“I came across Youth Connect and a couple of other organizations… Youth Connect was so much more professional … They’re a well-organized, legitimate organization.” – Phil, Youth Connect volunteer, October 2010 – Present
There are a great number of migrants who come to the area from Myanmar (Burma). Often they are looking for work to provide for their families. As the numbers of migrants has been increasing over the last twenty years it has resulted in a great number of school-aged youth. A large number of migrant schools have opened to provide for the basic education of these youth and they fill an important role in the community, but often they face financial hardships and need assistance.
Migrants often suffer from disrupted education, but those who have English or computer skills can obtain a job with a community based organization.
Most volunteers opt to fly into Bangkok and take a direct bus from downton Bangkok to Mae Sot (about 8 hours). Different buses leave from Morchit bus terminal directly to Mae Sot (THB 350 to 650).
You fly from Bangkok into Sokhothai with Bangkok Airways, take a motortaxi to Sukhothai bus station, a bus to Tak and then a minibus to Mae Sot (Minibusses from Tak to Mae Sot leave in Tak until 5pm). Total cost: total about THB 2,500 (depends on airfare)
Sokhuthai is a World Heritage Site and thus a very interesting place to visit.
You fly from Bangkok into Chiang Mai, for example with low-cost airline AirAsia, take a motortaxi to Chiang Mai Arcade bus station and then a direct bus to Mae Sot. Total cost: about THB 1,600 (depends on airfare).
Chiang Mai is the largest city of Northern Thailand and well known base for hiking tours to various nature reserves in the North.
Mots volunteers opt to stay in a guest house or a homestay. If you stay for more than six months it could make sense to rent/share a flat or a house.
Below are some sample prices, correct at the time of writing (December 2015):
(Disclaimer: this is not a medical advice but just the author’s personal opinion/experience)
The author had shots against the following diseases: Hepatitis A+B, MMR, Neisseria Meningitidis, Japanese Encephalitis, Polio, Rabies, Tetanus, Typhus.
Malaria is rather rare in Mae Sot town but pretty frequent in the refugee camps. Dengue fever may hit you even if you never leave the town. So protect yourself from mosquito bites, especially during rainy season.
Most westerners come here to teach Burmese migrants. Even if English is not your mother tongue, you might be welcomed in many schools because your English (especially pronunciation) might be superior to the one of Burmese teachers. In some schools also volunteer teachers for math, computers and some other subjects are needed.
Other volunteer jobs include medical, law and whatever can be helpful for smaller NGOs.
Of course you should get in touch with some NGOs from home to find out where your skills might be needed. But even if you just show up in Mae Sot, a few days of socializing should connect you to the right people who look for volunteers. You might also check the links below for some of the local NGOs.
Keep in mind that it is pretty easy to get a volunteer job for a small migrant school while it might be challenging to get one for a big international NGO.
Visa issues are taken very serious by Thai authorities. So please make sure you always carry a valid visa in your passport,
For volunteer workers, there are two major types of Visas: “tourist” and “non-immigrant” visas (type “O”).
Tourist visas are generally issued “on arrival” for free. If you arrive by air, you will get a 30 days visa, if you arrive on land, the visa will be valid for 15 days. After this period you have to leave the country. In Mae Sot this can be done very easily by crossing the “Friendship Bridge” to the Burmese side of the Moei river, only some 6 kilometers from down town Mae Sot. For the border town, Burmese authorities require no visa and you will get a new 15 days Thai visa when you return to Thailand.
Officially, as a “tourist” you would not be allowed to work, not even as a volunteer.
The “non-immigrant” type “O” visa has to be applied through a Thai embassy abroad. It is usually valid for 3 months and one “single entry” — but your visa may vary, depending on your country of origin. A 3 months visa costs about EUR 50 and requires a whole lot of documents (depending on the embassy). The organization you plan to work for has to be a registered NGO in Thailand and has to supply a letter of recommendation. At the Mae Sot immigration office, you may apply for a so-called “re-entry” permit to be able to leave the country and come back within the 3-months period. A “multiple” re-entry permit costs about EUR 70.
There is a website that has specialized in Thai visa issues … their forum uses to be very helpful: www.thaivisa.com
Internet is widely available. Most guest houses and many cafés have free Wifi. Internet speed is usually good (~ 2 Mbit ADSL) but there are some outages.
It can be very hot during “hot season” (March-April) and hot & humid during “rainy season” (May-September). Most NGO offices or schools do not have aircondition, although your guesthouse might.
Migrant schools are very different from anything that you have experienced at home. Most of them have very large rooms, shared by several classes with just a curtain between them. Classes tend to be much larger than in the west, Also the standard of hygiene and food will be much different from what you are used to. If you are creative you might change some of the circumstances (for example by open-air teaching) but generally, be prepared for some new experiences!
Don’t expect Mae Sot to be a refugee camp. It is not! While the majority of it’s citizens are Burmese, it has a large percentage of western expats, a bar scene and regular social life. This town is very different from tourist places, but there are still opportunities to go out every evening, if you wish.
There are a lot of them in Mae Sot. usually they are rather small and very peaceful. But sometimes, mostly late at night, they love to chase bicycles. Usually it is best to drive slowly to avoid to become prey.
For more information about volunteering with Youth Connect Foundation, please contact the YCF Director at firstname.lastname@example.org.