While on a little get away to Koh Chang, Thailand, I took my search online to learn more about the elephant shaped island. Although there are many interesting excursions and tourist attractions from cooking classes to scuba diving and snorkeling, a post about a day care caught my attention. It ended up being the most interesting and rewarding thing we did on our vacation.
According to their facebook page, Cambodians make up about 70% of the work force on Koh Chang. Most might not have the proper paperwork to be there legally. From what I understand, Thailand has opened their doors to give any child an education (even if they are not legal citizens). It's difficult for some families to provide uniforms, books or even simple transportation to and from school. This organization was formed to prevent them from being left alone and provide education in hopes of breaking the poverty cycle.
Maybe its my love for kids and how they see the world or missing my siblings and nieces, but I have always been curious about going to an orphanage while I travel. For one reason, I feel like rules in the USA are more strict (this is my guess I don't actually know) and I love places like Thailand because the are much more relaxed about rules and regulations.
At the time there were two volunteers who had been helping out with the kids and answering emails and facebook messages. I was able to call them on the phone and explain that we were tourists with a freerunning and gymnastics background and would love to spend some time at the day care. I expected them to tell us to come back on a certain day but they welcomed us to come one down.
The volunteers introduced us and we were immediately thrown into a beautiful whirlwind of wild, happy, rambunctious kids. We had handstand contests and push up rides and just generally played and taught each other moves and created games with balls and bars. I brushed up on my handstands and cartwheels and I felt it was important for the girls to see a female doing tricks as well as Jason.
Of course Jason Paul was a big hit with his freerunning abilities. It was great to get everyone together moving and laughing and have a generally good time. We received a few sing and dance performances as well. Language was difficult all the time, but watching each other and playing a back and forth game of "Can you do this?" didn't need any words. The faces they made while he side flipped over them had me laughing in tears.
I got to test them on their colors and counting skills in English in reward for cookies that I passed out. There was a little girl maybe around five who loved to be picked up and held. She would kiss me on the cheek, but made it very clear she did not want to be kissed back. I would try to steal the ball away from the bigger kids and give it to the smaller ones so they could have a chance to play. I love seeing how determined and focused little faces can be.
What this day gave me, besides so much joy and laughter, was the confirmation that the most important thing I can give is my time. I would love to visit more consistently. Most of all I hope that future travelers out there, if you happen to be on Koh Chang, stop by and visit. Or how about take a few months to be a tutor by day and a beach bum at night on some beautiful sandy beaches. Live cheaply on mangoes and bee. Share some knowledge and inspiration to some young minds. In fact, you don't even have to go to Koh Chang, I hope you search for that everywhere.
I actually didn't take photos till the very end. Which If you can only image, there could have been more amazing photos, but I know I didn't need more. Although they did enjoy having their photo taken (oh boy did they love it). I also feel it is always worth to start off without the camera and get to know your subjects and get comfortable. You with them, and them with you. I did start taking photos when Jason started the flips. Can't miss that.
What this day gave me, besides so much joy and laughter, was the confirmation that the most important thing I can give is my time. I would love to visit more consistently. Most of all I hope that future travelers out there, if you happen to be on Koh Chang, stop by and visit. Or how about take a few months to be a tutor by day and a beach bum at night on some beautiful sandy beaches. Live cheaply on mangoes and beer. Share some knowledge and inspiration to some young minds. In fact, you don't even have to go to Koh Chang, I hope you search for that everywhere.
If you would like to go yourself or donate here is the facebook for Cambodian Kids Care in Koh Chang Thailand.