10 day volunteering experience – Thailand
I would like to give the credit to my friend from Spain “Elvio Minguehttp://instagram.com/elviule?igshid=1r0cayab11kf5z Felix” for the amazing pictures.
I strongly believe that life is about moments. The impact or the difference you make in this life and to give back to community or to people. People don’t remember the shoes that your wore a specific day, they remember the how you made them feel, well that is how I think, just be the ‘authentic you’.
When I was in secondary school my older sister, Celia she always used to say its important to ‘make a difference’. I never quite understood that when I was a teenager but then the older I got I start to begin to understand what she meant. There are small ways that you can make a difference on this planet and its really simple and that is the one reason why I became a teacher four years ago, I wanted to help children and make an impact in lives.
“It’s not just about being able to write a check. It’s being able to touch somebody’s life.” – Oprah Winfrey –
I always enjoyed learning about other cultures and traditions. Volunteering was always something I wanted to do but wasn’t quite sure where to look or which places so I’ve started to research and came across a mediation center called, Dhutanga Insight Mediation center. (1) Dhutanga Insight Meditation Center | Facebook They are located in Samut Prakhan, just outside of Bangkok.
It was a bit hard to get hold of them at first because they were not responding to messages or mails but then I got hold of Kim, an expat here in Thailand from USA and she’s been there before. If it wasn’t for her I probably wouldn’t have experienced it. So thank you Kim.
Living abroad and experience the unknown always excites me and its the experience that you’ll never forget. Somehow it become a part of you. We all see and things differently, if you go with a few friends to a cooking class or watch a movie or go to an art gallery, you experience the same thing at the exact same time but you all will have different opinions about it, that is what makes it so interesting.
Traveling is my inspiration and living abroad its not always about traveling, of course expats also work but there are other opportunities that you wouldn’t get if you just travel in that country as a tourist. I’ve been living in Thailand since April 2017 and it’s been an exciting but challenging journey but simply the best. Thailand is quite something. I always loved languages and learn about other cultures, there is just something magical about East Asia. Coming from a western country, this felt like I was on a new planet. There are still many countries I would love to visit.
In April 2019 I went to do volunteering work for 10 days at Dhutanga insight meditation center. It started about 3 years ago and is run by female monks which is called ‘bhikkhuni’. This is quite uncommon because majority monks that you will see is ‘male’. So here is my story I would love to share with you all..
Why I wanted to do volunteering work at Dhutanga Insight Mediation center?
- To learn more about their lifestyle and beliefs.
- To get a cultural experience
- To give back to community
- Learn new things
- To learn how to meditate from them
But of course there are some people that go there for the wrong reasons like a reason could be ‘cheap accommodation’ or they break the rules.
How long can you stay?
They require you to stay at least 10 days minimum but if you want to stay longer that is totally your choice to make.
Where do you stay?
They have little “cuti’s”, very small. You get only a mattress with a pillow and blanket. There is a fan in the room and that is about it, very basic. There are an outside shower and laundry facilities. Its a perfect spot for early morning sunrise – it’s the most amicable feeling!
The property isn’t so big but they can accommodate about 10 volunteers maximum at a time that is based on shared accommodation. The owner is Punnya Pannya who had a vision to share her knowledge for anyone that is interested to learn about the culture of Thailand, dhamma or about Buddhism. People go there for different reasons and people do things for different reasons. Punnya lived a few years in the USA and she used to be a doctor therefore her English is really good and she has the kindest heart.
Who can volunteer?
Anyone that are willing to learn and have an open mind. You don’t have to be Buddhist to experience this.
Was there other volunteers?
Yes, there were. There 2 volunteers from Quebec, 1 from France and 1 from USA. We’ve spent a lot of time together so of course you need to be an adaptable person.
We spent a lot of time together, we had meals together, we did chanting and meditation together, we’ve helped each other with our daily duties and some days we would sit outside or fall asleep in the hammock and just had deep intellectual conversations about everything and that is the best part.
The one day we went to the beach just for a day out with the other volunteers, that was such a great day, the nearest beach was about 2 hours away but we got here 5 hours later because of traffic and the first beach didn’t allow foreigners and guess what? It started raining so we had this plastic sheet and we covered that to protect us from the rain and it helped a little bit – it was definitely a day I will never forget! I said to the other volunteers you know what it’s not about the destination, it’s about the people that you are with that makes a huge difference. They made me laugh, it was a really good day.
On the way back, Isaac mediated on a back of the truck for an hour, impressive right? That amazed me but then I’ve realized you actually can be anywhere and meditate, you just need to quiet your mind that’s all.
We did some volunteer work as mentioned to before and to me I kind of enjoyed being outside, painted, get in the river to remove trash so getting dirty in mud reminded me of my days as a kid where I grew up on a farm, it’s a good feeling..The best part of it all the whole time I was there I was barefoot most of the time, just when you need to walk in between buildings you can wear flip flops, I haven’t wore any make up, I’ve tried to spend less time on my phone and just use it for pictures, I’ve read more.
After mediation in the evenings Punnya would give Dhamma talks and that was really interesting and an amazing experience to actually talk and ask questions about Buddhism. There is so much more to learn. She felt like a real mom to me, she taught us a lot, she taught the volunteers as we were her own kids and that was really special. She said we are all connected and that’s so true. She said Buddhism is a way of life; it isn’t a religion which I actually totally agree with. As a volunteer there are 5 precepts:
- I will abstain from being harmful to living beings
- I will abstain from stealing.
- I will abstain from all sexual and inconvenient sexual practices
- I will abstain from uttering lies
- I will refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness
- The mind is really powerful and when you exercise or workout you give food for your body but when you meditate you give food for your brain and soul and that’s important.
But as a monk there is about 300 rules or more that they need to follow but its inspiring. There is a guy that I follow on Instagram, most of you know him. His name is Jay Shetty, he used be a monk for 3 years and he even said in one of his videos that it was the most rewarding and best years of his life. Monks give up a lot of things to be able to live that lifestyle but it’s inspiring.
A monk is simply a traveler, except the journey is inwards – Jay Shetty
When nobody else celebrates you, learn to celebrate yourself. When nobody else compliments you, then compliment yourself – Jay Shetty
“Praying is talking to the universe. An estimate schedule:
So here is a bit of me and what I’ve experienced:
I’ve never really meditated before or I have but it wasn’t consistent and it was only before and after yoga classes. So here is what the schedule looked like:
4:30 – Wake up, get dressed and go to the buddha hall. The buddha hall is where we’ve started the day with chanting and meditation.
5:00 – 06:00am – Chanting and meditation
06:00-07:00 – cleaning of dining hall and 2 volunteers will go with 2 bhikunnis to Bintabaht (this is where they will go the markets) and get offerings from the locals and volunteers carry buckets and walk behind the bhikkunis and the bhikunnis will put the offerings in the buckets of the volunteers. I’ve experienced this twice while I was there and it was really an unforgettable experience.
07:00 – 08:00 – breakfast (so after the bhikkunis came back) the volunteers sort out the food and set the table for the monks to eat. Once they finished eating then the volunteers can enjoy their breakfast.
08:00 – 09:00 – volunteer work (this will include such as cleaning of dining hall, buddha hall, laundry room, bathrooms, making dogfood, taking out the trash) – Sometimes there will be extra duties for example sweep dry leaves outside, take trash out of the river, it can be even things like painting or pruning, wherever the bhikkhunis needed help the volunteers need to assist.
11:00 – prepare lunch for the monks (not every day as they have a host that is in charge of it but its nice to help prepare lunch as you can learn to cook some thai dishes which gives you the cultural experience too)
12:00 – lunch
17:00 – dogs to be fed
18:30 – 19:30 Chanting and meditation
19:30 – dinner, shower and Meditation is to listening to it”
Honestly I must say meditation that first 2 days was really hard as I’m not used to meditate for that long, the first 2 sessions was 15 minutes and thereafter 30 minutes at a time as my mind is usually busy and it’s all over the place but meditation is really powerful and I can feel the difference from when I’ve just arrived at the meditation and when I’ve left.
What to expect?
Nothing, try not to have any expectations at all and you will be amazed but just be aware that volunteer work isn’t for everyone. There was another volunteer that I’ve met and I think he slept there for one night, the next day he left a note with a donation and no one knows why so my advice is don’t expect anything and you really have to really want it and to learn as much as possible..
How to get there?
There is a bts (sky train) in Bangkok, the station is called Phaya Thai, there you will see there is an airlink train that goes all the way to the international airport, the second last stop is called lat krabang, you get off there and then take a meter taxi or if you have grab app on your phone, just make sure you have the contact number of the meditation center and the address in Thai, it helps. The taxi won’t cost more than 200 baht (that is an estimate).
What to take with?
- Passport & cash
- Toiletries (included a towel as they don’t provide that)
- Mosquito repellent
- Hat & sunglasses (some volunteer work will require that you will work in the sun for a bit so its important to take care of your skin)
- Water bottle
- You can take snacks with if you want to but they do have a small tuck shop and there is a 7 eleven close by.
- Clothes that is not too tight and that will cover your shoulders and knees
- Comfortable shoes
- A good book and diary if you like to write as you will get free time to do that
- Camera – If you are a person like to take pictures, you can use your phone but try to limit it as they feel you need to connect more with yourself and your surroundings
A few things that I’ve learned:
- Meditation is extremely powerful and I want to apply it to my daily life even it’s just for a few minutes.
- Through meditation you can actually get healed or it helps you to figure things out. Every person do things differently and maybe there is something here that you can learn.
- I didn’t really write as much as I wanted to what I’ve experienced but what I can remember is the beginning it felt like I couldn’t focus, my mind was always busy but then I started to get images in my mind and my mind felt more calm and quiet.
- We are all connected at some level
- Live in the moment
- Everything is temporary and that’s something they say a lot at the mediation center
- There is always more to learn
- You’ve be completely content with yourself and be happy who you are, you are responsible for your own happiness.. You are the one that has the paintbrush of your life in your hands, how you paint it on the canvas is in your hands.
A few interesting things about Buddhism that I’ve learned and some of you already know this:
- About 2600 years ago a man named Siddharta Gautama (a prince) was born in Nepal and his profound insights inspired the world.
- Buddha means ‘one that is awake’.
- He sat in meditation beneath “the Bodhi tree” until he realized enlightenment. From that time on, he would be known as the Buddha.
- He died in India
- According to the most widely known story of his life, after experimenting with different teachings for years, and finding none of them acceptable, Gautama spent a fateful night in deep meditation. During his meditation, all of the answers he had been seeking became clear, and he achieved full awareness, thereby becoming Buddha.
- Chanting and meditation is an important part of Buddhism. The chanting is all written in the Bali language
- Never point the bottom of your feet to a monk/Buddha statue as they believe feet are the most dirty part of a human body.
- Monks need to eat first before volunteers can eat.
- Monks are not allowed to eat after 12 (midday) but they can eat like vegetable soup, eat nuts or drink water, ect.
- When you bow in front of a Buddha statue, it’s always 3 times
- Monks wear orange robes and when its torn they have to fix it, they can’t get new ones (well that is what has been explained to us)
- Every day we gave offerings (water, rice, something sweet, fruit, a main course and incense sticks with candles ) and put it in the spirit house, they believe if you do this you will have a happy and long life. I think its similar to karma, do good things to others and good things will happen to you.
Well there is a lot more but that pretty much sums it all up even though I know there are so much to learn.
It was a very rewarding feeling to do volunteer work and give back and also just to live with the locals and with the female monks, it was an insight that I got from the culture and about Buddhism in general and if someone will ask me will I do it again my answer would be “YES”, definitely. I think you just need to be open minded to experience like this you don’t have be a Buddhist to be a volunteer here. It was one of the best experiences 🙂
Thank you to Dhutanga Insight center for everything, Rose and all the volunteers that made such a huge impact on my life. You are truly such amazing, warm hearted people. I will never forget it and I am sure I will be back some day 🙂
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world ” – Ghandi
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Hi there! My name is Ané du Preez and I am from South-Africa. I am a teacher, writer and a solo traveler. I love learning about other cultures and traditions. I love good coffee, having interesting conversations and I love traveling. This blog is to share my wonderful adventures with all of you. I’ve been discovering the gems of mother nature and its amazing people. Join me as we venture into the beauty and inspiration that is all around us. I am an advocate for all to live their life to the fullest. To travel is to live!
Fantastic account! Meditation is a very powerful thing…it can connect you to not only your inner self and peace, but to all that is around you. Sounds like you made some great memories!
Thank you Linda. Yes absolutely. This memory I made in April 2019 so posted this a bit late but I totally agree. I never realized that meditation has such power. It was one of my best experiences and I will treasure it forever.
So glad that we spent that memorable time togethether at Dhutanga! I will never forget you all sitting in the back of the truck in the rain and sun for 5 hours!