A Year in Volunteering – by Leo ‘the Lion’ Ferrari
When I was in my home country, Brazil, I decided that I needed some change and needed something else to fulfill my expectations as a human being. Reflecting on how I should use my time to make a positive impact, the possibility of volunteering with a cause that promoted child education seemed the perfect fit for me.
I have a good level of English, thanks to my parents who worked hard and made me attend many years of English classes. One of my least favorite activities as a teenager opened up some of the most amazing opportunities in my adult life. After deciding on a cause, a destination, and a few foundations that shared my goals, I found Phuket Has Been Good to Us (PHBGTU). PHBGTU is a foundation that works to improve the economic opportunities and life choices of children. Based in Phuket, it was created after the tsunami in 2004. The concept is simple; to generate funding and offer high quality, practical English language education to young children in government schools.
I had never worked directly in the nonprofit sector. I had zero experience with the day-to-day activities of a charity but I had the drive to learn new skills and tackle all the challenges that came with the unfamiliar workplace. Tina Hall, the director of operations at the foundation decided to give me the opportunity and trained me in the basics of fundraising, event management and building relationships with donors. As a small team, multitasking became a large part of the job. From printer operator to leading meetings with hotels on new projects; this was all new to me.
One of the most exciting parts of my day was the possibility of interacting with the children we teach and experiencing firsthand the reason we do this work. After school hours the Foundation runs Coconut Club, this offers opportunities for the Thai children to practice their conversational English outside the classroom in a relaxed, fun, and social environment. This is an essential aspect of the learning process and developing the language skills they have gained from their classroom lessons. My favorite activity was Saturday swimming classes which offered the perfect setting to enjoy the beautiful beaches in Phuket at the same time as seeing the delight on the children’s faces. Many of the children we teach are orphans. They have a complicated home life and often live on the school grounds. Seeing these children happily playing at the beach and interacting with us in English made it come together in my mind why the work I was doing and the mission of the Foundation were so important.
An unforgettable, personal highlight of my time at PHBGTU has to be training to be a Muay Thai fighter. One of the big fundraising campaigns hosted by PHBGTU is a Muay Thai Gala Night. We needed two volunteers with no previous experience to be trained in four months to be able to get into the ring on the night and take part in a Muay Thai fight. I decided to be one of the guys. This opportunity enabled me to experience one of the most traditional examples of Thai culture. Training Muay Thai with the locals changed my perception of the country in so many ways. If you are curious to see how I did on the night, click here.
Phuket is conveniently located in the South of Asia making traveling easy and affordable. During my time as a volunteer I was able to visit a few of the most amazing places, I had ever imagined. From deserted beaches in Cambodia to river parties in Laos to a surf trip in Bali. Close to Phuket, my favorite beach was Railey, a small peninsula between the city of Krabi and Ao Nang. It is only accessible by boat and surrounded by huge limestone cliffs -a hard place to forget.
Thailand will always impress me with its purity and I still remember the first time I heard the words “Sawasdee Krap” in the back of a taxi, weaving through the congested streets of Bangkok. It is hard to express my gratitude for a country that made it possible to meet my girlfriend (who now lives with me back in Brazil), experience genuine smiles and helped me find a new sense of fulfillment in life.
It may be cliché to say “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”, but the work the foundation does in Phuket is remarkable! I will always think fondly of my days as a volunteer, from the Pad Thai meals, the office cats to the amazing people I worked with. I left PHBGTU to continue on my life path but those smiles will never leave my heart.