Often as expatriate trailing spouses we leave our jobs behind to follow our husbands to their jobs overseas and we don’t necessarily get the opportunity to work in our chosen field. If as an expat trailing spouse you have extra time on your hands you can always volunteer in your community. Thankfully in Thailand we are provided that opportunity to volunteer and give back through charity organisations.
This isn’t the case in every expatriate location but in Thailand I am not working and have had the opportunity to volunteer in a number of capacities where I feel I am giving back to my community. A particular volunteer opportunity really sticks out for me is working for the White Elephant Charity Organisation. White Elephant Charity is a shop located in Oasis shopping centre in Nonthaburi, where we take in donated, gently used goods, repurpose them and sell them in our shop.
The money raised goes to different charitable organisations in Thailand that help disenfranchised, disadvantaged and disabled Thai people. I particularly like volunteering with the White Elephant Charity Organisation and other Thai charity organisations because the administrative costs are kept at a minimum and the majority of the money raised goes directly to the different charities to purchase the goods they desire or need.
Many of these groups get government support but it is not enough and only covers the bare minimum. At White Elephant our administrative costs are rent, utilities and goods needed to run the shop effectively, such as hangers, pricing tags etc. I also like that I was welcomed so whole heartedly by this charity organisation and it seems that everyone’s ideas are given equal consideration and weight.
There is very little hierarchy involved amongst the volunteers. We all seem to contribute what we can and the shop and sales get better with everyone’s input. We are a small group of about 20 or so volunteers but always willing to have more join us. As a small group of volunteers we man the store six days a week: Monday to Saturday: from 10am-2pm Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and from 10am-4pm Tuesday and Thursday.
We take in the merchandise, sort it, price it, display it and sell it. We also arrange and man any special sales such as: uniform sales, Halloween, book sales, Christmas and just about any other special occasions we think we can make an extra special sales out of. We are all very proud of the amount of money that we have raised and the over 20 different charities that we have given money to in the form of scholarships for school for kids, specific computer equipment that allows a computer to produce Braille books for the blind, new wheelchairs for The Home for the Destitute and sports equipment for boys and girls teams and orphanages, to name just a few.
Tracking money can be a problem and I found out working with one volunteer organisation that it is much easier for the children’s homes or whatever organisation if instead of giving them money and then they having to track it and get back to you it is much better for them from a red tape perspective if you as the giving organisation can simply buy them what they require. A girl’s home was in desperate need of water filtration systems so we went and bought them what they wanted that were sourced on the local market and could be maintained locally as well.
White Elephant can respond instantly to the charitable organisations needs. For instance, White Elephant had designated money for a Braille printer but when we went to purchase it the organisation for print media for the blind told us that they had just had one of their two Braille readers break which were essential and could they use the money for that instead. The readers are very expensive at 150,000B each. We said an instant yes and they were back to two readers again.
At a “Better Home for Life” an orphanage for girls some of the WE volunteers toured the facility just after we had spent a good deal of money renovating their kitchen. It wasn’t our kind of kitchen renovation – it was so practical and improved the standard of living of everyone at the facility. This renovation was about making the kitchen clean, efficient, keeping the food safe and away from the rats, cool and dry.
It wasn’t glamorous but it turned out really well and was what they needed. When we were looking over our handywork we discovered that they needed water up to the fourth floor for showers so we provided the water tanks and piping to get good water pressure up to the fourth floor, mirrors in all the bathrooms and doors on the bathroom stalls. Beyond their physical needs, we had also bought them weekend clothes, we also look at their educational needs and give school scholarships and we took them to a book publisher where every child chose one or two books.
The White Elephant volunteer work goes on all year round and it is so wonderful to see the work that a person puts in go directly to helping those in need within the Thai community in such a very visible way. This truly feels like giving.
For many of these children this was the very first time they had owned a book. The caretakers at the orphanage said that the girls are trading books with other girls at school, so we feel it has been extremely successful. We have gone ahead and organised the book buy for another group of children, a slightly larger group of boys and girls. White Elephant gave the scholarship money to one young woman at Thanksgiving House so she could be trained as a chef.
Thanksgiving House wanted to start a restaurant where they use the children from the house to operate the restaurant so that the young people would gain valuable work experience and skills to take them further in life. The restaurant is open and running successfully. The young people who live at Thanksgiving House are gaining the experience and skills they need. This young chef is making her mark where she can and still cooking at the Thanksgiving House restaurant kitchen.
White Elephant also helps support Thai mobile medical and dental units. The mobile health units vary in size and go to different part of Bangkok and other parts of Thailand to provide free medical and dental care to people who can’t afford it. All the healthcare staff on the units are volunteers and they give of their time and talents to take care of those who cannot afford to get care otherwise. White Elephant provided dental equipment needed to support a mobile dental unit in Bangkok that serviced a few hundred people in a couple of days.