2008 Culture and Education Program in Northern Thailand

Again we are on the road to Chang-Liang village located in Northern Thailand, Qing-Mai Province. It is a small place with a population of about 4,500 where four hundred families of Yunnan Chinese, Lahu and Hakka people live. The village is located high in the mountains. Nearly the whole area is agricultural except for the seven grocery stores scattered through the village. Sometimes trucks come from neighboring villages taking more than one and a half hours to drive up the valley to sell meat and fish in this small village as well as bringing those in need the newspaper of that day.

The payment for work there is not high. Whether for a worker or a teacher, approximately NT$100 is paid for eight hours’ work a day. This amount of money can support only one child to go to school. Through the arrangement of Ming-Ai Catholic Educational Foundation, Wenzao International Service Learning Association (WISLA) with their last year’s one-month teaching experience in Yu-Ying Junior School and Xian-Hua primary school visited again these two familiar schools, and brought educational services to sixteen teachers and more than four hundred students

Yu-Ying Junior School is a Chinese school established by local Chinese in order to maintain and pass down Chinese culture. There are totally nine classes. Chinese is used to teach the primary program from first year to third year. The class hours run from six o’clock to half-past eight in the evening.

In the mornings, most students go to school on foot not long after six o,clock. Some primary school students have to walk for thirty to forty minutes in order to receive the free education offered by the Royal Thai Language School. Some of the third year primary students have to cut the shafts of sugar cane, slice cabbage, stir-fry it and feed the pigs before six o’clock every morning. Around half past four, they will walk another hour to the Chinese school for Chinese education. After the classes, when they get home and have their dinner, it is already nine o’clock in the evening. Student refugees from Myanmar have no money. All they can do is to rely on relief payments to complete education in junior high school. Otherwise, they have go into debt or receive no education at all.

It is difficult to employ teaches there because of the position of the place. The teachers they have are mostly graduated from Chinese primary school in Myanmar except for one who has a senior high school diploma. Among them, four are sixty years old already. Thus, local teachers are very eager to learn teaching methods. Due to the insufficiency of classrooms, Xian-Hua primary school located in Meng-Na village, can take only seventy students and, unsurprisingly, the situation of one room being shared by two classes of students is not uncommon.

This year, the principal again invited Wenzao International Volunteers to serve there and to offer local teachers the service of teaching methodology, teaching content and strategies that inspire the learning motivation of students. The principal has discovered that the way volunteers teach encourages students to be active in presenting themselves on stage, something which is most needed in the school.

Volunteers retaining their original enthusiasm and recognizing the importance of their mission underwent two hours training every week after they registered in October 2007. As well as receiving training in English, Math, pronunciation correction and Chinese speaking teaching methods, they were particularly formed in the service spirit of Wenzao needed by international volunteers. For this, I would like very much to thank members of Wenzao faculty and those from the Religion/ Counseling Center for they have shared rich experience with those being trained. There were totally eleven trained members. Because of the inter-college cooperation appeal promoted by the Ministry of Education, one of the members was a student from the Sports Medicine department, Kaohsiung Medical University. This student’s participation enriched our teaching service in Yu-Ying Junior School and also gave great help in the teaching of health care.

With last year’s experience, this year’s teaching courses were better-planned.., The preparation of teaching materials and printed texts beforehand made our teaching methods more efficient. Thus, the volunteers also realized the importance of pre-preparation. Every morning, from nine to twelve was the teaching period for teachers and those students who had a junior high school degree but no possibility to receive senior high school education in other provinces or countries. In the afternoon, the volunteers prepared for the evening classes. The evening classes, when the the volunteers acted as teaching assistants of the main teachers, began at six and ended at half-past eight.

Students in these classes were used to learning by following every word with their fingers. . Hence, they were excited and interested when learning through the games and songs brought by these Taiwanese teachers (as they call our volunteers). This year we had something special—the weekend living camp. The theme of the camp was “My Dream,” and intended to inspire students’ hope for the future. All the teachers and students experienced a day of interaction and brainstorming among groups. The volunteers were the teaching assistants in the groups. Another thing worth mentioning is the establishment of a computer classroom last year. This year, we had another room for a library. All the books stored there are Chinese books, gathered and sent there gradually by the volunteers. The volunteers worked hard together and also taught the local teachers how to catalogue the books. Besides, we had three volunteers who helped the school build up its history. They went to the elders for information, collected and organized the scattered memories of the school history. This enterprise also realized the principal’s longed for dream. Even though Chang-Liang village does not itself have access to the Internet system at present, the Internet work can be done in Taiwan and put onto the Iinternet with the help of the volunteers.

The group sharing time, from nine o’clock to eleven o’clock in the evening, is a very important task for the volunteers. Everyday, they share with each other records of personal experience and reflection. They go through what they have seen and heard during the daytime and examine what they have learned and what needs further improvement. This personal sharing practiced under the instructor’s guidance enhances the volunteers’ ability of self-reflection and sensitivity of observation and judgment. Several conclusions from what they have learned may be listed here:

1. They have learned to live a simple life. They have no Internet, no television, and no make up. They accept local ways of living. Sometimes, the electricity goes out when they are taking a shower. Everyday, they wash their clothes by hand. They hear the noises of mice and insects when they are in bed. Living under these conditions, the volunteers do not complain but feel the happiness of a simple life. This satisfaction is further proved when they see the happiness and satisfaction shown on the faces of the refugee children. Usually they are cheered and satisfied simply because of the few educational resources they have received.

2. They show humble learning attitudes—the humble learning attitude of the older local teachers has impressed the volunteers so deeply that they keep reminding themselves to study harder in order to offer further and better help in the future.

3. Being considerate for others—living abroad, if they don’t think of others and take care of themselves, they might become a burden to others.

4. To encourage and praise others—they learned this point through teaching. Encouragement and praise inspire student’s learning attitudes.

5. To think before acting and to carry out one’s promises. This comes from a story that last year, one Taiwanese volunteer promised to mail pictures to the local students, yet failed to do so. They learned from the students’ disappointment about this failed promise and realized both the importance of relationships and how easy it is to hurt others through language.

6. A smile is universal language. Sometimes they encountered different races when visiting villages. Whenever they failed to communicate over something a smile was always the starting point of further communication because it shows mutual respect and acceptance.

7. To give and to receive. Sometimes there is confusion during matters of service. However the volunteers still feel the happiness of working with each other, particularly when they see how difficult it is for the students to get education. This service experience teaches them that every lesson has a price.

8. To have always a grateful heart—when encountering students who are in heavy debt for education’s sake or who have no money at all to get education, the reflection of these volunteers usually is “you can have whatever you want in Taiwan.”

9. To act honestly and to love with courage—regarding the attitudes these students have toward their teachers and the embrace shared in the activities held in the orphanage, our volunteers feel the touching power of sincerity.

10. To be responsible—It takes a lot of caring, sincerity and sensibility to organize this service. It needs particularly the cooperation between the members to accomplish this one-month’s service abroad. At the end, all the volunteers agrees that even one million dollars could not buy what they have learned.

At the beginning, volunteers also encountered frustration during the service process. Sometimes, they felt confused. The local teachers gave up their morning work to participate in the training program. The volunteers were not sure whether their teaching was helpful. They were not confident because they thought they were not professional. Besides, they were afraid of interrupting and delaying the progress of the scheduled teaching syllabus. This also helped the volunteers to realize that teaching is not mainly to give. It needs understanding and assessment. After they had negotiated with the teachers and principal and received confirmation, they carried out their plan. Three among the volunteers also realized that last year’s experience brought them confidence in this year’s service and performance.

Due to the rise of consumer prices, more and more students cannot afford educational tuition. Facing this world’s unfair distribution of educational resources, the volunteers thought earnestly, as world citizens, what role they could play on this unjust world stage These volunteers, instead of choosing to have a part-time job, travel around or become an exchange student, accomplished the training program, reflected on whether their past learning experiences or living attitudes suited the role of local teacher trainers, and came to this most neglected village, where the living environment is at such a huge distance from that of Taiwan. As long as there was a need, they stood up to fulfill the need. One month after the service, maybe everything will fall back to normal. The volunteers have to face reality again, competition, fear of failure, and face the confusion of the future. Nevertheless, what creates hope for the world is change in the human heart. Change from personal saving to sharing, from indifference to concern, and from competition to cooperation, all those things lie behind the priceless service that they went through during their summer vacation.