Volunteer blog: I am a Thai Chili Pepper

Home and life volunteer
Home and life volunteer

Ruth in front of the Home and Life Garden

I’m on my second day at the aptly named Home and Life Orphanage outside of Phuket. It’s good to have moved pass my first day, floundering and feeling overwhelmed. It was consoling to see my teammates arrive a day later and go through the same emotions. There we were, college educated, working professionals in tech and health industries, wondering how our skills and experiences could be best utilized to help these people during our brief stay.

But our concerns were put to rest by the graciousness of the staff and children who reminded us that sophisticated, western solutions were neither required or even desired. The staff here work day in and day out, from early morning till 10 pm. The children also make their own contributions, doing their own laundry, cleaning, caring for the younger sisters and brothers, and working in the gardens. What they want is a pair of helping hands, and time interacting with the children with studying, playing, and speaking English.

I’m starting to feel like part of this little community. They are so welcoming, it’s clear they operate as one big family. This is not an easy nor is it a lucrative job; the adults are here because they care. the first one to take me in was the youngest, a little girl named Numkau, which means rice juice in Thai. It was all her mother could afford to feed her before they came to the orphanage. Her smile can melt your heart.

Tonight we three volunteers got our Thai nicknames during the welcoming ceremony. Michelle was named Mint, for it was the first herb she touched when we went to work in the garden. I was certain that Kyron, a tall lanky Aussie, would be named after the long bean plants he easily staked up today without need of a step stool. But everyone was impressed by his frequent attempts to speak in Thai, and so that became his namesake. Thai is a cool name. Before I share the nickname given to me, I wanted to first state that I was chosen to help plant the chili peppers for our garden duties. We put on gloves and tore open several of the red pods, squeezed out the seeds onto a large taro leaf, and then dropped two seeds per starter cup. Because of this (and also I should add that they said I was spicy 🙂 ) they gave me my nickname based on the Thai word for chili, which happens to be “Prik”. So now they say, ” hello Prik” or they call me ” Pee, Prik” (the first word is a sign of respect). Yep, it pretty much sounds the way you would guess. It’s a good thing our male volunteer didn’t get chili planting duty.

I have to admit, it is funny how one word or sound can have an entirely derogatory meaning in another language. I’ve met an American woman whose name was the tagolog word for vagina. And my son got a chuckle when he learned that Thai men end their sentences with the word ‘krap’ ( and yes this is spelled phonetically). As in, very nice to meet you, krap.

Still, I enjoy having been renamed by this kind hearted community… This level of informality and familiarity means we’ve been taken into the fold. According to them, we are no longer visitors, and we are no longer volunteers. We are now members of their family.
Only a short time here and I already know I’m going to miss them.

AD: Feel free to check out Ruth’s blog on her adventures with volunteering and travels on this link