Little Phop and why this round-the-world trip isn’t just a big vacation

Pop star Ricky Martin plays with orphans at a Thai Red Cross Children’s Home in Bangkok on Wednesday
As no pictures are allowed for regular visitors at the Thai Red Cross Children's Home, I poked around on Google Images until I found this pic of Ricky Martin visiting the home:)

You may have read my post about my first meeting with 3 year-old Phop, last week.  It was my first real volunteer opportunity since landing in Bangkok and I felt like I had really connected with Phop.  I had heard that the Thai Red Cross Children’s Home had been able to identify a family for him so I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to see him again this week when I went to volunteer.  But he was there!

As much as I am delighted that he has a family that will take him in, I was very happy to see Phop.  This time around he was a lot more cooperative.  Last week I literally had to carry him for almost the entire 2-hour visit.  This time (thanks to my wife Jammie’s coaching), I got him to interact a bit more with the rest of the people in the play room.  He was really into his own version of kickball!

All went well until I left the play room to go to the bathroom.  Apparently he cried nonstop until I got back.  I felt special:)  It was one of those moments when I could more clearly see the deeper purpose behind our round-the-world trip.

When Jammie and I were still just thinking about taking a year to travel we had some really strong feelings about how we wanted the year to look. Yes, we wanted adventure. Yes, we wanted to experience life in other countries. And yes, we wanted to eat amazing food. But these things were not enough. We weren’t looking for just a big vacation.

We wanted the trip to actually mean something. And the way we wanted to find this meaning was through volunteering for good causes.  We were really intent on finding excellent volunteer opportunities.

Where to start?

The only problem was that we did not know where to start. Should we volunteer to tutor people in English? Feed the homeless at a shelter? Help care for endangered animals? Fight human trafficking? Each volunteer opportunity seemed worthy.

Shaking things up

We decided that instead of signing up with a volunteer organization before we arrived in the Bangkok (the first of the four cities we had selected to live in for three months each) we would check out volunteer opportunities after we arrived.

We had both done things the other way around before (signing on the dotted line with an organization before you arrive in a country for volunteer work) and for a number of reasons we wanted the freedom this time around to pick and choose after actually visiting the service locations.

That is what we have started to do in Bangkok. Because the Thai Red Cross Children’s home volunteer opportunity has been working so well, I have committed to going every Monday for starters. I may go more often if I decide to make this my main service project in Bangkok.

English tutoring.

English language teachers are in extremely high demand here. Both Jammie and I have been offered paid jobs. On our shoestring budget it’s a little tempting to take people up on the offers. But the point in this year was and is to travel and find international volunteer opportunities, not simply to find new full time jobs in Thailand. (For those that may be interested in full time teaching work in Thailand, I’ll have a future post about it and why it is a unique way to make and save money.)  For now we are holding off from the paid positions.

But just the fact that we weren’t looking for teaching jobs doesn’t mean that we couldn’t tutor people in English for free. Jammie has volunteered to tutor our apartment caretaker’s teenage daughter in English. She’s had one session so far and the language barrier was tough to deal with but she did really well and I am proud of her.

Thank you to everyone that is helping!

After hearing what this year is all about, so many people have stepped up to help us. I have lost count of how many times people have hooked us up by blog comments, emails and in-person conversations.  So far the Swedish Embassy in Bangkok, the Scandinavian Society, the Church of Sweden and Capitol Toastmasters have been very helpful in terms of finding us local connections.   Thanks everyone!!



Bjorn Karlman

Bangkok, Thailand


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