Flying to Pattaya was a flight into the unknown. Even though we went through a two-day preparation seminar, it is impossible to plan every detail of an assignment like this. Little did we expect how living with eleven people and sharing rooms – with each other and occasionally with creepy small animals – would bring us closer together. Or how the work with children and with our Thai colleagues would inspire us personally. Or how this experience may turn out to be very relevant to Lufthansa Group, even though what we did is so far away from aviation.
After our arrival, we noticed how professionally the Human Help Network Foundation (HHNFT) is run. We had to make sure that our projects complemented their work. We ended up, on the one hand, taking care of some bid tasks for which the staff did not have time in their daily schedules: we revamped the organization’s brochure and made a new image film, which will help them gain good visibility and find additional benefactors. On the other hand, we set up an educational program, focusing on English, geography and hygiene. We opted for geography as we realized that most children had no idea about how the world looks like or where Thailand is located on the map. It was moving to see their stunned faces when we showed a video about Antarctica – they had never heard of something like snow before.
On top of that, we put up a circus show with the children. Circus is known among educators to be an art in which every child can find something they are good at. It increases their creativity and self-confidence – we were touched when we saw some of the more shy children blossom once they had found their favorite skill. The intense trainings with the children brought us closer to them… and some of us could not keep it dry during the final circus performance in front of a delegation of Lufthansa Group, the help alliance and other sponsors of HHNFT.
Going from not knowing the organization at all to finishing these jobs in just four weeks was a challenge; but no hour of work was too much when seeing the children smile and laugh. We even used our free time and teamed up with local Lufthansa colleagues to arrange lice shampoo worth 10,000 EUR for the organization.
This experience was highly emotional and led to personal insights for many of us. Knowing the sometimes shocking backgrounds of these children and not being able to reconcile these with their happy faces, made us more appreciative of our own situation.
Even though only time can tell, I think this experience taught us valuable lessons for our work at Lufthansa Group. For example, we had to work very hands-on to be able to achieve something in only four weeks. There was no time to consider and reconsider ideas on paper, so we rather tried things out and changed course if it did not seem to work out. On top of that, we had to be flexible to make our plans fit in the busy schedule of the employees and children – after a while, we were not surprised anymore when we were told in the morning that our English class could not take place, as we should prepare a performance with the children for the next fundraising event. And, of course, we encountered countless communication issues due to differences between Thai and German/European cultures. When we asked where we could find the nearest post office, for example, our Thai colleagues dropped everything and immediately drove us to this post office – things like this happened so often in the first weeks, when we asked for some information and they interpreted it as us expecting immediate action from them.
The examples above – trial and error, flexibility and intercultural awareness – are valuable learnings that we can apply to our work for Lufthansa Group.
Even the mere fact that we were away from our usual offices can be beneficial. It is not good to get used to your environment and to stop questioning your habits. Before that happens, it is time to get out and remind yourself that there is another world out there. It is as if your glasses were getting dirty and you clean them through this experience. Upon your return, you perceive things in a fresh way. If it happens regularly that someone gets out and comes back with these clean glasses, this can help to prevent the LHG from becoming complacent.
All in all, we hope and believe that this experience will leave a lasting impression with the children, with the Human Help Network Foundation Thailand, with Lufthansa Group and with ourselves.