Our GROW internship ended two weeks ago and the days since then have been a whirlwind of traveling through different parts of Thailand. As we sit in the Krabi Airport waiting to board the flight that will begin our 48-hour journey back to Ohio, it’s refreshing to think back over the GROW internship and talk about our experience as a group. Our minds have had time to consolidate everything we took in while in Mae Sot—the sights, the smells, the relationships, and the stories. While each of us is certainly leaving Thailand with different impressions and lessons learned, the following paragraphs describe a few of the aspects of the internship that were universally true for all of us.
Beginning at the chapter level, one of our primary goals for the GROW trip was to collect information that we can use to assist us in applying for grants for SAW throughout the next year. We went in hoping that we could get a combination of numbers, statistics, personal stories, and qualitative information that would be relevant to answering the questions that are asked on most grant applications. Communicating specifically what we were looking for was difficult at times, but through perseverance and round-about explanations we were able to come away with everything we needed.
Prior to going on GROW, we hadn’t realized how much there was that we really didn’t know about SAW. We had vague ideas about the different social services and programs that SAW provides to Burmese migrant people in addition to the project that we fund, but we were all astounded at the true breadth and depth of what SAW does. With this new appreciation for the extent of SAW’s work, we will each be better able to articulate to our chapter members and supporters the importance of SAW’s continued existence in the Phop Phra community. It is our hope that if we can share this knowledge with others at home, we will be able to inspire the same passion in them to support SAW and advocate for social and political change along the Thai-Burma border that seeing SAW’s work firsthand inspired in us.
The importance of the GROW internship is key for the continued success of our chapter. There is only so much relationship-building that can occur via Skype calls and emails, but through GROW there are five chapter members each year who have the opportunity to travel to Mae Sot and gain experience working in an international setting. The GROW internship provides us with a global perspective that can only be gained from being truly immersed in a community and its culture. This experience in working with an organization abroad, where we must learn how to overcome language barriers and be sensitive to cultural differences, is something that every GROW intern will take with them as they move forward into their future work.
While there are many benefits that we as a chapter take away from GROW, it is not merely a one-sided relationship. For the first time this year, the GROW internship consisted of working with SAW to a greater degree than observing and assisting with workshops and helping with various tasks in the SAW office. We were able to work as GED teachers for SAW’s GED class and English teachers for third and fourth graders at the SAW school. These were roles that we carried out each day and in which we were able to make direct impacts in the community. At the end of our internship, ATL (our main contact at SAW) asked if future GROW teams could stay and teach for a longer period of time—even for the entire summer—because he believes that this teaching is highly beneficial to all of the students at SAW, as well as to us. Our being at the SAW office each day also brings an opportunity for the SAW staff to improve their English language skills. Many of them claim to be terrible at English, but what they really need are people to practice with so that they can gain the confidence needed to feel comfortable using English regularly. Developing their English skills is an important part of SAW’s ability to communicate their needs and their wishes to other donor organizations that may not put the time or the patience into really listening to what SAW says. Whether we like it or not, English is a key part of much international work, and the time that we can spend talking with SAW’s staff and helping them to improve their English, the more prepared they become to gain global support for their work and to communicate internationally.
Most important of what the GROW internship brings to SAW, though, is a group of young and open-minded students who want to interact with SAW in a manner different than simply donating money. We have a willingness to learn, a passion to advocate for SAW, and a desire to share the knowledge that we attain from the internship with everyone we meet. The fact that we are there to learn from SAW, rather than do their work for them, sets GlobeMed apart from nearly every other campus organization. This makes the GROW internship important in helping to change the campus culture and general understanding of the ethics involved in volunteering abroad. All of us have different roles in GlobeMed, from Campaigns Director to Advocacy Director to Co-President, and therefore each of us can take GROW back to the chapter to help in a different way. Until we were able to witness SAW’s work firsthand, it was more difficult to see our work as GlobeMedders in the big picture. With the GROW internship, however, it becomes clear how the fundraising done through campaigns, the education gleaned from ghU, and the outreach work done through the advocacy team all come together to contribute to the partnership.
What has become most clear to each and every one of us is that SAW plays an absolutely vital role in alleviating the political and social crises that Burmese migrant people living in Thailand face. We are returning home with a greater understanding of this than any of us had before. We are returning home with a burning desire to share the stories that we learned on the GROW trip and a hope that through these stories we can bring others to support GlobeMed and SAW through any means they possibly can. We are returning home changed, inspired, and ready to continue the long journey of work that we have ahead of us.