The name of this post honestly describes the past month here at the Mirror Foundation, based outside of Chiang Rai, in Northern Thailand. During the work week, I typically don’t know what 99% of the food I eat is. The 1% is rice. White rice, fried rice, ginger rice… but on Friday’s we get pad thai and spring rolls!! All of us volunteers have learned pretty quickly never to ask (especially to each other) “what is this?” because no one ever knows. You just plop it on your plate, know it will probably taste good, and hope you have the right rice ratio to balance out the spiciness.
Time here has flown. It’s crazy for me to process that I’ve been here for a month, and that some of my best friends and fellow volunteers who arrived on the same day as me are leaving this weekend. We’ve truly created a family here, between Americans, Ecuadorians, Austrians, Canadians, really you name it, and I’m so grateful for each and every person who has passed through Mirror during my time here. And I know in the next two months I’m bound to meet so many more incredible people.
Okay, cheesiness out of the way, my time here at Mirror really has been wonderful. I’m slowly picking up on a little tiny bit of Thai, I’m adjusting a bit to the constant humidity and heat (or maybe that’s just that we’re heading into the “winter”, even though it’s still so hot here), and I’m learning a lot about Thai culture, especially in the Northern parts, which is very distinct.
The Mirror Foundation was created 30 years ago by a few Thai teenagers who wanted to make a difference. Since then, it has become a bustling organization with a high turnover rate of volunteers here for lengths of 2 weeks to 3 months, which does really good work in the area. There are two groups of volunteers here, Indoor, and Outdoor.
Indoor, which is me, is the teaching group. We teach at local primary schools, one monastery university, an orphanage, a hospital, a few daycares, and during months like October, when schools are out, at Hilltribe Development centers. We teach basic English and conversation everywhere except the hospital, where our main focus is getting the kids who feel well enough involved and having fun.
Outdoor works – you guessed it, in the outdoors! They do everything from digging holes (they tell us back to America), to clearing weeds from pineapple fields, to painting dormitories. Basically anything the community needs. They come home from hard psychical labor and immediately give me big sweaty hugs, and start playing volleyball. They’re hardcore.
A typical day here at Mirror starts around 8-8:30 with a meeting for all the volunteers, and then we leave around 9 to wherever we’re teaching for the morning. We ride in Songtaews, which literally means “two lines”, because of the two benches along the sides where we sit. They’re in GREAT condition (not), and we have a blast sitting on the end with our headphones in listening to music. We teach for an hour and a half in the mornings, and then come back home for lunch, (you guessed it: rice) before gathering our supplies (whiteboards, NON permanent markers, flashcards, word searches), and heading out again. We’ll teach again for 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours, and then head back to Mirror for some volleyball, showers, card games, or smoothies. After dinner we tutor kids from the village, and then from around 6:30 on we have nothing scheduled, so we typically play more volleyball and cards, eat more food (banana bread from a local shop), laugh a lot, sometimes take showers, or every now and then head into town for some night market shopping/pizza eating for the evening.
One of the main focuses of Mirror is to help educate and obtain Thai citizenship for the hilltribe people in the area. Many hilltribe people (there are three different tribes in the immediate area) aren’t Thai citizens, which really only means having a Thai Identification Card, which looks like a drivers license. This could be because they aren’t educated enough to push for it for themselves, or because they’re refugees who have come from Laos or Myanmar, which are only about 2 hours away. An example of the different treatment of those with citizenship and those without is hospital stays. To stay at the hospital with citizenship is only around 30 baht (exchange rate = 36 baht/ $1) per day. Without the card, it would cost around 27,000 baht/day, which is more then the majority of people in the area can afford. You also can’t get most jobs without the card, and during checkpoints police will check for everyone’s cards.
Despite those problems in the area, everyone is incredibly joyful, friendly, and will always smile at you as you walk by. We have our weekends off, so we typically either stay in Chiang Rai or go to Chiang Mai, which is around 3 hours away by bus. We stay in hostels and do everything from laying in bed all weekend watching movies, to exploring temples, to playing with elephants, to forcing the boys of our group to go to Ladyboy shows with us. We’ve enjoyed so many fun days and nights and moments of life together, and I’m so excited for two more months of hard work and fun times.
That’s all for now, much love