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Stouthearted Volunteers at the 4th NHA

Story by Mr. Aydan Stuart
National Health Commission Office’s volunteer
From School of Oriental and African Studies, London, U.K.

The idea expressed in the National Health Assembly are that of creating “more social movements and knowledge dissemination” in order to advocate healthy public polices for the benefit for all people. In the book, Birth of Health Assembly, it also mentions that the assembly itself is a chance for others to “learn from one another ... leading to wellbeing”. One aspect of this is that of the Volunteers involvement.

Students from Thammasat University, upon hearing about this opportunity to volunteer with the 4th Nation Health Assembly of Thailand 2011 (NHA), through the National Health Commission Office of Thailand (NCHO), offered themselves up for this great opportunity. Five of these Volunteers and I were assigned to the specific role of being involved with the foreign participants who had travelled from such countries as New Zealand, Brazil, Australia, Uganda, Nepal, Bangladesh and India to observe and share thoughts and ideas regarding the NHA.

As an insight to the other volunteers’ experiences and thoughts during the 3 day event, they were each asked to fill out a questionnaire with questions regarding the NHA. Some of these answers will also be covered in this article.

On the first day our feelings were that of a slight incongruity, involving both nervousness and high spirits. The expectation was that of gaining experience, developing English skills and most importantly getting a chance to work with foreign dignitaries. Mixed rationales swept the group, and questions such as “will they understand me, or will I understand them?” and “will they want to talk with me?” engulfed our minds.

Soon however these feelings were dispelled and the overall impression was that of elatedness and excitement of this great opportunity. The volunteers were asked some of their best experiences and it would be best to show these here:

Ing - “My best experience is when I had my first conversation with a foreigner. I was very excited and I didn’t know how to react or what I should have said.”

Koong - “My best experience was helping others and exchanging opinions with them.”

Anna - “I felt nervous on the first day because I didn’t know what kind of people I had to meet with, but after meeting with them I felt good because they all were so friendly.”

The preliminary basis of our role in the NHA was that of escorting the visitors to their seats, helping with direction and information about what was going on and where, and if requested, basic translation services for visitors who wanted to know more. Other roles included helping with the Exhibition on the first floor, tasks for the One Stop Service (OSS) and general socialization in order to network and make the visitors feel welcome. The common consensus was that of these experiences helped the volunteers learn things which they could not have learnt solely through university. Things such as how to talk with foreigners better and how to work effectively in a high-paced working environment are to name a few.

However, from the feedback an my personal opinion, the best thing received through this opportunity was that of friends and networking. Not only did we manage to make new friends with other the volunteers, we had also managed to create contacts with people in several different sectors, perhaps aiding them in their future careers. Meeting new friends and learning to co-operate and work in a team in such a high-paced atmosphere was invaluable.

Three out of the five volunteers interviewed said that they are keen on working in similar sectors to that of the National Health Commission Office and were very excited for opening prospects in the future. The chance to work in the UNCC was quite overwhelming and it meant a lot to the volunteers involved. Quite notably, several quotes, firstly from Gorn, who expressed his admiration for such “a huge national event” being “Excited by the hundreds of participants”. Secondly that of Ing, who believed that seeing “many people from government agencies, universities, civil society organizations and private sector, working together with their goal to help and improve a quality of life” made them both very glad to be a part of this Assembly. This opportunity has also been very enlightening in regards to the quality of life for Thais and has compelled them to care more for their fellow Thai.

The exhibition on the first floor with stalls representing all four major parts of Thailand; The North, The South, The North-East and the Central regions was also a great highlight for the volunteers. Despite the lack of English translations provided - which could have helped the visitors from other countries and I to become more aware of the issues and stories relating to the different areas – the stands did empower us to work hard and become very motivated. Joe commented that “I really love the culture of Thailand. The people from another province [who] came to show their culture made me feel really impressed. They taught me to love my country more. I gained a lot of good feelings and deep emotions for them.”

Overall, working with the staff at the National Health Commission Office of Thailand, we felt that we have gained not only experience but friendship as well. The friendly, kind and helpful attitudes of all of the staff rubbed off well onto myself and the volunteers and empowered us to develop ourselves for the future. Learning to work co-operatively in a team, problem solving and developing formal English language skills are some of the few invaluable skills we gained from this opportunity.

Despite several mistakes and some fears of being misunderstood or not knowing how to say what they wanted to say properly in English, the volunteers stuck hard to their work. Each encounter was another great opportunity and each mistake was a lesson learned. Everything in the National Health Assembly is about working together to develop something which can benefit people from all walks of life. The actual process of the three day Assembly not only reflected the yearly process of the National Health Assembly and the National Health Commission Office, but also that of the hard work which everyone involved puts into this great prerogative.

In the book, Birth of Health Assembly, it states that “The triangular approach [of the NHA] creates synergy that comes from constant interaction between the people sector, the academic sector, and the political sector - under the concept of wisdom and reconciliation.” It is through this wisdom and reconciliation that not only did we develop, but the whole sphere of this understanding came together. With each building block in place, the National Health Assembly can become a thing of reality and it is through this that reform can happen.

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Volunteer’s at the National Health Assembly

1. Pichapa Hirunsalee (Ing)
2. Rawitnat Marayat (Joe)
3. Naiyanan Srisaraleham (Anna)
4. Wilawan Khalek (koong)
5. Mongkorn Thongchaithanawut (Gorn)
6. Aydan Stuart

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