I just recently accepted a volunteer position with a small NGO. I have to say I abhor most of these false do gooder institutions, which in reality amount to nothing more than religion disguised as something useful. Like a poor child in Cambodia needs a bible, or to learn the Koran!!! To these religious NGO's my comment is:
"When you understand why you do not want other Gods, then you will understand why I do not want yours."
What changed my mind about NGO's is Hawaii Hope International, no religion, no overhead / administrative expenses etc. Just a bunch of educated volunteers with no false motives. Every penny gets spent on projects for the long term, to support orphanages in Siem Reap, and Chiang Rai for now.
This institution grew out of the vision of a political sciences PHD professor here who realized after some time the bar girl scene and other entertainment starts to feel superficial and somewhat pointless after a while. I have to say I can relate to his experience even after only three 1 month trips to Thailand.
On the first trip my memories were all of the usual nature which I read again, and again, in reader submissions. By the 3rd trip however my fondest memories were of the people I had spent time with in SE Asia. The owner of "Cheap Charlie's" in Ko Kong Cambodia for example.
I will never forget spending over two hours talking with him about the killing fields, listening to his story, and his wife's about the loss of almost all their family. Towards the end of the conversation their little daughter emerged with her school uniform, and both their faces turned from sorrow to absolute smiles, with nothing but hope for her future. He explained their dreams had been taken away, so now her future is their dream. This was an incredibly moving experience for me. I found myself reduced to an ego-less state of mind with a clear understanding of what had actually happened in Cambodia on a human level. No museum or monument could ever teach me this. The tear in my eye with a smile told me I understood this lesson of life.
My point is that for most thinking people who spend time in SE Asia the treasure of the people (No, not the "fur box") is worthwhile exploring. I have noticed this point of view articulated also in many reader submissions. If you take this a step further giving back has a reward here which stays with you more than a night with even the best bar girl.
I think for many giving a little back can clear the mind, and the spirit. Maybe restoring feelings and pleasures once thought gone for good. After the "Disneyland" effect wears off with the passage of the months and years this is a nice change to bring back a little "sanuk". I think if expats and visitors explored this direction it may hold the key to a happy heart and a serene mind.
I am doing the single parent thing and I plan to take both of my children, ages 7 and 11, to Cambodia and Chiang Rai next summer if I can save up the airfare for all of us. I now look forward to the faces of the children in the orphanages, and of the locals which seem to respect and admire non-religious, or self serving help. If you are bored with your current lifestyle in Thailand give this a shot, it can be real cool. On the funny side it seems to really fuck with the minds of many Thais and their pre-conceived ideas about farangs and what we are all about!!! You can see it in their faces, that bewildered look.
Maybe I will meet some readers of this site some day, and hey I will not mind a trip to the bar for a few beers and some fun except I think now it will be so much more fun again!!!
PS: Here is the e-mail address for Hawaii Hope International if any readers are interested in helping, or to make a little financial merit to borrow a Thai concept, a little tonic for the heart and the mind to help the smile along.
I am always cynical about the work of the NGOs. People at the top seem to understand what is going on but people at the grass roots level seem have some really warped ideas, or at least those that I have met have. Good luck.