By Gianluca D’Elia
Sometimes, a passion for service can lead students across the world. Over winter break, a group of Rider students volunteered with the Foundation for Children at an orphanage in Bangkok.
The service was broken up into three different aspects: teaching, painting and building. Primarily, education majors were able to work with the children directly; the painting group created two murals in the children’s school, and the third group helped a construction crew build a chicken coop as a food source for the children.
“What’s frustrating with the kid’s situation is that they’re left at this orphanage, and they’re not there to get adopted most of the time,” said senior public relations major Meghan Korb. “The kids really only have each other, because foster care is weak in Thailand, so the orphanages just hope that parents can get their act together. But these kids might live their whole lives without having their parents because of poverty and addictions.”
Both Korb and sophomore international business major Victoria Jacoby worked with the group of student volunteers that built the chicken coop.
“It was the most rewarding feeling to be able to learn through hands-on explanation, even with such a big language barrier,” Jacoby recalled. “All of the workers knew little to nothing when it came to English and vice versa with Thai for us. Although at the end of the day, we all shared the common desire to help the orphanage.”
In Thailand, there is a phrase, “mai pen rai,” which translates to “no worries.” Kim Algeo, the assistant director of the Center for International Education, said it was one of the first things she taught students during orientation, because not everything goes according to schedule the way it would in the U.S. In Thailand, plans always change, Algeo said — during the trip, a group tour of the city got canceled because the Princess of Thailand came to visit at the last minute, and the streets were closed.
Algeo, who lived in Thailand for two years to teach English after she finished college, said, “I wanted students to go into this trip with an open mind because in Thailand, people will say they’re going to do something at 3 p.m., but then it’s 4 p.m. and you still haven’t left yet. We’re so used to everything being fast-paced in the New York area, so I’d say that by the end of the trip, we were all running on Thai time.”
“ I learned that it is okay to live your life without structure 100 percent of the time,” said junior finance major Jack D’Addario. “Most of the time, while we were there, things were going late or we were getting picked up from our transportation slightly later than scheduled.”
“Even being there for a temporary amount of time, you grasp the feelings wholeheartedly and almost have to let go of your American instinct to be impatient,” Jacoby explained, sharing D’Addario’s appreciation for taking on a “mai pen rai” attitude. “There were so many times that we hit adversities and my instinct was to naturally be irritated but the Thai people never wear their emotions on their face — they always have a feeling of calm and tranquility.”
Despite firsthand experiences with poverty, language barriers and culture shock, for some students, the most difficult part of volunteering abroad was having to come back to the U.S.
“We were the first American group to ever visit this orphanage,” Korb said. “So a lot of us were concerned that these kids have already experienced abandonment, and we don’t want to make them feel that way again by going back home.”
Korb said, “Thailand put a lot of things in perspective for me. You can go abroad to places like Europe and feel comfortable, and a lot of people even speak English. In Thailand, it’s totally different, and it actually felt refreshing to be a minority. Everyone should have that experience and know what it’s like not to be in the majority.”
Originally printed in the 2/8/17 edition.