In 2010, UCLA was planning an educational trip to Thailand for class credit. It was canceled because of the protests in Bangkok, but after reading everything I could about the uprising, I determined it was still safe to go and went anyway. Of course, I did not get class credit for the planned class, but I did find another class I could substitute it for online and just had to write up several papers and answer questions about my experiences and environmental issues in Thailand. Honestly, I didn’t get much out of the class itself (except 3 credits). However, I did get to see monkeys!
I arranged my trip and volunteer opportunities through Andaman Discoveries (http://www.andamandiscoveries.com). They set up a variety of experiences for me and sent along a guide/translator to make the experience as rewarding as possible. I recently sent them the following testimonial explaining how the experience changed my life, my outlook on the world, and made me brave enough to venture outside my comfort zone. Without this experience, it is unlikely I would have agreed to sail around the world with Dave. The world is actually a big place, we just make it small by limiting our travel and experiences. People who have never left the United States really have no clue how the rest of the world lives. And people who only visit tourist locations may pity the people they see as they pass through poor areas. What we consider poor and what those people consider poor may be completely different things. Their lives have a richness to them that I never experienced within the United States.
I am so looking forward to visiting a great many countries and communing with the locals. As we do so, I will try to share those experiences through our blog. It is not the same as going there, certainly, but maybe it will inspire others to venture outside of their comfort zones and see why other people are so happy with what life has handed them.
Andaman Discoveries Testimonial
By Janice Rowland
There are certain moments that are life changing. We may not even recognize them at the time. Like the day when the guy gave you your first office job and you didn’t realize you were looking for one. Like the day you went back to college and you became addicted to knowledge and didn’t stop until you had your master’s degree. Okay, so those were a couple of mine. Another one was my trip to Thailand, where I wanted to become involved in community and conservation projects. I connected with Andaman Discoveries and they worked up a volunteer plan that would maximize my experiences. They ranged from teaching English to Burmese children to homestays and mangrove restoration.
I was looking forward to the homestays (to see how Thai people lived in more remote areas) and to the conservation projects, but I wasn’t sure what to think of working with the children. That trip was in 2010 and I have had plenty of time to forget about it and move on with my life. But that just didn’t happen. That trip changed me as a person, changed my world perspective, and opened me up to experiencing life beyond my comfort zone. So what changed me and how?
First, living with a Thai family that had irregular electricity, no refrigerator or freezer, no oven or stove, and no running water was not only bearable but also enjoyable. I wrote home about how I loved it and could live like that for the rest of my life. The people spent most of their time outside the house. Even the brief time they had to watch television was done on what we would call a porch. Everyone knew each other, had experienced losses in the 2004 tsunami, and pulled together to rebuild their community. The kindness and generosity of the Thai people has stayed with me. It has been shown to me many times since that the people who we consider to have the least share the most.
Since the tsunami, the men still feared the sea and were no longer able to provide for their families from fishing as they had done before. This necessitated some creative thinking by the women and children of the communities. Used plastic packaging was collected and repurposed into zippered handbags. Soap was made from oils and local ingredients to add scents. Tie-dye products were dyed from pandanus leaves, tamarind, and other natural ingredients. The ladies of the communities had never run businesses before and I was unable to do much to help them during my short stays, but I hope that through Andaman they have continued to grow and become profitable. The strength of character in these ladies would impress anyone and make you believe positive change can happen through every individual’s actions.
The conservation projects inspired me to continue my education so that I could work towards making a difference in the world. Now armed with my MS in Environmental Policy and Management with a concentration in Fish and Wildlife Management, I am ready to devote my life to helping endangered species and repairing ecosystems and habitats.
Surprisingly, working with the children was probably the most life changing experience I had. I saw how these children lived, how they yearned for an education they may not be able to complete in order to help support their families. These children that sometimes have nothing more than ramen to eat, come to school every chance they can. As I fumbled through teaching them English, they taught me compassion. I see the American way of life so differently now. I better understand how the majority of the people in the world live, how opportunity is taken for granted in America, and how children in other countries only wish they could receive the education we don’t realize to appreciate. The faces of those beautiful children haunt me and call to me, pulling me back to Thailand time and again. Thailand and the people there will always be special to me.
As I said, my life has changed. I see things differently and am inspired to do things I never would have done before. As a direct result of my experience with Andaman Discoveries, I agreed to sail around the world with my husband. We had never sailed before, but we loved to travel. We would fly in and hit all the touristy spots. I am done with touristy. I want real. I want to experience life as it is lived in the rest of the world. For three years we have been taking sailing lessons and preparing to take the plunge. As we travel country to country, we will volunteer on wildlife conservation and humanitarian projects. We hope to make a positive difference in the lives of the people we meet. I feel my life now has a purpose. I feel I am a better person overall, and I am much happier and satisfied with my life. All of this was made possible by my experience with Andaman Discoveries. I waited four years to write a testimonial. I thought the enchantment would wear off, but it never did. Thank you Andaman Discoveries for opening my eyes and my heart!