An Inspiring Student Story from Penny Phung

by Narelle Webber on Sunday, 18 September 2011

Penny Phung Thailand 2010 - At the School Carnival

Penny Phung, Thailand 2010, having fun at the School Carnival

Our 2012 Program is fast approaching and ISV will soon be accepting applications for next year. Hot off the heels of our highest rated program season, I can’t wait to meet students who recently travelled with ISV on their home campus. It’s always so inspiring to hear about students’ extraordinary experiences abroad.

I get to hear fabulous stories like that of Penny Phung. Penny recently wrote to me, asking that I share her experience with the world. It’s amazing to hear how ISV affects others!

Personal Statement from Penny Phung

Last year I participated in a community development project with International Student Volunteers (ISV). I travelled to Mae Sai, the northernmost town in Thailand, and was assigned to Development and Education Programme for Daughters and Communities Centre (DEPDC), a facility founded by two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sompop Jantraka. The facility attempts to prevent child exploitation by providing free education and vocational training for at-risk individuals. DEDPC engages in a number of community development activities and events that aim to prevent young children in particular, from entering the vicious cycle constituting the human trafficking trade and industry.

Penny Phung Thailand 2010 - ISV Team
Penny and her ISV Team outside the school

I quickly became accustomed to the unique culture of the Thai locals, especially the incredibly peaceful pace of their lifestyle. I was always met with a warm and friendly sawasdee, was delighted by the tastes and smells of the traditional cuisine and found it hilarious how thoroughly entertained the locals were with our pale skin and funny attempts at bridging the language barrier.

The various members of our volunteer group Arnna, Asher, Courtnee, Eliza, Jessica, Kathryn, Mark, Sarah, Sendal, Tim and myself came from all over Australia, and we were also joined by Caroline from New Zealand, and Stella from China. Under the guidance of our fantastic team leader Tai, we had the chance to lead child development activities at the facility by teaching English and playing games that reinforced newly learnt vocabulary whilst also encouraging development of teamwork and good self-esteem.

I also participated in the evening Community Learning Centre (CLC), open to the community, who were welcome to come and practice having conversations in English.

Furthermore we took part in infrastructure renovation at the facility, where we tiled and painted two classrooms. It was comforting to know that our efforts would keep all the children warm and comfortable all year long from the cold cement floors, and would hopefully encourage further learning with our “under the sea” classroom wall design.

Another interesting event we were involved in was delegating with representatives of the Mekong Youth Net in their annual conference. Representatives from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and other parts of Thailand were present to discuss how they were tackling the issues of child exploitation and human trafficking.

Penny Phung Thailand 2010 - Under Construction
Penny and friend re-tiling the school

I also had the chance to speak on behalf of our volunteer group about our experience, providing an alternative perspective. Prior to this project I was unaware of the extent of the trade in Thailand, a place I had always associated with beautiful beaches, bustling marketplaces and an ideal holiday destination. This stay certainly raised my awareness of such issues that need our support in rectifying.

Apart from our time at DEPDC, we also had the opportunity to see some of the sights of Mae Sai and Chiang Rai. We were not disappointed by the majestic White Temple, enjoyed a boat cruise along the Mekong River, learnt about the history of the Golden Triangle at the Hall of Opium Museum, visited the Doi Tung Royal Garden, went bargain hunting at the local night markets and of course tried some of the local treats like Deep fried insects! Upon the end of the project we had forged lifelong relationships with the local community during our short stay at the facility.

Not a day goes past without thinking of my short but memorable time in Thailand, in particular the “mai pen drai”approach to life has stuck with me. The phrase can loosely be translated to “never mind” or “take it easy” and always reminds me of the easy-going, friendly and calm existence of my Thai friends. This has been particularly useful during my University studies and reminds me to always have a positive outlook to life.

Penny meets some locals

My room is filled with many photos of beautiful smiling children and mementos of my wonderful time in Mae Sai, such as the handcrafted gifts from my BYLTP buddies Top and Cheer. Most memorable of all though, is the handwritten drawing and message from La Noi, a girl I had only taught once, her message read “To all the volunteers, thank you and Hope you do not forget us.” I was deeply moved by her gratitude for our small contribution at DEPDC. These children had an impressive thirst for knowledge and they deserve the same quality and level of education that is available to other children in Western countries.

For a first solo trip overseas I have surely benefited greatly from this rewarding experience with ISV and I look forward to returning to Thailand to see my friends soon!

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