Discovering an Openmind

After a two night stop in Bangkok which mainly consisted of drinking strange Laotian spirit and catching up on lost sleep, I arrived at Openmind Projects (OMP) in Nong Khai, Northern Thailand, a week ago.

Openmind Projects centre in Nong Khai

When I decided to travel I knew I wanted to do some volunteering. Nothing too heroic or saving the world; just something to feel a little humanity and experience Asia in a different way. After searching online, it became clear that the ‘voluntourism’ industry is booming – but with it came phony, corrupt projects, demanding huge sums of money that don’t end up going to those in need.

In the end I chose OMP. With an authentic website, reasonable prices and anecdotes from those who had previously volunteered, and with a focus on teaching English and IT, it seemed a good fit and a safe option.

Since getting here and spending time with one of the cofounders, ‘Toto’, I’ve come to realise that OMP was the perfect place to start my trip. OMP was co-founded by Sven from Sweden and Toto from Thailand to improve education in needy areas, with an initial focus on building IT skills. 15 years later, today OMP runs programs across Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Nepal, with their main centre in Nong Khai where I am for 3 weeks.

At the centre, there are a range of resident trainees from across Asia (during my stay, mostly from Laos) who are looking to develop their English and IT skills. Us volunteers spend our time teaching these trainees, going out to local schools to teach English to children and developing programs for OMP. From day one Toto has encouraged us to think up new projects to give the trainees exposure to a broader set of experiences, and make them plan, lead and take initiative – something not taught in traditional schooling here.

More than anything, I’ve been struck by how much all the trainees want to learn. At night when dinner’s been eaten and class is long over, groups of trainees will still be practicing pronounciation in a corner, or call me over to ask for some vocabulary. There is real hunger to learn and improve and they love talking about their own lives and experiences, which is an insight and an inspiration.

Road trip to Toto’s family village with a very full car

In terms of day-to-day life, we share dorm-style rooms with other volunteers and use communal bathrooms and showers. Lunch and dinner is composed of home-cooked Thai food eaten ‘family style’, which is absolutely delicious, and I love that you never can be sure how spicy a dish is!

Lunch and dinner is served family-style

Overall it’s been a lovely way to adjust to a more chilled mentality here, and I’ve loved feeling part of a big family. I thought my birthday would be a sad occasion to spend away from home, but I got a cake, volleyball match AND karaoke. What could be better!

I’ll share more on my teaching experiences here next week. I’ve got the naughty class so it’s bound to be a mess. Watch this space! E x

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