Khammawan (Tong) Tangtanaporn, Thailand, '09
Tong, chemistry major at St. Olaf, would like to attend medical school in the U.S. before retuning to her homeland. Tong will help with group with orientation.
As I went to see my family doctor the other day and I told her about our trip to McKean hospital and she told me that I'm very lucky to get a chance to do something like this in my life. Working with leprosy patients is very dreadful to Thai people. Most Thais are afraid of lepers, and try to avoid any contacts with the patients due to the misconceptions that leprosy is contagious and that people who have it are cursed by some sort of black magic. I'm glad that my family is very supportive of what I'm doing because most Thai parents would never let their children go work/live with lepers.
As the host, I have mixed feelings of excitement and anxiousness. I'm very excited to show my beautiful country to my friends who haven't been to Thailand before. It should be very interesting to see these people trying out Thai fruits such as the king and queen of fruits: durian and mangosteen.
I feel anxious because I'm worried about one of my friends who is still waiting for her Thai visa! Another thing is that I hope that the language barrier would not keep them from helping the patients. All of my friends only had one month to study Thai language and I have to give them props because they worked very hard on that. This trip is going to be challenging for them. I had been giving my friends Thai language lessons and although it was quite frustrating at some point, it was a great experience to show them Thai culture and our custom. I have been arranging our transportation and working with Thai-German Foundation at McKean and this teaches me how to deal with others with professional manners. I just hope that my friends would have a great experience out of this trip and I hope that they would understand another aspect of lives of the people on the other side of the globe.
To me, volunteering means an act of helping others from the heart. One should volunteer because one wants to do it from his/her heart, not just do it because one is pressured by the surroundings [Group leader note: the Thais call this feeling namjai, literally water heart or flowing heart, that is an act of selflessness]. I want to physically help others while I still have time and strength to do it because I know that giving away your money to someone might not be the best solution to solve every problem.