Volunteering in a Tranquil Muslim Community in Thailand

by isvolunteers on Friday, 4 September 2015

way of life

Village children from Phang-Nga, Thailand (c) Narelle Webber

I will always remember the first time I ever heard a call to prayer: it was very early in the morning, still dark, and I was jolted from sleep, completely disoriented and hoping it was not a tsunami warning! I had arrived the previous evening to a small Muslim community on the Andaman coast of southern Thailand.

Islam is practiced by only 5% of Thailand’s population and is most prevalent in southern Thailand nearer to Malaysia. In comparison, about 94% of Thais identify as Buddhist. As such, living with a host family in a Muslim community for two weeks while volunteering is an incredible opportunity to experience a very special and distinctive part of Thailand that is rarely seen by international travellers.

Ban Sam Chong is a small fishing village located in the beautiful province of Phang Nga (about an hour from Phuket). This friendly community has a population of around 1,100, and since 2009, hundreds of very fortunate ISV volunteers have visited this beautiful region as part of their ISV community development volunteer program.

After the 2004 tsunami, in which villagers lost their boats and fishing gear along with their primary source of income, the local people resolved to create new opportunities through community-based tourism (CBT) initiatives. Ecotourism activities such as boat ride services, fishing trips, batik painting, and rubber plantation guided tours are offered as a means to generate additional income, without sacrificing the local traditions, culture and lifestyle.

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ISV volunteer group with Project Leader, Sert (front left) in Ban Sam Chong, Thailand. (c) International Student Volunteers

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ISV participants teaching basic English to local students in Ban Sam Chong. (c) International Student Volunteers

The efforts of ISV groups at Ban Sam Chong are visible throughout the community and directly benefit the lives of children and their families. Examples include mangrove planting which provides crucial habitat for fish and other valuable marine life; infrastructure improvement such as renovation and upkeep of school facilities; English instruction and other educational or recreational activities with children and adults.

In their free time, volunteers have opportunities to take part in the CBT activities offered which are designed to provide a unique experience that help educate visitors about the local lifestyles and livelihoods.

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ISV volunteers planting mangroves. (c) International Student Volunteers

One of the highlights of this project is the opportunity to live in a traditional Thai-style home with a host family, in a room shared between 2-3 volunteers. The host families are warm, welcoming, experienced and provide all ISV participants with a safe, enjoyable and comfortable home. They are also very eager to learn about our volunteers and their families back home. There is no better way to learn about the real culture of a country than by living with locals, experiencing their everyday life, schedules, and activities together.

Other cultural experiences include hearing the Muslim call to prayer five times daily and seeing local villagers wearing tradition Islamic clothing (hijab).  Also, the holy Ramadan month in which all Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and usually occurs sometime during the ISV May to September season (however, volunteers aren’t asked to participate in the fast!)

Taking part in this project with Ban Sam Chong provides a chance for our volunteers to be completely immersed into authentic Thai Muslim culture while making a meaningful difference to a community that is keen for the help! Here’s a few testimonies from recent volunteers their experience:

“Everyone in the village was so loving and caring and I’m glad we got to give them a nice painted classroom. It’s nice knowing that we got to leave something behind and I can’t wait to visit again.”

Rika Ogawa, Cal State Fullerton

“I enjoyed the traveling not only with a purpose but with an opportunity to help change someone’s life for the better through organized volunteer efforts. Traveling with ISV is a great way to experience a foreign culture while using one’s opportunity and ability to travel as a way of helping others. I feel our group made a positive impact on Ban Sam Chong and we left with great memories and new friends as well.” – Austin Welsh, Cal State Fullerton

“I would definitely recommend this project to others! The kids were so happy and so eager to learn. Traveling with ISV has been one of the best decisions in my life! I was hesitant at first but I am so glad I decided to embark on this journey. It was life changing and an adventure I will cherish forever.” – Kristen Stevens, Cal State Fullerton

“I learned a lot about a culture different than my own and have grown a lot because of it” – Lidya Barrios, San Diego State University

To learn more about ISV and our volunteer projects in Thailand, please visit our website at www.isvolunteers.org.

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ISV participants with their host family “parents”. (c) International Student Volunteers

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A group of ISV participants weaving fans using natural materials from the area as part of a unique learning opportunity at Ban Sam Chong. (c) International Student Volunteers

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