The seasoned traveler backpacked through six Asian countries in three months, but it was the month she spent volunteering at a facility serving disabled children in northern Thailand that empowered and enlightened the adventurer.
She and a friend wanted to travel outside their comfort zone—which for the seasoned travelers has been trips to the southern Alps of New Zealand, the islands of Greece, and the ruins of Italy—and decided on Asia. The two also wanted to include a component of community service to the trip, and during their research discovered the Camillian Social Centre Chaingrai, a Catholic charity boarding facility for disabled children servicing the hill tribes of northern Thailand.
They were accepted as volunteers at the charity and off they went on their new adventure.
They started in Bali, Indonesia, then on to the South China Sea to Vietnam. Croad writes they traveled by train, bus, motorcycle, and on foot on their way from Ho Chi Minh City in the south to Hanoi in the north.
And then on to the facility in Chiangrai.
It wasn’t easy.
“The first week was incredibly overwhelming and there were several moments I contemplated packing up and going home,” she explains in her essay. “Immediately the language barrier made everything a struggle.”
On the very first day, after a short tour of the grounds, a staff member beckoned me to a classroom full of about 12 children ranging from around 6-15 years old and gave me a single word instruction. “English”. For the next two hours, I was to teach these children something about the English language, some of them unable to hear, speak, hold a pen, or even hold their head up to see the whiteboard. 45 minutes later I had one girl throwing a tantrum in the corner, a boy drawing on the wall, and perhaps two or three students mildly paying attention to my panicked efforts to teach them the alphabet.
Emotions were running high, I was missing the comforts of home and seriously doubting that my presence would help these children. I felt angry that the Centre would neglect these children’s education so much and I felt sorry for the children that I wasn’t able to help.
But the children won her over, stole her heart and gave her a great and rewarding adventure.
Any English I could teach these kids was secondary to stimulating them and making them laugh, helping them with daily tasks, or helping them to learn to be self-sufficient. I looked around with these new eyes and saw happy children, enjoying their daily lives despite their limited ability.
Once we were settled in, had a bit more of a schedule and had come to terms with education not being the forefront of our work, we felt a lot more purposeful and we allowed the joy of the children to rub off on us. Our roles still included teaching english at the Centre, as well as to village children at the local church, but our main task ended up being to assist with physical therapy. This was really rewarding because we were able to spend one-on-one time with each child and we made it our mission to find ways to break the monotony of doing exercises by making them fun.
After spending just over a month at the Camillian Social Centre, the two finished their trip with tours in Thailand, 10 days in Malaysia, and a day trip to Myanmar.
“We had been to six countries in three months, but it was our time in Chaingrai that we feel most empowered and enlightened by, not all the new stamps in our passports,” she writes.