With almost a week behind me since I left home, there is so much to write about I don’t think I could cover it all.
When I arrived in Koh Tao, there were a number of expectations I had due to an agreement with the company I am volunteering with here. Many of these expectations were not fulfilled due to various situations. I am making the best of it. Fatima, another volunteer, has been the main reason that I have gotten some sense of an orientation with the town and school.
There are so many wonderful little things about Koh Tao that I have discovered. First off, the people here are incredibly kind, generous, and friendly. From the time that I arrived at the airport hotel, people were always curious about why I was traveling alone. I have answered honestly and told them I am going to work with the children of the Koh Tao School.
Here begins the contradiction. The Koh Tao School is a part of the local culture which is a direct opposite of the Western tourists here on the island. While there are a limited number of transports to the island per day, there are almost an equal number of tourists to the local population. The locals live in very basic living conditions while the tourists live in luxury. For example, I arrived after a four day water shortage and electricity had been off for two days. The children of the Koh Tao School hardly have resources for themselves- i.e. pencils, notebooks, and socks with no holes. These children are still incredibly happy and curious about all that their Western volunteer teachers have to offer. Many times, some of the tourists will walk in to the school and ask to help teach. Nevertheless, one half of the island struggles to meet basic needs while the other goes out to party perpetually. Every night, one can see the difference between the living conditions of the locals in cottages, villas, and sometimes in their own stores. Home and store becomes one. Meanwhile, the tourists are out on the beach, at bars, drinking, dancing, and partying.
A cohesive curriculum for teaching English at the school is nonexistent. Because we are teaching primary school, years 1-3, keeping the students’ attention is of utmost importance. Each volunteer from the gap year companies makes his or her own lesson plans and tries to teach using games. Mainly because of the language barrier, we are unable to really command the classroom in a way that would allow for us to teach rigidly to a plan. Volunteer teachers come and go, thus many times lessons are repeated sheerly because they were successful last time and somehow never remembered.
Despite all the obstacles, there are bits of beauty and kindness everyday. Every night, the volunteers go out for dinner together and watch the fire dancers on the beach. Below, I have included several pictures because I’m not sure there is a way to capture the beauty of this sport.
Another beautiful aspect of the Thai culture as expressed in the Mother’s Day Festival today is respect. Sunday is Her Majesty Queen Sirikit’s birthday and it is also celebrated as Mother’s Day in Thailand. Since it is on a weekend, the school celebrated today. With everything from music, dancing, and ceremony, it was the expression of how seriously the Thai view respect for one’s elders and parents. At one point, children that have no mother came up to sing. It was quite moving as some of the teachers cried alongside those students.
These are a few of the younger students dressed in traditional Thai dancing costumes. A few of the grades presented dances. These little girls were among the cutest! I wondered how those heavy earrings stayed on their ears sometimes.
Following the festivities, each child takes his or her mother on the stage, gives them a chain made of jasmine, and then bows to them. This is a picture of one of the teachers, Eve, and her daughter, Nam King. Nam King is bowing to her mother in respect and love.
Also, the food is killer. For lunch, I had a healthy papaya hot and sour salad- shredded papaya with lime juice, carrots, and beans. Every fruit juice stand and pancake stand is fantastic too. The pancake stands make these delectable crepes. My favorite so far is banana and nutella. They spread the crepe, slice bananas, spread nutella over the filled crepe, and then drizzle sweetened condensed milk to top it. After being cut into bite size pieces, this is a sweet worth every calorie.
Overall, I’m excited to begin leading class soon. Because Friday was a holiday, I only got one day in class. Next week, the real fun begins!