|What agencies should provide to volunteers |
What a placement agency should do for you
Whether you end up with a free volunteer placement or one costing $2000, one thing will be certain. You’ll one day find yourself alone with a classroom of students from a totally different culture who barely speak English. And what they get from you and whether you end up making a real difference for them will depend entirely on the support and training you’ve had.
Look around the internet. The number one complaint from volunteers is lack of support from their agency. In extreme case, this means being dropped off at the front door of the school. The agency never to be seen again.
More likely it means the volunteer found themselves in a classroom not knowing what to do, how to do it or what the children need. They were expected to “wing-it”. A familiar expression. It means, “just get up there and do whatever comes to mind”. The premise is that because you’re a westerner, the children will be fascinated just by being with you. And because you’re speaking English, the children will benefit from just being exposed to it. But is it so?
Volunteers without a clear gameplan and knowledge of their students are going to have problems. It’s unavoidable. They’ll think their students are disinterested, bored. They’ll think their students don’t like them. And they might even start thinking the whole trip was a waste of time. Out of desperation the volunteer will do anything to keep the students interested. They’ll play word games like “hang-man” which teaches vocabulary. Vocabulary isn’t the problem Thai students have. Lack of conversation skills is the problem. So teaching vocab is a waste of time for teacher and student. We know. As placement operators we’ve seen it. In too many Thai classrooms there is a charade that entertaining games, alone, teach conversational skills.
So a volunteer at this point will feel they need “support” to get through all these problems. In reality, what they need, they can’t get at this stage. They needed support and training each and every day for the first 10 days of teaching. We’ve learned this from debriefing 3000 volunteers we’ve placed since 2008.
So, if you’re willing to fly thousands of miles to Thailand just to play games like “hang-man”. Actually believing that will make a difference. Then Volunteachthailand is probably not for you. Any program will do. But if you want to make a difference even in a short time. You need a little guidance and a lot of support.
In an ideal world, volunteers could find their own schools. But there are practical barriers. Most schools are more comfortable dealing with agencies than individuals. Particularly if agencies have provided teacher training or orientation on what’s required of them. Agencies also have resumes and copies of verifiable travel documents.
>Agencies should find schools that welcome volunteers and will provide free accommodation. In Thailand, government schools are not allowed to charge fees to volunteer teachers. The school should be in a safe area with local food and shopping amenities. Transportation links to major centers should also be present.
>Agencies should provide a choice of location so you can weekend tour the things you want. Volunteers on extended stays should have the choice of volunteering in the north, the south or central Thailand.
>Agencies should provide an orientation to teaching English in Thai schools and to the important etiquette of Thai culture.
>Agencies should provide 24/7 email and phone support to the volunteer both at and away from the school.
>Agencies should clarify how much of your fee goes to cover services you need in Thailand, on the ground, where you need them. Obviously, for firms based in the west, there are legitimate operating costs. But the firm should give you some idea of the relative proportions of where costs exist.