The longer that I’m here in Sing Buri switching between the orphanage work and the school, the more time I have to consider the differences and value of the two forms of work. Both the orphanage work and teaching at the school are signficantly tiring in their own ways. Both are signficantly rewarding in their own ways. Both are important to the local community.
Working at the orphanage, I have learned to become a mason. I help with a few other volunteers to build a wall that will protect the children. Because the children are on school vacation currently, there are only two kids to play and work with there. We mix cement with a spade by hand, pour it into buckets, and sit for hours discerning the shape of the wall. If it is too concave or uneven, the whole thing might fall. All the small pieces of cement and stone built brick-by-brick must be considered for its individual importance.
There’s an odd form of mental meditation that happens whilst staring into the red and gray in front of my face. With sweat streaming down my face, I finish a few rows and return to my spot after lunch. After the work is finished, I can feel the aching from my back as a testament to leaning over a vat of cement while mixing it and then bending over the wall to check each brick for correct placement on the half-built wall. My legs are covered in remants of cement dust, my hands with ant bites, and my feet with more particles of half-dried cement.
In complete contrast to the physical work of the orphanage, teaching at the Wattoei Summer Camp means more mental and intellectual work trying to find the right way to reveal a whole new world of language to the students. The summer camp consists of about 30 children from the age of 7 to 14. With such a wide range of skill levels, the lessons have to be just enough to make the oldest ones learn something new and not push the inexperienced younger ones too far. Each day, I make a rough outline of what I would like to do with the class, but because I know they will show the cracks in their knowledge, what we end up learning about is more up to the day’s revelations. Before I started teaching here, I never though it involved this much improvisation. I always have a few educational games in my back pocket to help them review or master a concept. Each day is an hour-long lesson followed by a range of controlled practice through team or partner games.
By the end of my day, I am thinking more about the details of how I use language and how I can make it easier for my students. My brain is reeling with “maybe I should try this” or “maybe I should do that”. I walk away knowing that the children are really learning and look up to me. I feel like there is an immediate return on the investment I make at summer camp because Birs (one of my students) might hug me at the end of the day.
Just in the examination of the two tasks alone, one can see how my days are so different here. Both teach me so much about who I am and what I am capable of doing for the community surrounding me. Despite the fact that I don’t speak enough Thai to express it, I think they know that I’m really trying to do something good. Ultimately, if each metaphorical brick of my wall is placed correctly, that’s all that I could ever ask for.
Note: My computer charger broke this week with some kind of electrical issues, thus I do not have any pictures for the time being. I ordered a new one from a store in town, but we’ll see if it is actually working/authentically an Apple product on Wednesday...