Catching catfish in a muddy pond: it’s not Center Parcs...

I watch as my four children climb over a stone wall into the shallow, muddy pool filled with catfish. Buckets in hand, they have one aim: catch the fish and transfer them into a new pool. It takes ages, but my children love it. This may not sound like a normal family activity. But for me, my husband and our kids, it was the perfect way to spend our holiday.

We’d always wanted our family to experience work on a development project, somewhere very different from our life in the UK. Last year we volunteered with Tearfund’s partner in Thailand, Upland Holistic Development Project (UHDP).

UHDP partner with hill-tribe farmers being pushed out of their homes by large tangerine growers. They teach and encourage farmers to adopt organic methods to help their business become sustainable – such as planting crops and storing seeds, establishing beehives for honey, and raising frogs, catfish and pigs.

These activities help farmers to provide for their families and communities, and it’s how UHDP demonstrate that God loves them and has a plan for their lives. They also encourage the hill tribes to gain Thai residency and request land rights. It’s incredible, varied and inspiring work.

‘This was not a normal family activity but it was the perfect way to spend our holiday.’

Mind-blowing
Last time I volunteered overseas with Tearfund in 1989, I was single and a student – a very different experience to travelling with four kids. But those six weeks gave me a wealth of experience. Now, it was my family’s turn.

Our youngest is seven and we were concerned whether he’d cope with the food and the heat. But he loved it. There were so many highlights. The scenery was breathtaking and Thai culture is fascinating.

But, above all, we loved making friends with the people at UHDP. It was incredible to learn about UHDP’s holistic and sustainable programmes. I learnt more in two weeks about sustainability than ten conferences could ever teach me.

Meeting the Christians in Thailand was also a highlight. Only one per cent of the population are Christian. We went to church with Thai Christians who had a solid and faithful commitment to Jesus. For me, it seemed miraculous there were Christians there at all.

God at the centre
Volunteering as a family made it very special, and UHDP took great care of us. They believe that exposing children and young people to development work sows vital seeds for the future.

Our kids loved feeding the pigs and chickens every day. One time they caught ducks, frogs and catfish, and foraged for bamboo, banana leaves and limes for a celebratory meal. They had the full experience of working on the UHDP project.

We expected there would be communications challenges, but it was fantastic that we were all able to help teach English as a foreign language. I loved seeing my children grow in confidence as teachers, alongside the students.

These two weeks massively changed us. Tui, the leader of UHDP, has an amazing and inspiring faith in God. He taught us so much about how love can be used to prevent conflict. The experience made us focus more on keeping God at the centre of our family.

We’d love to go again. Until then, we thank God for this opportunity. If you are thinking of volunteering overseas with your family, we’d say go for it!

Whatever your age, to find out more about volunteering overseas with Tearfund Go visit www.tearfund.org/go.

‘The experience made us focus more on keeping God at the centre of our family.’