As we made our way down the tracks, the smell of garbage lingered in the air. Up ahead I could see children laughing and playing, and parents were busy working or sitting by their doors. Then, out of nowhere, a woman and child approached us. They were running and overjoyed to see us. High fives ensued, along with greetings. We continued to walk along the tracks, and within minutes we could hear the sounds of children laughing. Soon, we could see them. They were already in the little makeshift school area, sitting on chairs, and waiting for us.
Their ages ranged from about 3 to 12 years and within minutes of arriving, I regressed back into my childhood. After all, I was there to have fun and play with the kids. Once each child was given a sucker, Dwight began to teach. Using homemade flash cards, he would have the children repeat a letter of the alphabet, repeat the sound it made and then have them identify various objects that started with that letter. As someone who has never taught English, it was interesting to watch. Some of the kids were fast, others struggled. But all of them were giggling from time to time.
During lesson time, it was hard to keep the attention of everyone (there were about 30-40 kids in total). Some of the little ones were running around, giggling or climbing on volunteers. Others became obsessed with Dwight’s legs and decided they had found the ultimate playing ground. I, was not helpful. I sat there and giggled myself. They were funny! I couldn’t help myself! Sorry, Dwight.
As class time was gearing down, I took a few moments and sat on the floor, along one of the walls. Within minutes a little girl came over to join me. As she sat in my lap, I took photos and showed her my iPhone. Using my trusty front-facing camera trick, I had her smiling in no time. This was the beginning of amateur photography 101.
It didn’t take long for another girl to notice the camera, soon she was sitting with us and learning how to use it. That is when my iPhone disappeared. She was busy walking around, taking photos. However, when she saw me using my Nikon D60, she returned (without my iPhone) and wanted to try it for herself. I slipped the strap around her neck and showed her how to take a photo. For the next 30 minutes, I sat back and watched as children took turns snapping photos with both my iPhone and my Nikon. When I arrived in the morning my phone had 101 photos on it. When we left around lunchtime it had 250 photos! I had created little photography addicts!
The afternoon session took place up in Pinklao. As with the small neighborhood built along the railroad tracks, the children were already there, waiting. We struggled to open the heavy gate to the Wat and walked into the courtyard. We removed our shoes and sat down on the cool marble outside the temple doors. This group of children was smaller and older than the first. Dwight has also been working with them longer, so their English is pretty good. It was interesting to watch the difference between children who were beginners and children who were more advanced. The games were a little different and the attention spans were highly improved.
As with the morning session, I used my iPhone on a little girl who was about 3 years old. Although she didn’t want to sit with me, in time, she would play with me. Probably not a good thing while Dwight was teaching, but I couldn’t help it. She was too damn cute -and smart- to ignore. When I wasn’t playing with her, I was showing one of the boys how to use my camera and letting him loose on the other children (some of the photos these children took are fabulous and I will find a way to showcase them at a later date).
When it was time to end the afternoon session, we said our goodbyes and made our way back out to the main road. I was so happy I had a chance to volunteer (I’m not sure I was helpful) and see what the Saturday Project is all about. Dwight is doing some amazing work in Bangkok. Between working full-time, running social media for a hostel, his Saturday Project and working to keep refugee families alive, Dwight has his hands full. He is a one man show, and at times that can be tough. I have no idea how he does it some days. I do know that volunteers make a huge difference. If you’re coming to Bangkok, take a look at In Search of Sanuk and sign up for a Saturday Project session (or two). Working with the kids is a lot of fun and witnessing their circumstances is an eye-opening experience.