It’s easy to get caught up in your career, working insane hours so you can buy that new car or save to head away on that exotic holiday. But sometimes it’s worth stepping back and considering whether you might gain satisfaction in other ways – by giving your time to help people in a way that means something to you, for instance.

Feel good, enhance your employment prospects too
Besides making you and others feel good, if you’re out of work, volunteering can help you back into the workforce, says experienced Bangkok-based volunteer Yvonne Ziegler. "Just getting out there on a regular basis helps you when you’re unemployed. Plus you’ll meet people, develop skills such as answering the phone and writing, and learn to relate to co-workers."

Volunteering can also help those near completion of school or university work out what sort of work they’re suited for. "Volunteering often makes people waiting to work really examine how they can use their job skills in ways other than which they’ve been taught," Yvonne said. "For instance, ordinary teachers take up ESL teaching, social workers take up jobs in slums, and computer programmers teach computer skills to street kids."

Where to volunteer in Bangkok
There are a wide array of places to offer your time and skills in Bangkok. Those interested in helping children could assist the Friends For All Children Foundation, which runs an orphanage currently home to 23 children aged from 3 months to two years. They require volunteers to visit and play with the children from 9 to 11am and 2 to 4pm daily. "Just having some time and being willing to volunteer is enough to help our children," said director Saovanee Nilavongse.

The Bangkok School for the Blind always requires volunteers, particularly to teach English conversation to their students, who range from kindergarten to secondary school age. Volunteer coordinator Panna Narintorn says both English and Thai speakers are also required to record books from Mondays to Fridays. "If people can teach any special activities, such as swimming or music classes – which they can also do on Saturday mornings – that is very useful," she said. They also need helpers to type documents in English which are then translated to braille.

If you have an interest in handicrafts, you could assist in the running of Sop Moei Arts, a handicrafts shop selling products made by ethnic Karen from 15 villages in Mae Hong Son province. The project started with a shop in Chiang Mai, which is now run by the Karen themselves, and the Bangkok shop opened in 1998. "We need volunteers to work any time Monday to Friday. Only two skills are required: being able to interact with people, and introduce them to the beauty of handicrafts," said lead volunteer Masako Isomura.

Language teachers could consider giving their services to Empower, a non-profit organisation helping women in the sex industry through health and vocational education. They also have an ongoing requirement for helpers to distribute condoms and sex education information, run art projects and give legal, sexual, and financial informational workshops. "Volunteers must stay in Bangkok longer than three months – otherwise it’s too disruptive to students," a representative emphasised.

Rejoice Urban Development Project, a Chiang Mai-based charity providing assistance to people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, needs volunteers with a wide variety of skills. Volunteers onsite can assist with medical, administrative, translating and marketing tasks, among others. Interestingly, Rejoice now also accepts online volunteers from around the world who can assist with such tasks such as writing, research, marketing and graphic design. "Our online volunteers work three to four hours a week," said Rejoice’s assistant director Gareth Lavell. The group is affiliated with websites and, from where they recruit online volunteers.

With sites such as these, volunteering has truly gone global. These sites seek help from volunteers who can work at home to assist with projects around the world – so if there’s no requirement for your particular skills in Thailand, the world’s now your oyster.

Friends For All Children Foundation
25 Soi Ruamrudee 1
Ploenchit Rd Patumwan
Tel: 252 6560

Bangkok School for the Blind
420 Ratchawithi Rd
Tel: 246 0070

Sop Moei Arts
Soi Klang (in Racket Club compound)
Sukhumvit Soi 49
Tel: 712 8039 or Masuko on 01 639 4869

P.O. Box 1065
Silom Post Office
Tel: 236 9272

Rejoice Urban Development Project
70/1 Amarin Court, Klong
Moo 6, Suthep Muang
Chiang Mai 50200
Tel: 053 806 227

Online sites

/ Lifestyle