Interview with the founder

Interested in the history of Volunt2Thai. Mr. Wagner, who came to Thailand by accident after completing his education was ready for an interview.

Mr. Wagner, how does Volunt2Thai work?
Volunt2thai first started as a private initiative that I launched in 2014 with the support of my family and some close friends. It is a project that should be sustainable and a kind of help for self-help. We want to give the children of the surrounding villages a future and to vitalize the region.

How did you get involved privately?
To explain that, I have to think back 25 years. After completing my education, I was able to save some money and planned to go to Australia. By accident, however, I landed in Thailand, in Bangkok. I was always eager to learn, I easily learned the Thai language, so I soon got assignments as an interpreter for various companies.  Right next to the office buildings and the house where I lived laid the slums. I often stayed in these - on the one hand to learn the language in conversation with the people, on the other hand, to learn how life works in Bangkok. I found out how people of the same age where doing without education. I learned about the cares and needs of young families, young women and men.

Many already had children, the second generation, who would probably find it difficult to leave the slums behind. At that time, I sat together with the families of the slums, in tin-roof booths, where the inhabitants go to sleep with machetes and listened to their stories. Above all this was the strong smell of urine, rotting garbage and moisture, the young girls nursed their children on stinking mattresses and the young men hired themselves as serfs for some underworld bosses. Criminal business was the order of the day. There were scars from punctures and other mutilations visible at the bodies of those who had survived gang wars, stabbing and shooting. Often, young people lost their lives before the age of 15. Abandoned girls from the villages left their children with their grandparents then, as they do today, trying to get a regular, serious job and ultimately failed because of the lack of education. For many, only prostitution remained.

- These experiences have shaped me.

Why is this experience important for starting your Volunt2Thai project?
The situation has not changed to this day. In the villages are children who grow up without parents are raised by their grandparents. A generation is missing in the villages. Grandparents and children look after each other, the elderly are often already ill. In Thailand, there is a 9-year compulsory education, but with 15 the education in the villages is over. To get further education, the money is missing and if it is only the money for the bus to school. The inhabitants of the slums and run-down neighborhood in Bangkok are in large numbers from Isan, here is the connection of the dilemma.

How did you then found Volunt2Thai 20 years after this experience?
In 2013, I came to my wife's village and was instantly reminded of my experiences in the slums and the context. Again, the village community consists primarily of children and grandparents. I had a conversation with the mayor, who asked me if I could do anything to improve in the village. For the first moment, the thought crossed my mind, "There is NOTHING in this surroundings, not even anything that provides a basis for economic development!"

Gradually, however, "nothingness" got a face, it was like the fog evaporating and I realized that this "nothing" was the chance of the region. Unlike in the big cities, where people have to get on each other's feet and look for market niches, I realized that I stood in front an unknown quantity in the market economy. I began zo explore the surroundings, took a look what already was there, from the ambulance service to the traditional knowledge of the elderly and the activities in the temples. I defined the cornerstones for a project. I called this concept Volunt2Thai and presented it to the local village council, which unanimously agreed to it. This gave me the green light to start. I already had twenty years of experience as a consultant and project manager in Thailand. In this position, one is also used to working with government-related bodies, to implement projects together.

How did you finance the launch of Volunt2Thai?
Together with my Thai family and after carefully weighing the risks, I started the project as a private initiative. Only later did it come to the founding of the association in Vienna and the cooperations with the other villages and schools, in today's form. My Thai family and I used our savings and our labor to start the project, also valuables had to be sold to make money. But once you have decided on this step, there is no turning back. We have made our promise to the children - many people believe in our work and also the successes speaks in our favor that we do the right thing. It is important that many more people learn about our work and use our offer. Volunt2Thai is an enrichment for the children but also for each volunteer.

Did you have sources of income - other than your savings right from the start?
Yes, we received donations from good friends very early, without them the project would not have survived so long. There are still many charitable projects in the pipeline and we need partners and donors to finance them.

How long did it take for the first volunteer to arrive?
It meant a year of intense work in all social networking channels to slowly get the interest of volunteers. I would like to thank especially the first volunteers because for them it was as much a pioneering work as it was for us.

What is your vision regarding the Volunt2Thai project?
We have been accompanying the children with the voluntary service for 5 years now. The success is great. The children can orient themselves on their friends from the western world and experience a lot of joy. In the meantime English is used for communication but the volunteers are also learning Thai as well as possible. We want to create a whole new generation here in the region, children with an understanding of the world, hand in hand with the volunteers. The volunteers learn social skills, which they will later use not only in professional life. V2T is a place where friendships arise. Today's students are the tomorrow´s base of the region. 20 years from now, the children, which we teach today will sit in the village councils. We want to give the children of the region a chance for a future in the region without drugs and prostitution. We want to achieve this by helping them to get an education. The aim is to create regional products that attract day tourists, the region should be revived. In this way, jobs in the region can be created and parts of the project should become financially self-supporting.

How do volunteers learn about the V2T project?
Primarily through mouth-to-mouth campaign by volunteers. In addition, we are constantly striving to expand our partner network with universities and other NGOs. We are represented at voluntary service fairs and rely on our presence on the Internet, especially on social networks. There is still much to do and we depend on the volunteers. We are also trying to expand the volunteer placement opportunities to permanently accommodate 30 volunteers in the village. Unfortunately, we still have too few volunteers who spend a longer period of time with us.
 
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"Raimund Wagner was born in Vienna in 1968 and has been working as a project manager and specialist for market development in Asia since the end of the 1990s. His area of expertise is opening up new markets, including building up production sales and maintenance structures"

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