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Volunteer Stories

For Life recruits, screens and trains short and long term volunteers to work in CCD’s projects. Julia Valentine, a former long term volunteer shares her insights on what it is really like being a CCD volunteer.

 

Over your time at CCD you must have seen and worked alongside many different volunteers, from many countries. From your experience, would you say there is an ‘ideal’ type of volunteer?

There is no such thing as the ideal volunteer – everybody has strengths and weaknesses. However there are a few qualities which help make great volunteers: people need to be willing to work hard and really get stuck in. I think it is also really important for volunteers to be servant hearted, remembering that they are there for CCD.

Are there some basic factors that would help people who are considering volunteering?

The most important characteristic is being willing to do anything. Volunteers often are unable to see the long term plan and impact of CCD, which can make doing some tasks tricky or just not fun! It is important not to come with your own agenda but to come to serve the staff who are already there, and often have been for a long time. The staff knows each student very well, so it’s important to be humble and trust that they know best.

Thai culture is very different, so this can sometimes make things the staff do feel a bit strange! It is important to listen to them and do as they do. For me personally, my faith in God was one of the most important factors; I could have not have been there and coped with the work that we do without God.

Many people must want to know what a “typical day” is for a CCD volunteer. Is there such a thing?

A typical work day starts at 8:30 and ends around 3:30, Monday to Friday with about an hour lunch break. Outside of this, every project has its own daily timetable. Most have a signing time, a craft time and students’ lunchtime.The afternoons involve less formal learning and more emphasis on play for the younger students at the day centres.

Throughout the day, volunteers provide one-to-one support to the students to increase their independence. In some projects there is a chance for volunteers to lead and run activities, depending on their experience, such as face painting, messy play, music sessions and cooking.

Do you have to be a trained medical professional to volunteer at CCD?

Not at all! As an un-skilled professional myself, I can say from experience that there is still plenty to do. The day centres need willing hands to help with everyone working together. If you do have a specific skill, such as nursing or physio, there may be additional opportunities to use these. However, being in a cross cultural setting, this sometimes can be tricky, as you may not have the equipment you require and communication can definitely be a barrier. So often in these circumstances, and without specialised equipment, professionals and non-professionals are on equal footing! At most projects you will be teaching, and helping students with physio or even basic first aid no matter what your training or lack of training may be.

What impact does volunteering have at CCD’s projects ?

In a variety of ways!

On the children and young people:

The more volunteers we have the more attention the students get. Simple really! Volunteers enable staff to work with smaller groups while volunteers work one-to-one. In some projects we are able to get more students to the centre when there are more volunteers.

On the families:

Volunteers are able to encourage families that their children are important, and are special just by coming all the way from another country to work with their child. This is shown especially at camps when all the projects join together, volunteers are assigned their own child and work one-to-one with them throughout the camp.

Families see for themselves the care and time that volunteers give to the students.

In the government homes, occasionally parents and family members visit their children. We have been able to get to know a few of these families who in many cases are unable to cope at home so have had to make the heart-wrenching decision to give their child to the State. We are able to show these families that when they leave, the staff and volunteers at CCD continue to love and care for their child.

On the staff:

CCD staff work very hard day in day out, often in very challenging situations. This can lead the staff to feel unmotivated and exhausted. Some projects have to wait literally years to see any improvement. Volunteers can really liven things up for the staff, coming in with fresh ideas and just lots of energy. I know I have been personally encouraged and revitalised by short term volunteers.

Government staff can sometimes feel like the enemy. I know when I first started at CCD, it certainly felt like that. However after a while I started to see ward mums as women and friends.

When I first started the ward mums would totally ignore me. We would say hello, thank  you and goodbye every single time we went into a ward to be greeted with a blank stare if we were lucky.

Gradually things started to change. As I got to know these women and started to understand some of their struggles they started to open up to us. We would let their children join us in the day centre and ask the ward mums what they needed us to do.

By the time I left the ward mums weren’t just government staff, but friends. Often I would stay late on the wards just to chat and listen to them. When I eventually came to say goodbye I was equally sad to say goodbye to these women as I was my other friends.

On the wider community:

Pakkred is a very Thai area, so western volunteers stand out! Once volunteers start to learn to a bit of Thai they are able to chat to locals about the work of CCD, as locals are very keen to ask you why you have come to Pakkred. This can encourage the Thai community, who often don’t know much about CCD, to get involved whether by volunteering their time or giving financially or simply becoming more aware of the disabled community.

So volunteers really help to make lasting changes for children with disabilities.

What has been your greatest moment – something that you will never forget?

My greatest moment was taking a girl called Fon to Rainbow Camp. A week before camp, we were told there was space to pick another student to come along, so we decided we would take Fon who had some challenging behaviour. Whilst we had little sleep and spent a lot of time running up and down the beach after Fon, it was a great opportunity for Fon who would have never had a chance to go the beach. Fon sadly passed away in February; I am so glad we took her away with us and gave her some happy memories which wouldn’t have been possible without CCD.

But volunteering can’t be seen only through rose-tinted glasses – there must have been some low points. What were yours and how did you overcome them?

There have been many low points. Working at CCD is tough and not for the faint hearted. A very hard time was a few years ago when 5 girls passed away in one week. For me personally, prayer is what helped me to overcome the hard times. But also having a good support network of friends at CCD to talk about it with.

Some people may have been inspired by this article, and are considering applying to be a For Life Volunteer. What would you say to them?

Spend some time thinking about it. Talk to a friend who knows you best. Or ask to be put in touch with a previous volunteer to talk about their experience. Be realistic with yourself and take into account your finances. It does involve a big leap of faith and courage. But you will know what you are capable of achieving.

Many people worry they don’t have the money or time, but you would be surprised how far your money will go and how quickly time passes!

Do you have anything else you would like to share about your experience?

I would encourage anybody who feels they might be able to help to go for it! I have made friends for life, met my husband and worked with some fantastic students.

To find out more about becoming a For Life volunteer,  click on the volunteering tab on our website. Or contact us on 020 3176 5254 or email us at volunteers@4lifethailand.org