encourage other teachers to do something similar?
Yes, I would. It was the unrivalled, absolute best part of my time here. And yes, I suggest other teachers do the same! I know it’s hard when there really isn’t a process to start your own activity at the school, but if you’re passionate about it, the Thai teachers will see that and they will help you. They want what’s best for the students, too. When we were finished with the show, they kept thanking us for taking time do to that with the kids. My advice is to find something you love and try to share it with them. There are so many things that would resonate with these kids: a sports club, an art club, a chess club, a theatre club, a glee club…even an anime club! If you can find your fit, you’ll amplify your relationships with your students and see how truly awesome they can be…and maybe even convince them of their own awesomeness, too!
If you can look past the cheesy click-bait title, I’d like to share with you a deeply held belief about the impact we all have on each other. Even in times where you feel insignificant or small, you are in fact changing the world each moment, a little bit at a time. Your very presence is influencing those around you. We all swim in the same pool. The way we move in it, even subtly, creates ripples in the water that can extend to all of us. Often times this impact goes unseen, but it is held secretly in the hearts and minds of those you’ve touched to blossom later in time. Let me demonstrate this through a story:
When I first started teaching English at my placement I went into it with the belief that I generally did not make any difference. My actions reflected that. If I was tired I would show up and not put in any effort, or prepare adequately for a lesson. I did this believing that ultimately it didn’t make much of a difference to the kids. The honesty of children was the mirror that allowed me to see the impact I was really having.
I remember one day a fight broke out between a girl and a boy, both of them started crying. I had to take them outside and talk to them about being nice to each other and about forgiveness. I gave them both a hug, when I went back inside to the classroom I gave the rest of the students the same talk, emphasizing kindness and forgiveness. The rest of the period had a special air about it and I watched as the boy and girl who had been fighting smiled at each other and worked together to complete a project. The whole class seemed to have undergone a collective shift in spirit, from rowdy and pushy to kind and cooperative. A few simple words impacted the attitude of an entire classroom for the rest of the day.
It can be even more subtle than that, and I continue to be stunned by how my smallest actions and attitudes have a deep and lasting impact on the students. On a day that I was particularly exhausted, after giving a half-hearted and half-assed presentation on communication I saw the students begin to put their heads down and look genuinely disheartened. I instilled in them the spirit of apathy that I appeared to have.
At that moment I realized how simply my presence, my energy, had a huge impact on the minds of these children. From then on I went into every class with a clearly displayed interest in their learning and a visible excitement that would emerge every time a student raised their hand. Over time I saw that this renewed spirit changed the attitudes of those in class, and they too found joy and energy in learning and participating.
These students taught me that to see change in the world, you have to become the change, and in that way we all affect each other. Our very spirit colors the waters of those around us, and collectively we shape each other’s development. Teaching English to in Thailand has revealed to me how deeply we influence one another. The children that were my students actually became the teachers that would further develop me into a conscious and socially aware person. We all DO make a difference. With every moment and every action we have the potential to change the trajectory of lives.
Learning English for Thai People: A Path to a Better Life
Before expats come over to teach in Thailand, many assume that Thai peoples’ main motivation for learning English is personal interest or as an extracurricular activity. This idea tends to be founded from our own personal experience as most of us learned French or Spanish for those same reasons throughout our primary and secondary schooling. We studied other languages either because of a desire to travel or to enhance our university applications. However, this assumption of Thai peoples’ motivations for studying English is slightly misguided. While some Thai people do learn English because they plan to travel or for fun, the majority of Thais study English, or pressure their children to do so, in order to improve their material wellbeing or social standing.
English language skills are in great demand in Thailand. One widely recognized reason for this is that they are essential to supporting the country’s burgeoning tourism industry. Last year, Thailand had more than 26 million visitors arriving by plane—an increase of over 200% in the past decade. However, an often overlooked and arguably more important reason that English language skills are in such high demand in Thailand is to support the country’s massive export manufacturing industries.
Thailand competes with many of its regional neighbors to be a top destination for foreign direct investment (FDI). Thai government officials do everything in their power to attract the attention of multinational corporations like General Electric, General Motors, Unilever, and Microsoft to convince them to open a factory or regional headquarters here in Thailand instead of somewhere like Vietnam, Malaysia, or China. While Thailand’s beaches, mountains and the friendliness of the Thai people make a persuasive argument, promoting strong English language skills of the local workforce is the final frontier. As a result, this is something that the Thai government fixates heavily on. Every two to three weeks there’s an article in the local media lamenting that Thailand is falling behind its neighbors in standardized tests of English language capability. With the exception of the agriculture industry, English language skills are in extremely high demand. Unfortunately, throughout the tourism, manufacturing, and education sectors, Thailand is falling behind its regional neighbors in this regard.
There is another important reason that learning the English language is currently in such high demand in Thailand. On December 31st, 2015, the countries of Southeast Asia will enter into a new phase of regional integration known as ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations). Thailand is a member of this union which began an unprecedented era of international cooperation between nations. ASEAN established a regional trading bloc that will lower the barriers to the movement of people, goods, and services across Southeast Asia. Being that there is no common language amongst the countries in the region, communication between nations is done almost entirely in English. As a result, English has been declared the official language of the ASEAN community. Therefore, not only are English language skills in demand in the private sector, but in the Thai government sector as well.
How big of a difference does learning English make to the typical Thai worker or government employee? It really is remarkable. If you take two Thai workers, who are in all ways equal (education, age, experience, performance), but only one has strong English language capability, he or she can earn anywhere from 2-3 times the salary compared to their non-English speaking counterpart. This is why from the national government level all the way down to the individual family, massive financial investments are made in English language education. It is important to not only Thailand’s development as a nation, but also for the development of the individual Thai person and their earning potential.
Thailand is still a developing country. The average salary of a Thai person is roughly USD 5,000, compared to USD 40,000 for someone living in the United States. In fact, the economic and class structure in Thailand looks nothing like that in the United States. Thailand’s middle class is very small compared to the United States and is a relatively new socioeconomic group. A few generations ago, there was no middle class in Thailand. Bangkok is the only area of Thailand where the middle class is prominent and it makes up 50% of the city’s population. This figure accounts for the majority of middle class individuals in Thailand. Outside of Bangkok, the middle class shrinks to a very small percentage. For example, in one of the most populated regions of Thailand, the Northeast, the middle class makes up less than 10% of the population. The vast majority of Thais in areas like these are poor farmers.
Because the middle class is a relatively new social group, the class system in Thailand still largely resembles pre-modern times and is built upon unequal relations between the traditional elites (land holders) and peasants. While we are a long way from those ancient times, this pre-modern class and social structure still exists in many ways, and it represents a huge barrier to upward mobility.
A majority of Thais are born poor, they live poor, and they die poor. Their children end up going to underfunded schools with apathetic teachers and often drop out before they reach graduation. Sound familiar? You could say the same thing about many inner-city communities in the Western world. The main difference is that those communities represent nearly 75% of the population in Thailand. To this day, there is still very little upward mobility for Thais born into a lower class family. Chances are, if you are born poor, your offspring will be poor, and they will in turn raise family trapped in this vicious cycle of poverty that repeats itself generation after generation. There is a way to break this cycle of poverty. This is where English language comes in.
If you can speak English, you can move up in Thai society. You can move out of poverty and provide a better life for yourself and your children. English language skills are an important springboard to the middle class and a way to leave poverty behind. Young Thai kids who you encounter in the classroom might not appreciate this, but their families, their communities and the Thai government certainly do. As a result, Thailand hires more than 10,000 native English-speaking teachers each year. Despite this, the current supply of native English speaking teachers still doesn’t meet the overall demand.
Because of all of this, native English speaking teachers play a very important role in this country. They hold the potential to help a child born to a family of rice farmers to have a fair shot at providing a better life for their children. In my years of training and preparing thousands of native English teachers in Thailand, I think most Westerners coming over to Thailand don’t fully grasp the extent of good they can do. For most of us it seems strange that some language we grew up speaking and taking for granted could be so important to the future of Thailand. But that is the reality. As native English-speaking teachers, we possess an important skill. While I don’t mean to come off as ethnocentric, English language skills truly can be one of the most important skills that Thai people will learn in their years of schooling. I liken the role of teachers as somewhat akin to joining the Peace Corps, a wonderful program with a long history of helping people. In the Peace Corps, volunteers typically go into areas to build homes, wells, schools, and infrastructure to help communities grow. As ESL teachers in Thailand, we have the ability to impart a special skill that will enable hundreds and maybe thousands of young Thai people to improve their lives. They can use these skills to one day improve their homes, their communities, and reinvest in future generations. I imagine that many teachers didn’t foresee the potential impact they could make when they first decided to teach English in Thailand. And on top of it all, you get paid for it!
Michael Volpe is the Managing Director of XploreAsia. He has an extensive educational background in international business and political science, along with nearly 10 years of teaching experience at the university level in Thailand and the United States. He is a Fulbright-Hays Scholar with a PhD in International Public Policy from George Mason University.