Today has been pretty chill for me. Sunday is a quiet day in Bangkok relatively speaking, and for once there is no disruptive orchestra of construction noises outside my bedroom window.
I have been feeling a tickle in my throat the last couple of days that turned into a definite scratch this morning. Combined with a busy week of volunteering, and a day-long sensory overload at the Chatuchak Weekend Market yesterday, I was feeling a little worn out, and decided to spend the day at "home", resting. I did get the chance to chat online with my parents who will be celebrating Thanksgiving with the family tomorrow. I love Thai food, but the thought of a delicious turkey dinner does get my mouth watering!
On Thursday I started my work in the sewing center at the Fatima Center, and got to know a little more about it. This is a Catholic organization run by the Good Shepherd Sisters, which strives to empower local women to gain dignity, respect, and independence. The nuns who run it are really wonderful women who are compassionate, firm, and funny. The eldest is an Irish woman likely in her late 70s or early 80s who probably told old age to go away, she was too busy to put up with it. Evidently it ran away with its tail between its legs, because this woman does not look like she will be stopping anytime soon! She also speaks Thai fluently, and no one messes with her! The other sister that I have worked closely with is a Thai woman who speaks English very well, and she coordinates all the volunteers. I have found her to be friendly, funny, and kind.
The women working at the sewing center come from all kinds of backgrounds. Some are refugees, others are elderly or disabled and have no one to look after them, some are single mothers, and others are seeking an escape from the sex trade.
At Fatima, they are provided with free childcare and an opportunity to learn skills to earn a fair wage from dignified work. They learn to sew many different high quality products, and these are sold at fair trade prices locally and overseas in countries like Australia, Ireland, and the USA.
There are quite a few women, maybe 50-60 or more, and they seem very happy at Fatima. It is quite a community, and its nice to see them laugh and joke around at lunchtime. They are so friendly, and invite me to eat with them and share their food, even though only a few can speak English, and my Thai is as bad as it ever was. After lunch sometimes they play music and do traditional Thai dancing...they even taught me how (or at least I tried to learn. I'm not very coordinated!).
I have been helping out by doing small tasks for the sewing projects like cutting, tagging, hand-sewing, trimming, etc. and I have to admit I much prefer the peaceful repetition and practical tasks to the chaos of the kindergarten classroom! Doing these small things may not seem very important, and in and of themselves they are not. But spending time with the women, having small conversations, getting to know them, and showing them that people care is a small way I can contribute to the project. I may be teaching English later on, I'm not entirely sure yet. I think I would like to, as Ithink it would give them a practical skill and also give me an opportunity to get to know them better.
I always find volunteering abroad to be so humbling. Sometimes I just feel like a guilty white person trying to make myself feel better about being born more privileged. Sometimes I am acutely aware that there is so little I can actually do to help. I am fairly useless. But I try to do what I can, and learn how I can do better. Hopefully this will make a difference to at least one person.