Coming off my amazing adventure at the Elephant Nature Park, I went straight into working at the Viengping Children’s Home, an orphanage just North of Chiang Mai. In order to volunteer here, you must fill out an application and have it approved by the director. My first day was Monday morning 11/21. It took me a bit to figure out the bus system, but eventually figured it out and was there just past 9am. I met with the director in her office to talk about my background with children. Or in my case, teenagers. But she assigned me to the “Sawasdee” Room which is where the 1-2 yr olds were. Babies. Once the children are 5 years old, they go to public school during the day. So, babies it was for me!
Of course, they’re the cutest little babies you ever did see! There were about 10 in the 1-2 year old group and 10 in the 2-3 year old group. From the time volunteers arrive at 9am until 10:30am they have play time. Followed by lunch, nap (volunteer lunch) and more play and activities after that. The type of play and activity depends on the number of volunteers, staff and what day it is. It was a little confusing at first because only the director spoke English, but by Day 2 I was getting the rhythm of the place.
On average there were only about 3 volunteers, a mix of locals and some foreigners. One man from the US has been volunteering there for about 3 months. I got a lot more information from him as it was difficult for me to communicate with the staff. We each took 1 or 2 children at a time to go play. We’d go on walks, play on the playground, ride the big wheels or go into the mini gymnasium. One day, we all went on a big walk to the grass area behind the Home for Boys. Volunteers aren’t allowed to take pictures but I snuck a few in with my phone that day. All the babies were curious as to what it was.
Every day the babies would greet me at the gate to their playroom with their arms stretched up. Every day they had to pry them off of me to go to lunch. (Babies don’t like lunch because they know playtime is over. ) The babies were such a fun treat to be with every day because they wonder and marvel at everything. All is new to them. Also, they are just barely learning to speak so it is fun to teach them new words. Their environment is so bright and colorful with educational games at every turn. Though they don’t have individual toys, they do have a toy area with tricycles and big wheels.
There is one more group of 1-3 year olds, the babies with HIV/AIDS. Volunteers aren’t allowed to go with them and neither are the other children. As babies, they are kept in their own building and their staff takes them out to play separately. Once these children are old enough, they will be incorporated into the rest of the group, but as babies, they are just too fragile. Then there is the newborns. The tiny babies! Only staff is allowed to go into the nursery. I would catch the nurses taking the littlest ones out for strolls. Just adorable!
I didn’t realize just how much the entire experience had touched me until it was time to say goodbye. My last day, there were more volunteers than the rest of the week, probably about 8-10. After we got the kids in and I’d squeezed them all one last time, I spoke with a few of the new volunteers about my experience at Viengping. I became a bit emotional talking about each of the babies. Wishing I had more time. I still think about my little ones every day. Especially what they must have thought the day I didn’t show up for playtime. It was so much harder leaving them than I ever imagined. I then walked to the office to talk to the director and she held both my hands as I, through tears, thanked her for letting me volunteer. Then I cried leaving the grounds and on the bus back into the city.
If I could have changed one thing about my trip, I would have extended my stay in Thailand. I don’t feel like my work with the children of Viengping is done. There is so much more I would have liked to have accomplished. Which means, I’ll probably be headed back there again. Hopefully with a team.
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