In June 2015 me and my sister were extremely fortunate to create short films and teach film and media within an organisation called GapGuru.
It all started with a Pre-departure Skype call from David the Country Manager.
When we arrived into Thailand from England, we could not have felt more welcomed by the team. Amy Ferguson the media intern greeted us with open arms and welcomed us into the country. Shortly after, we were then greeted by David, Nid, Marcia, Ewa, Will and Pi Gaye.
After meeting the team we immediately felt like Thailand was our new home.
Amy and Lungat took us to the volunteer house in Doi Saket, where we would stay for the first two weeks. The volunteer house was beautiful! in a lovely location near local shops and bars and not too far away from Wat Doi Saket a Buddhist temple.
Not too long after arriving 6 volunteers from Middlesex University came to the volunteer house, we all made introductions and then sat down for dinner later that evening. They were all so friendly and lovely and we all had an amazing experience living together and sharing stories of what each day had brought us!
When all the other volunteers came it really did feel like home. We were very lucky to have met them all on our travels.
We were extremely impressed with the organisation of our programme and our schedule for our time staying in Thailand. We had our in country orientation with David who explained our schedules and what we would be doing. As individuals, we love a challenge and getting the very best out of our trip. So it was fantastic that our schedule had a variety of activities to do so we could make the most out of this experience. Our schedule was also very flexible, which gave us the ability to make an input on the things we wanted to do as well. We stayed in Thailand for 30 days, this period of time was split into 2 weeks in Doi Saket (teaching media and filming Wat Noug Bua) and 2 weeks in the Karen Hilltribe of Mae La (teaching film and media).
As aspiring filmmakers we were given a huge opportunity to create a promotional video for novice monks, at Wat Nong Bua in Doi Saket. The promotional video was to highlight daily practices within the temple and explore the background, culture, norms and values of the teachers and monks within the temple. We created this video to educate and inform a wider audience about the culture, and to bring more people to support the temple both in Thailand and in other regions. As filmmakers, interviewing some of the teachers and students plus gaining a first hand insight into Buddhism was incredible and fascinating for both of us.
The staff and students at the temple were so kind, lovely and good to both of us! and were a so helpful in giving us a further insight into Buddhism.
Visiting Wat Noug Bua to shoot was apart of our morning routine for 2 weeks, but in the afternoon we were able to assist on teaching Film and Media with a Professional Filmmaker called Kwame Phillips. Kwame is a part of an organization called Filmmakers Without Boarders and he is in Thailand teaching Media to kids aged between 11 to 14 in years 5 & 6. When we were told about Filmmakers Without Boarders from David, we were super excited to find out more of what they do and to help with lessons in class. For Kwame's class we were able to help film 2 trailers and having the kids reenact what was being shown and said in them. We were truly amazed by how Kwame was able to communicate with the class, as the majority of them speak some English. The vocabulary was written in English then one of the class would be asked to translate it to Thai so everyone could copy and understand both the English terminology and the Thai terminology. Looking at he taught his lesson helped us understand how we should teach ours later on in the trip. We began to realize that the importance of action is far greater than words; if we were going to express what we had to teach to the kids, we would need to use basic English and explain more through our actions. Being apart of that class was amazing because the more and more we helped, the more the language barrier began to feel less apparent and it became normal to us. After watching the kids create storyboards and choose their trailers and help Kwame shoot their work, it was great too see it all come together. The kids were excited the whole time and were even more thrilled to see the final footage. We had so much fun helping out in Kwame’s lessons and being apart of the school in Pagnew.
Another 2 weeks into our stay in Thailand and we had said our goodbyes to the group of volunteers from Middlesex University and were due to head out to the Karen Hill tribe of Mae La. In Mae La we would be teaching film and media to mainly grades 5 & 6, however we taught little bit of English to the whole school when some teachers weren’t available. We took a 4 hour bus up towards Mae La where we found one of the Hilltribe interns Dean Gray. Dean is a super chill Australian guy who arranged our timetables for us and showed us the normalities of the village, he also helped us start lesson planning for our classes in the coming days. Within the first 2 days of us arriving, one of the teachers Krue Garn and one of our students Mono decided to go to Mae Hong Son to visit their family there. This is a special occasion for them. So for me, Emma and Dean to be invited into their home was a real privilege. When we arrived Mono’s Grandma, who spoke mostly in Karen, quickly greeted us. She was a delight to get to know and was over-joyed by our presence in her family home. All of us spent the weekend together fishing, teaching each other our native language, going to a Karen church and spending time together at their family home was an incredible experience for all of us.
The most rewarding part of the overall experience had to be teaching the children of Mae La Media and Film.
For these kids, this subject was extremely un familiar at first. Many of these kids had never seen themselves on film or held a camera before. So to teach these kids was a blessing!. Watching them lesson-by-lesson, create their own storyboards filled with English and media theory to shooting their own commercials was a life changing and unforgettable experience.
On our final day at Mae La we were able to show the kids their own commercials and watch their smiling faces. To see them watching themselves back and be filled with joy and the realization that they had created a commercial themselves, which was now unfolding in front of their eyes.
This is a sight I will never forget.
We said our goodbyes to all the teachers and children In assembly where Jed had thanked us for our work and the kids one by one shook our hands, however the shaking hands quickly turned into hugs!.
During our time in Thailand we did have lots of time to explore the culture including small side trips on the weekends to different areas. Me and my sister were very lucky in going to Pai on the weekend with a few volunteers. With help from David, he had organized us to stay in an amazing guesthouse and helped us plan our bus journey into Pai. He also had loads of knowledge of the area as well, in which was awesome when we came to planning what we could do in Pai. So with David’s amazing help we set off on a small weekend away in Pai. In Pai we did all sorts of activities and explored waterfalls, temples and the world famous White Buddha!.
Pai was full of nightlife and had many street markets, restaurants and bars to go to!
I would like to say to anyone who is thinking about volunteering to go for it!!. Whether it be Teaching English, Art or P.E, to being a Media and Film Volunteer, or helping out with construction projects in partner temples and schools. You will have the experience of a lifetime!
All whilst making a difference to the local community!
It is honestly the most rewarding experience you will cherish and carry with you!
On a personal note I want to Thank everyone for giving us this amazing, unforgettable experience. I would also love to thank the Students and teachers of Wat Nong Bua, Pangnew and Mae La! for welcoming us with open arms.
The programme was extremely good and was so intricately put together, with a lot of thought from the team. I would say personally I loved spending time filming in the Hill-Tribes as there is so much culture to film. The villagers, students and teachers where so interesting to us.
Their way of life we had not yet experienced, prior to our stay in the Hill-tribes.
We loved documenting parts of their lives in order to learn more about them. So I would definitely say for me this was a huge opportunity and a part of the programme I really loved and I'm sure future Media and Film volunteers would as well. I would say my biggest regret is not staying out there for longer! We definitely didn't want to leave when we left.