Thoughts on Volunteering

By Dr. David Downham

When we first arrived in Mae Sot to work, I do not believe either of us really felt any great sense of a long term commitment. The idea was that I was to work in Cynthia's Clinic for 3 months and Cathy would find a school – one or more - to teach English as a second language. We would ‘do-it', have an ‘experience' and go home. We had, at that beginning, no idea that we would be going to make deep friendships, that we would be moved to the point that we were no longer the same people, that we would become involved with a group of children, whose health and survival was our sole responsibility; children who would make anyone's heart cry out, and that, in a way, we would never be able to go home again and that home would never look the same. We have found ourselves where we are now and there does not seem to have been any choice.

The NGO world is hugely diverse. The NGOs are a blended mix of sizes. Some are very small with minimal overheads; some very large with high overheads and requiring big bureaucracies to run them. The larger ones are also frequently subsidized by their governments. This, at least theoretically, limits their independence and freedom of action. Many are financed through religious groups and this again makes it likely that the aid comes with an opinion if not an agenda. It is difficult not to preach what you believe, and it is hard not to believe someone in such a powerful position who provides and feeds and clothes.

Globalism has affected South East Asia more than any other region. The economies of Europe and North America have been able to tap a huge reservoir of labour, with great profit to the Internationals and in some countries in South East Asia a considerable increase in the economy as well. The global involvement of the so called developed world has provided much of the impetus, and certainly the necessary wealth, for the NGO movement. For it is becoming very clear that if we do not make sure that all our poorest world communities, can expect and have an acceptable level of food, drinkable water and supplies and that our richest communities reduce their provisions to a proper and non-obscene level, our human as well as most other species existence, will be over, and the world will have to decide whether to start again.

PUB is a very small NGO that works with about 150 children who have fled the Civic chaos of Karen State in Burma for safety, food, clothing and an education. We are from Central Ontario and the whole thing is made possible through the generosity and caring of people from a small city called Orillia and neighbouring area which includes, Barrie, Midland and strangers/friends from far away and our own home, Washago. While Cathy looks after the children I work in the Trauma Department of Dr. Cynthia's Clinic. We are normally here in Mae Sot from November to May.