Guest post by Violet Jones
On 26 December 2004, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean triggered a tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and other countries along the coast.
The devastation was unimaginable, and even close to a decade later the region is still recovering from the giant wave. While Thailand did not experience the same level of devastation as some others in 2004, there was still major damage and many lives were lost. In a country that was already experiencing a high degree of poverty, the tsunami only increased the need for others to help.
As a result, voluntourism — or volunteer holidays — has increased significantly in Thailand. While many visitors come to Thailand to explore the mystery and culture of the country, others combine relaxing in Phuket with giving back to the people of the “Land of Smiles.”
Phuket Volunteer Opportunities
Helping the victims of the 2004 tsunami is just one way visitors can give back in Phuket. Volunteers work on projects ranging from painting schools and orphanages to playing with children to caring for animals in an animal sanctuary or building clay houses for the homeless.
The best way to find the right volunteer opportunity in Thailand is to contact either a travel agency specializing in volunteer holidays, or an organization already working in the county. Some companies offer tour packages that combine the traditional holiday elements of sightseeing and relaxing with a few days of volunteer work. After a day or two at a luxury hotel in Bangkok, for example, and visits to the landmarks in that city, you might fly to Phuket where you’ll work in an orphanage for a few days and then spend a few days sightseeing in the area.
Others may wish to devote their entire holiday to giving back, and by contacting an organization like Volunteer Spirit or a grassroots’ group like the Educational Development Foundation, you can learn more about opportunities available to you. If you go this route, you’ll be responsible for making your own travel and accommodation arrangements, but you have some flexibility in scheduling and how long to stay.
What to Expect
Voluntourism in Phuket takes many forms. On some group tours, for example, you’ll stay in mid-to-upper-level hotels, with all of the amenities that you could ask for; the organizers transport groups to the volunteer site for their service each day.
In other cases, you might stay in basic accommodations offered by the organization. These might be dorm-like rooms or local homes with limited facilities. When comparing options, read the accommodation descriptions carefully. Some experiences also include meals and sightseeing excursions.
Again, read the descriptions carefully to determine what is and is not included. The work you’ll actually be doing depends largely on the organization you’re working with. In some cases, the work will seem relatively easy, such as playing soccer with a group of children while their caretakers complete other tasks. In other cases, the work is strenuous and you’ll be expected to work long, hard hours.
In general, you do not need any special documents in order to volunteer in Thailand. A valid passport is required to enter the country, and your volunteer coordinator will let you know of any other requirements. In most cases, inoculations are not required, but some are highly recommended, such as typhoid, hepatitis A and B and tetanus. Let your physician know you’re going to Phuket and what you’ll be doing to confirm you’re protected against disease. In addition, pack light for the trip. While you may be spending some time in a hotel, chances are, you’ll be spending a good deal of time in shared accommodations and be responsible for your own belongings. Leave the valuables at home and only bring the absolute necessities.
Combining volunteer work with a trip to Phuket is an ideal way to both see Thailand and make a measurable difference in the lives of others. Those who have completed projects call the experience life-changing and, in fact, you may never travel the same way again.
About the Author: Violet Jones was a high school senior when the 2004 tsunami hit and was so moved by the images of devastation that she organised a class fundraiser and relief trip. Today, she travels around the world, writing about nonprofit and NGO projects and efforts.