Where will I be living?

Teaching volunteers will live with a host Karen family. The group of water volunteers will also live amongts the Karen community, but all under the same roof.

The Karen traditionally build simple houses on stilts, usually using split bamboo for walls and floors, with roofs made of thatch or grass. Chickens, pigs, buffalo, and cattle are kept under the house at night and almost all traditional Karen houses have a spacious, partly covered veranda which is used for preparing food, weaving, doing other work, and as a place to chat with friends and accommodate overnight guests. The houses usually consist of 1-2 rooms, one of which is used as a sleeping compartment.

In the main living room, located in the center of the house, there is a fireplace surrounded by cooking utensils, and dishes. Over the fire is suspended a woven bamboo tray that is used for drying and storage. The fire is often kept going day and night and is used for cooking, to keep the family members warm, and is a deterrent to mosquitoes.

The villages all vary in their levels of development. You will probably sleep on a mat on the floor without a mattress or possibly a wooden bed-frame of some sort. Some of the houses have outhouse-style squatter toilets; some modern-style houses may have indoor toilets.

You can take an active part in the village activities, and the villagers will be as eager to talk with you as you are with them!

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What kind of facilities are available in the villages?

The majority of villages have electricity, a primary school and a temple and/or church. Toilets also known as latrines are generally outdoor squat-style’s. If your village has a KHT water supply (which is likely) you will have clean drinking water straight from the tap. Villages have a tannoy system to inform villagers daily of events and news. These are run by the headman of the village and when not in use, they often play the radio in the morning. As announcements are in Karen or Thai, it may be worth asking someone to tell you when something comes up that you may need to know!

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What kind of facilities are available in the small towns?

In most towns there are cafes, a laundrette, a post office, DIY and hardware shops (that sell everything you might need!), a bank, an ATM, a pharmacy, a hospital and weekly market stalls.

There is no public transport between the towns and villages but you can get lifts from local people that you know. The school bus (paid for by KHT) is also a possibility as it returns to the villages at night. National buses are available on Route 108 between Mae Hong Son and Mae Sariang.

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How can I stay in touch with home?

It's best to be prepared for limited contact with home.

The main post offices are in the towns. Letters to and from the UK take about a week, but mail coming in will have to get to your village taking a few more days.

Phones: We advise packing a cheap unlocked phone with you. Pay as you go SIM cards can be purchased when in Chiang Mai and also in Khun Yuam. They are relatively inexpensive and we recommend the following networks:

  • AIS (this network is used by our Thai staff)
  • 12 Call
  • DTAC
  • 4G is widely available in Chiang Mai 

E-mail: is available from some schools and internet cafes in the towns. Some internet cafes support Skype as well.

You will be supplied with an emergency card with all important contact details from our UK staff to our in-country Thai staff. In an emergency you should follow the instructions on the card.

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What kind of support will be available to me whilst there?

When you get to Khun Yuam, you will be introduced to Salahae, our Karen manager, and Nootsabar, our Administration officer. Salahae and Nootsabar are responsible for you and will be your support for the period of your volunteer placement in Thailand. Both Salahae and Nootsabar are in constant communication with the UK Director and Programme Officer and contact can be made very quickly in case of an emergency.

We at the UK office would also like to know how you are settling in from time to time, so please do keep in touch on either our Facebook page and Twitter account or even via email.

Every effort is made to ensure your safety; your family will be carefully chosen to ensure someone is around during the day should you have any problems or feel unwell. You can also contact Salahae and Nootsabar as soon as possible if you have any concerns.

We are only responsible for your welfare in Thailand during the period of your volunteer placement.

If you are experiencing any health problems, your host family will contact both Salahae and Nootsabar to take you to the nearest doctor’s surgery or hospital. Hospitals are a maximum of 2 hours away. Most issues can be dealt with locally, but occasionally it may be necessary to be transferred to a larger hospital in Mae Hong Son, Mae Sariang or even Chiang Mai.

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When might I have time for independent travel?

The best time for travel is before or after your placement. For longer term volunteers, there is also the opportunity to travel in the school holidays (6 weeks from March to May, or 2 weeks in October).

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Do I need a TEFL qualification to teach?

No, it is not necessary. Karen children learn Karen, then learn Thai and English. Thai is a very different language to English so teaching methods will require a different approach. You will be given training and documents to help you with teaching prior to your placement.

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What are Thai schools like?

All schools communicate in Thai and are Buddhist, but every school is different in setting, facilities and commitment from teachers. Primary schools are often remote and the level of teaching limited. With minimal budgets, the buildings and resources can be primitive, sometimes with no electricity. As children are often poor, books, pens and paper are limited. However, where there is electricity, some schools are using TVs to teach some subjects. Secondary schools are more formal - teachers are highly respected and need to be formally dressed.

Each day (in both primary and secondary schools) starts with an assembly, often led by the students. During the day, classes can vary in size but sometimes reach as many as forty pupils. Don't be surprised if the teaching day is seriously disrupted by an event such as a Buddhist ceremony, an inspection or a royal birthday. One day of the year is Teacher Day where students present teachers with flowers and then wai (take a Thai bow) to them.

Schools work on a semester system, with the academic year starting in May. As a result, although all schools celebrate Christmas (even though not Christian) there is no school holiday.

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What age-groups will I be teaching?

This depends on your skills and age. Younger volunteers are likely to teach at primary schools but some may spend one day a week at a secondary school. Older volunteers may teach at a secondary school but will still have some experience teaching in a primary school.

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Will I have any free time during the teaching term?

You will need to manage your own free time - it can sometimes be difficult as children may not understand what is 'your space'. Your room may be filled with them in the evening, all longing to learn from you! Life with the Karen people in their villages is very busy and varied with weddings, funerals, youth groups, hunting, fishing, planting rice, weaving and camping - you're encouraged to get involved with it all! If you're interested they'll include you in their social activities and take you to visit wonderful local sites, for example nearby waterfalls or temples. However, do not hesitate to take some time alone if you wish.

You may get the chance to go to Chiang Mai once in a while (changing your visa is a good excuse for an evening in the city's night-spots), but it is a full day on a bus to get there and if you're away too often at weekends you'll miss getting involved with the Karen culture.

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What is involved in installing a clean water system?

There are still hundreds of villages without a supply of clean water. The installation projects find a natural source (which may be several kilometres from the village, high in the mountains) and dam it. Water is passed through a filter tank and then transported to the village by lengths of pipe dug into trenches, sometimes 10 kilometres through the mountains. In the village, large storage tanks are built and taps are set up near the houses. The system is gravity fed and requires little maintenance. More details can be found here: Clean Water Systems

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Will I need a visa?

If you are likely to be in Thailand for more than one month, you will need a visa. Please contact the Thai Consulate in Hull or the London office. You can download the application form from their website. Citizens from certain countries can only apply to the Consulate in London. Visas can be applied for up to three months before departure.

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What kind of insurance do I need?

You'll need a fully comprehensive travel insurance policy with repatriation to cover your time with the trust.

For volunteers taking part in the water systems, the Trust requires you to take out insurance which covers light manual labour. Please read the small print carefully to ensure that the policy allows for this. If in any doubt, contact your insurance company.

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How do I arrange travel to and from Thailand?

You'll need to book a return flight - the sooner you book, the cheaper your ticket is likely to be, but make sure you check your proposed dates with the UK office before you make the call!

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What vaccinations / malaria medication do I need?

You must seek advice from your GP or local travel clinic and you can consult the World Health Organisation's website for their current guidelines. Sometimes the vaccination courses take several months to come into full effect, so please ensure this is all up-to-date before you travel.

If you have any other specific health or medical conditions, let us know and we can try to place you in a location with adequate facilities, or make other arrangements. Bare in mind that you will be within hours of a hospital at any given time where there is likely to be an English speaking doctor on duty. Serious problems will be referred to larger hospitals.

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What should I take with me?

There are a few items which are hard to obtain in the local towns. Sleeping bags, mosquito repellent, suncream and sunglasses are best brought from home or bought in Chiang Mai (which will be significantly cheaper than in the UK). It may also be difficult to find suitable clothes so it's generally best to bring what you'll need to wear with you. Other items such as mosquito nets, socks, hats and waterproofs are easily obtainable in the towns.

In terms of spending-money, if you're supplementing your diet with snacks, emailing a couple of times a week, going away for the weekend a couple of times a month and posting letters, a very rough figure would be about £70 per month.

Be aware that if you spend time in Chiang Mai, it will be more expensive. We don't recommend travellers' cheques. There are ATMs in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Mae Sariang, all accept Visa, Mastercard and Cirrus etc, so just take enough Baht for about one month.

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