Fresh from Eastern Europe, I arrive to the shock of Bangkok with Ellie who is joining for this leg of the adventure. Bangkok is a crazy bustling capital with an amount of traffic that makes London rush hour look tame.
Long time friend, Joe Drew, who I first started coaching alongside in Essex UK back in 2003, has been living in Bangkok coaching for the past 3 years and quickly put me in contact with one of his friends Helen. Helen happens to run the activity programmes at the local orphanage called the the Mercy Centre, and also named Father Joe’s Orphanage. It was slightly out of the city, so we got to the end of the metro line, met Helen and followed her on individual taxi scooters to the orphanage (that was an experience in itself.
On arrival we meet Duncan Hamilton who has been volunteering at the orphanage, alongside his english teaching at a local school, for the past two years. All four of us get signed-in and are pointed through the orphanage to the back of the building, where we come to a large open-sided aircraft hanger-like construction with 3 basketball courts. The community recreational area is used by the orphanage for their sports activities where possible - but space is limited sharing with the whole populous. The locals are running on this evening happen to be running some football training, so we are moved to one court, which is ample space for what we need. Luckily there had recently been some primitive floodlighting installed in the structure, which kept the session going as it got dark (below).
The Thai children were so welcoming and fun, beaming that they could partake a new sport and lapped up the opportunity. Duncan explained how he delivers football sessions each Wednesday, and looks forward to being able to add tennis to the activity list for the children on a regular basis when their free equipment pack arrives from Zsig Sports.
[Update] We were fortunate to have some feedback from the sessions delivered at Father Joe's Orphanage. From correspondence after the session, the director writing:
Thank you again for everything you did with the children. They really enjoyed the tennis and had so much fun. The Mercy Centre feels very fortunate for their encounter with you. If you can send the equipment to Helen's school then we will have it sent down. We can't wait to receive it! We would be delighted to send the sponsors some photos of the kit being used.'
Success! We look forward to seeing the impact the tennis equipment has on the children in the community once it arrives.
After having a beach break in the islands in the south west of Thailand (Koh Phi Phi, above) we make our way to Phuket, where Joe had put us in contact with the Sunshine Village Foundation, an orphanage just outside of the city.
This time we hire scooters and and make our way to the centre ourselves. Ellie and myself shared a bike, with Ellie carrying the guitar/tennis case and directing us on her phone maps whilst I concentrate on the crazy Thai roads… they seemingly having a whole new set of highway code… 'don’t look, just go' craziness. No wonder over 20,000 people die on their roads each day. A sobering statistic.
On arrival we park up and are beckoned into the orphanage to sign in, where we are introduced to the current long-term volunteer from Denmark, Thomas Jorgensen, who's already been at the orphanage for over a year.
We are excitedly escorted around the back of the building where, again, we see an open-sided air hanger-like playground. The flooring is tiled in an industrial plastic mesh, where we were politely asked to remove our shoes to enter (a tradition in most SE Asian homes, shops and establishments as a sign of respect and cleanliness).
It looks like they were waiting for us, with the children already on the courts and the teachers ready to take notes from the session and their overseas visitors.
With over 30 children, we split the group in two, delivering reception skill progressions, racquet skills and team games to the group over 45 minutes before rotating. The teachers looked to be noting down the activities for them to folllow-up with the children in their next sessions. Always great to see when the carers/teachers are open to learning and clearly keen to adapt to new sports and exercises (below).
When talking to one of the english speaking carers I ask the ages of the children, fully expecting them to be 5/6 years old (similar to a tots session back in the UK), but am surprised to hear that they are actually 7/8/9 years old?! It is explained to me that this is due to their malnourishment in early life - horrible to hear. Similar health issues to what we saw in Ecuador, but I wasn’t expecting to see this in such a large developed city in Asia. Although it was fantastic to see how happy the children were now in their environment and how well looked after they seemed to be with the attentive staff.
What struck us by this particular visit was the imagination from the children on the sidelines, who seemed to make their own entertainment up with a couple of footballs. Often mimicking what we were doing in the session with the other children next to them - or just making up their own team games. Great to see them work cooperatively and play so nicely in the playground as a team.
After both sessions, we get a team photo (below) and say our goodbyes to Thomas and the team and make the weaving scooter ride back to our hostel. We find out afterwards, that the crossing of the index finger and thumb, that many of the children and staff were posing with, means 'love'. We definitely have a lot of appreciation for all these people do - incredible to be welcomed in and be able to introduce tennis to the children.
The body is starting to get a bit tired now as the travel and planning has been constant through 2017... but we must go on. Next Stop, Myanmar (previously Burma), our 22nd country of the year!