by George, Work-Study, IHF Chiang Rai
Day 1 at the Chiang Rai IHF centre. It sprawls out in front of me…a jumble of interconnecting buildings and rooms. And interspersed throughout it, in various gaggles and groups, 12 Thai kids and teenagers. Formal introductions are avoided. Instead I stumble across them one after the other, a few at dinner, a couple more around the table outside…one over a guitar. Eventually I meet them all. What strikes me first is their independence…even the young ones. But most of them are teenagers after all…and teenagers are teenagers all over the globe…busy working out their own identity, caught up in their own projects.
A few of those projects I soon find out about. Space is cleared, a youtube music video is selected, and one of the older girls, Jira, showcases her dancing skills. A few steps are shown off, before the gauntlet is thrown down at the feet of the onlooking volunteers. A few take up the challenge with varying degrees of hesitancy. Meanwhile the younger kids show off their own moves, with slightly less precision than their older peer, but a whole lot of enthusiasm.
The oldest boy, Darid, is learning the guitar. This I can help with a bit. Spare moments spent with a guitar in my own teenage years have left me with a few tunes and techniques that I can pass on. And I do so. The strains of a ukulele are also occasionally heard through the centre. Nobody seems entirely sure about the correct chord patterns or how to play a whole song on it, but that doesn’t stop some enthusiastic strumming.
The other most frequent sound is that of Thai cartoons and videos. Emitting from various volunteer-lent tablets and laptops. These high-pitched, energetic noises and voices hold the kids’ attention like nothing else in the evenings. Sometimes the videos are enjoyed over a large bowl of papaya salad…a favourite put together by the older girls. Which is delicious…as long as you can handle spicy.
As I understand it, the main thing that I am entitled to as the only male volunteer is surprise attacks from the younger kids – followed by screams and laughter if I give chase as they dash away. As a general rule, their energy outlasts mine.