- Meeting new people and developing lasting relationships.
- Expanding your understanding of other cultures and ways of life.
- Gaining a sense of purpose and improving your mental health.
- Learning new skills and boosting self-esteem.
- Reducing stress and improving physical health.
Prior to the pandemic, I set out on the RV road trip of a lifetime with my wife Linda to volunteer our time at some amazing organizations doing a world of good. Here are some of the highlights from our volunteering road trip.
Where it all Began
We drove our truck and fifth wheel from our home in Kingston, Ontario to Vancouver, British Columbia, to visit one of our sons. From there, we meandered down the west coast of the U.S.A. to arrive in Mesa, Arizona where we’d begin volunteering.
Teaching ESL in Mesa, Arizona
Recognizing our skills and available time, we started by volunteering to help teach English as a Second Language (ESL) to a group of new Mexican immigrants to the U.S.A. in Mesa, Arizona.
Providing Support for Orphanage Staff
Another volunteer group drove to Aqua Piera, Mexico to give the hardworking staff of an orphanage the weekend off. This group stood in for cooks, cleaners, play area supervisors and schoolwork support staff. We readily agreed when asked if we would join them.
Despite the language barrier, we really enjoyed volunteering as a playground supervisor. However, after building relationships with the children, it was difficult leaving the children behind.
Big Bucks Charity Fundraiser Helper
As we painted place setting numbers on rocks for a charity fundraiser in Phoenix, the event organizer noted our funny English accents and asked Linda three questions.
- Do you have a cocktail dress and shoes that you could wear to this event?
- Does Malcolm own a tie?
- Would you like to volunteer to run the desk, check the tickets and welcome the guests?
We answered “Yes” to all three questions. After all, what English RVer would be caught dead without an emergency dinner outfit?
We happily got ready for the evening, checked the tickets and welcomed the guests. When everyone was seated, we joined our assigned table where we enjoyed dinner and a show while mingling with the other guests.
An Unexpected Opportunity
We received a phone call from a volunteer coordinator in mid-February when we were starting to plan our drive back to Ontario, Canada.
“Would you like to be part of a team going to Thailand to teach conversational English to an ESL class in Chiang Rai? It would only cost you $3,000.00 each,” she asked.
We had been on the road for nine months and had exhausted our budget. We sadly had to turn down the offer. Two days later we received another phone call from the volunteer coordinator.
“We understand why you said no to the Thailand trip, but someone has offered to sponsor you if you have the time to go.”
It took us three hours to decide, but we agreed and began preparing.
Every five years, our Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) allows us to take up to two years without loss of health care coverage. We were only going to be out of province for ten months, so we requested and received new health cards showing our status. For extra protection, we purchased out-of-province health insurance and SkyMed emergency evacuation coverage.
Arriving in Thailand
When we arrived, we could see and smell the woodsmoke. It had blanketed the city and the forest for the past three weeks. They were not wildfires in Thailand, but purposeful burning as part of the forest clearcutting program.
11 People in an 8-Passenger Van
Eight students and a driver, with two volunteer teachers from Canada, all crammed into an eight-passenger van as it hurtled along the two-lane road. A road that snaked around massive trees while the ground vegetation grew back onto the road on either side.
We were heading northeast out of Chiang Rai, Thailand. The only other vehicles were occasional logging trucks weaving towards us carrying massive ancient hardwood tree trunks going to the mills in Chiang Rai. This was a drive we won’t soon forget.
A Two-day Tour of Northern Thailand
The college where Linda and I volunteered gave us a van and a driver for a two-day tour of northern Thailand. The students were young college teachers who were taking the ESL course to improve their English language speaking ability. They agreed to help us experience the Thailand they knew, rather than the tourist areas and we would spend two days together speaking only English. They were a group of happy, laughing, smiling people and they had a surprise of their own for us.
Kanokwan, a young female student, whispered to Linda to assure her we would be alright. The intent of this information was welcome, but it did nothing to calm our nerves.
The Village on Mekong River
It was mid-morning and hot when we reached the village on the Mekong River, also known as the Mother of Waters. We got out of the van at the river and the smoke and sweet decaying smell of the tropical forest mingled with the aroma of elephant dung as we picked our way along the dirt road. In this part of Thailand, the majestic elephant is the environmentally friendly work vehicle of the logging industry. On the water, there were fishing boats powered by a modified old car engine on the back.
The students herded us through the village between houses built on bamboo poles. Living quarters are two metres above ground with thatched palm roofs to protect the interior from sun and rain. The air conditioning comes from the nonexistence of sidewalls.
As we reached the river, two strong men carried the five-metre-long surprise.
“A $10 photo opportunity of a lifetime,” said our students who were in hysterics. Linda and I hesitated and pretended to be frightened (we weren’t really pretending).
It was a massive 120 lb. Thailand mountain python. Though they’re not poisonous, they kill large animals by wrapping their muscular body around their prey and squeezing the air out of their lungs before tearing them to pieces with its large jaws. The students wanted to drape it over our shoulders. There was nothing theoretical in the photograph; we held tight onto the head and those big jaws.
Travelling and RVing are activities that practically guarantee to change your life for the better, but when you add volunteering into the mix the experience is incomparable.
There are so many organizations that need people with a variety of skills and abilities, but it’s up to you to find an outlet for what you have to offer.