The following review was written excusively for VolunteeringInfo by a previous CCT volunteer. For more information about CCT, please see their organisation entry.
In Jan 2009 I headed over to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand to volunteer with Cultural Canvas Thailand (CCT) for close to 1 month. During this time, I worked specifically within the CCT Canvas Art Program, which embraces the arts as a tool to connect with people.
To put it mildly, I absolutely recommend the CCT Canvas Art Program to any prospective volunteer who is looking for a wonderful, rewarding, creative volunteer experience in South East Asia!
In all honesty, my actual experience with CCT entirely surpassed all of my expectations ~ Everything was organised and catered for during my experience, including homemade meals, transport to and from work, Thai language classes, accommodation, 24 hour on call support & an amazing working staff -- meaning that I could focus 100% on my volunteer experience, which was awesome!
In addition to my work in the CCT office and on site workshops with various Thai community groups, I felt very much a part of the core CCT team and learned so much about the Thai culture through them. We would often have group meetings and lunches together in traditional Thai restaurants that only the locals know about. All of the CCT staff have lived in Chiang Mai for many years, and they were very generous to share local attraction ideas and promote must-see opportunities for our time off, most of which I would never have found in a brochure.
Sara and Zoe who have developed & continue to run the program, are just amazing to work for, as are the rest of the CCT team. I was allowed so much autonomy and freedom to develop programs, art lessons and have major input into the workings of the organisation. CCT genuinely treats volunteers with respect and creative freedom, because the organisation relies on the value of their volunteers to keep the program vibrant and brimming with new leading-edge ideas. You get out as much as you put in in my experience. It's such a wonderful feeling to have the freedom to ‘make a difference’ in a very real way, which is rewarding in more ways to speak of. I think this was THE most appealing aspect of my whole trip, in hindsight.
During my almost-a-month-long trip, I was able to develop and introduce an art program to a residential facility for 3 boys with cerebral palsy. I wrote lesson plans; created a folder of information on practical ways to support people with cerebral palsy to use art materials; developed a step by step 'how-to' community art resource document; completed 2 murals; and co-facilitated 7 community art workshop sessions with various groups, amongst many other wonderful tasks.
It was like I was living my best self, with the creative freedom and support to develop and live my dreams, working in a vibrant arts & community setting. My time was jam packed with meaningful work and fabulous travel experiences during my time off. In fact I enjoyed my time so much that I still continue to take on small voluntary project tasks with CCT even today.
In terms of when to go, I think any time is good. There's always something to do in Chiang Mai - so maybe contact the organisation for the best time to go in terms of weather & things to do ~ it gets pretty steamy but there's plenty of delicious fruit shakes and amazing foods & festivals to keep you cool & having fun! Best of all it's so CHEAP to live and eat-out in Chiang Mai ~ the markets are great and there's plenty of them!!!!
I felt extremely safe travelling and living in Chiang Mai, in fact more-so that I do in my own home town! The Thai people are so, so helpful, kind and warm, and I had no problems walking at night time alone. Before leaving I admit I was concerned by stories about contracting Malaria in Chiang Mai, but I found it was all hype, both through my own experience and through talking with people who live there. Insect repellant was enough for me for keep the mozzies at bay but it is a personal choice for travellers.
I have kept a blog on which I've documented my Thailand experience, both before, during and after the trip, so feel free to check it out if you want to. http://chrissyforemanc.blogspot.com/search/label/Thailand%20trip%2009
Good luck on your amazing journey ahead! If I can give any advice it would be: DO IT!!! It will change your life.
Chrissy Foreman Cranitch
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