As some of you already know, finding a free volunteering program abroad these days is almost impossible. I've never understood the logic behind charging people exorbitant prices to volunteer for free. Before I traveled to South East Asia in the summer, I was fortunate enough to stumble on a volunteer organization called Isara in Nong Khai, North-East Thailand. If you are ever looking for a free and meaningful volunteer organization in Thailand, I highly and unequivocally recommend Isara. I'll tell you why.
Sculpture Park, Nong Khai
Firstly, it is absolutely free. Isara does not charge you a single penny. They provide you with a free place to stay; it is a nice house with a kitchen, bathroom, computers, beautiful backyard et cetera. I should warn you though, after working with Isara and seeing how this small organization is changing lives, you won't resist the urge to open your wallet and donate some money.
Volunteering with the kids at Ban Nong Jang school
In fact, I highly recommend making donations. Even something as small as $ 10 or 20 goes a long way. Secondly, the founder Kirk is an amazing guy. Words can't describe how inspirational Kirk is. He quit his well-paying corporate job in America, moved to Thailand and started Isara.
Volunteering at another school
He has a zero profit motive and all he cares about is the betterment of Nong Khai. There are other volunteer programs in the surrounding regions with massive sponsors but yet they still charge volunteers thousands of dollars. Kirk, on the other hand, is determined to be the moral voice in this wacky and scandal-prone world of volunteering abroad.
To Udon Thani (Thailand) and Vien Tiane (Laos)
Isara makes their money through their website and donations. Thirdly, you would absolutely love volunteering with Isara. Working with these wonderful Thai children will melt your heart. You can teach English, work on recycling projects, play games, assist in computer learning et cetera. There are so many fun things to do in this community.
Right across the river from Isara is the country Laos. If you squint, you can see the Laotian flag.
Last but not the least, you will fall in love with this little town called Nong Khai. The Natives are friendly and engaging; I felt like I was part of a family. I always, always, always bought my food(Somtam and Kao nyao. YUM!) from the same lady and we became good friends even though she spoke very little English and I spoke very little Thai. The food in this town is delicious; very authentic Thai food, not like the commercialised stuff you get in touristy cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
The Isara compound where volunteers live and where some classes are taught
You will also learn a lot of Thai. Because Nong Khai is not a commercialised town, very few people speak English. This is a good thing because it forces you to learn some Thai. When you travel with backpackers from Europe, Australia and North America and you live in touristy hostels and cities, you learn absolutely NO THAI because you have no exposure to Thai people and the culture. Isara offers free Thai classes so you can go out to the street and practice your Thai by ordering food or buying something in the market.
A young schoolboy showing his appreciation to Kirk for the helmets donated by Isara. Motorcycles are the predominant means of transportation in Nong Khai so Kirk started the helmet campaign to ensure the safety of motorcyclists.
I'm starting to ramble so I'll stop but as I said, if you looking for a free and meaningful volunteer program in South East Asia, definitely check out www.isara.org. If you are ever traveling to Thailand or/and South East Asia, definitely stop at Isara. Even if you are only there for a week or two, you won't regret the experience. Their application process is very simple. You don't need any prior experience or degrees or anything like that; all Kirk cares about is your passion to make a difference. You can fill out an application on their website.
Posing with the exceptional students of Ban Nong Jang school. That is James sitting next to me. He's the smartest kid I know.
Before I go, I should tell you this little story. I received a facebook message from Kirk yesterday telling me that the young students I worked with at Bang Nong Jang school said they missed me. I'm not an emotional person but it made me feel all mushy inside. I guess I was surprised to discover that after four months, they still remember me.
On the back of truck with another amazing volunteer
It feels somewhat good to know that in this big, confusing mess of a world, I have somehow and in some obscure way positively contributed to the growth of these exceptional and beautiful children. I'm being cliche right now but fuck it! I'm having a rough week so I've earned my right to be cliche lol Ok! kids, I'm done for real this time. Spread the word and stay safe.
My final day at Isara, posing in front of the Isara logo