I’ll forever remember the day I sat in front of my computer screen after just receiving confirmation from GVI that I had booked a six-week short-term internship in Thailand. A place so foreign and with a language I could not speak, but with a program, I was highly passionate about and a sense of absolute wonder that drew me in.
I was not a complete stranger to Thailand. Just last year I came as a tourist mid-March, and I loved it so much that it was the first location to come to mind when I took that step to volunteer for the first time. Coastal Conservation meant we’d be by the sea in Ban Nam Khem, and with the devastation of the 2004 tsunami, it was the perfect time and place to help out. Not only did our duties focus on labour-intensive activities, but GVI also involves the local community as well in many ways which are great to see.
The first two weeks were jam-packed with activities and first-time training sessions. We started with one of the most important roles we had as conservationists, and that meant a twice-a-week trip to the Royal Thai Navy Sea Turtle Conservation Center. Scrubbing dirty tanks, treating turtles, and morphology examinations were all part of our normal routine. If any of the turtles had serious infections, we would apply an antiseptic that we’d quickly adopted the nickname “purple” for its vibrant colour and its ability to stain our clothes and hands. Getting hands-on with the turtles really made it feel like we ourselves were making a difference in these turtles’ lives. I came to really root for them, having scrubbed their tanks myself and cared for each of them by hand! It left me with a satisfying feeling of a job well done when we finish and we were able to see the difference in the conditions of the tanks and the health of the turtles.
Another part of our week always consisted of a village/beach clean in the nearby area. We would head out with gloves and empty rice bags, and pick up as much of what we could in the time we had. We would record what we picked up and by the time it was over, it was quite stunning at the sheer amount we collectively picked up. Sometimes the locals would pass by and give a thumbs up or a bow, and on occasions would even help out a little! Those little signs of appreciation were not only confirmation that we were doing well, but that we were being integrated just a little bit more in the locals’ society and culture.
Bird walks were a bit hard to get into at first, especially since they were always at six-thirty in the morning (ouch). With some time and a little effort. However, with a little practice, I actually found it fun and interesting, especially when you’re lucky enough to spot an elusive racket-tail or kingfisher. The staff’s genuine interest and passion for it definitely swayed me to try it out and really made it enjoyable. Friday projects were fun as well, being able to get everyone at the base to work on the same activity, whether it be a massive lake clean or a community project.
Weekends were where we could explore and unwind after a week of hard work. Being able to go just about anywhere was absolutely amazing and is what truly made coming out here to Thailand so exciting. In 5 weekends we were to pack 9 different places we’ve been to and explored, and in each, we have made amazing and crazy memories to last with some awesome and beautiful people. Koh Phi Phi, Ao Nang, and Patong were definitely up there on my list! It turned the connections we had from just normal fellow volunteers to friendships that would last a lifetime, and it made it all the better back at base when we would look back at our pictures and laugh at the crazy amounts of fun we had.
It was an eye opening experience coming out here with GVI in Phang Nga. It taught me more than just facts, statistics, routines and labour. It showed me how to look at things through different lenses, to experience things from a different perspective, and how to take initiative in being the cause. But above all else: it showed me how to enjoy it all while making a real difference. GVI, you were one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. Because after all, what more can you ask for from an excellent volunteer program than some great friends and some memories for life?
Written by Kevin Blandon, 6-week Short-Term Conservation Intern