Mekong Memories

The Mekong In Chiang Kong, Thailand, looking over to Laos

The Mekong In Chiang Kong, Thailand, looking over to Laos

I have always had a fascination for rivers. I always looked for them on maps tracking them across continents, through countries and comparing their physical features and statistics.

Growing up in the UK we always walked along rivers and I once had the misfortune (probably my own fault) to fall into the River Trent as a child! This didn’t put me off my fascination though and I enjoyed studying river systems and their morphology through school and into university. It is one of my favourite topics to teach bringing the river alive and helping students understand the interconnections that it plays in both our rural and urban landscapes.

Slow boats on the Mekong at Huay Xai In Laos

Slow boats on the Mekong at Huay Xai In Laos

To be able to visit and explore some of the worlds major rivers is a real treat – UK rivers are special but not the most majestic! I hope to tick a few more off my list in the near future. At present we are on a (slow) boat motoring down the Mekong River as it follows the Laos and Thai border and gradually takes us into northern Laos and towards our final destination, Luang Prabang.

On the slow boat

On the slow boat

The power is awesome, a snaking mass of brown water. A monster conveyor belt of muddy sediment that once formed the physical landscape of Central Asia. Like the ocean a river can humble you and make you realise the significance of your being – how many civilisations has the Mekong witnessed? How many more will it outlast? It brings life but also destruction.

Evening in Pak Beng, Laos, looking down at the Mekong

Evening in Pak Beng, Laos, looking down at the Mekong

I have had plenty of time to reflect the last two days on the slow boat and had challenged myself to be more creative and not just tot rely on photos. So Jonah and I wrote some poems and I even learnt from him what a haiku is. We dedicate the following to our inspiration – the River Mekong:

By Jonah:

Fast flowing river
Cold, freezing sometimes warm there
Starts from high mountains

Plants
Green, tall
Growing, drinking, eating
They give us oxygen
Animals

Water
Wet, cold
Raining, evaporating, drinking
Ones hot, ones cold
Steaming, killing, melting
Hot burns
Lava

By Paul:

Mother Mekong moves
Shifting sediment and land
Making its way home

Mekong
Asias greatest
Flows through time
Bringing people
Together

Many meandering miles
Emptying Eastern empires
King of all rivers
Onwards to the ocean
Never knowing, just
Growing and growing

Mark’s gap year reflection at Regents International School Pattaya

Mark on the Baan Huay Sapad project in Mae Hong Son

Mark on the Baan Huay Sapad project in Mae Hong Son

Location of placement: Thailand
Dates of placement: 2013/14 academic year
Name of school: Regents School Pattaya

After graduating from high school in Kenya, I was appointed to represent my school in a gap program at the Regents International School Pattaya Thailand. The experience was unique, educative and adventurous.

I participated in several activities including sports, class, adventure trips and many others.
What I loved most was the service learning part. We visited many surrounding communities, played with children, worked with them and taught English as well.

Mark, centre, lining up for Team Gap Dodgeball

Mark, centre, lining up for Team Gap Dodgeball

A gap placement is quite important for young people. It gives an opportunity for one to improve and excel in different aspects of life. They improve their personal confidence, speech and other personal and social skills.

It’s also during such period that many young people learn to manage their personal resources as they lead their own lives.

The placement , in addition, gives an an opportunity to work with different communities, and in the process many people develop a heart of service to our society.  It’s also a chance for one to get out of their comfort zone, widen their mind and begin experiencing life in a bigger world, and grow to become knowledgeable global citizens.

Mark

Crouch Adventures – culturally aware and interactive

The planned itinerary on our kitchen blackboard prior to departure

The planned itinerary on our kitchen blackboard prior to departure

Today we are leaving Chiang Rai and heading as far north as we can within Thailand to the border with Laos.  We will stay overnight in Chiang Kong and tomorrow catch the slow boat for two days to Luang Prabang in Laos.  With three young children anything could happen –  we are hoping that the excitement of the boat experience has a pacifying effect but at present pizza in Chiang Mai has only really been a successful pacifier so far! Flying from Chiang Mai was an option but now it is time to really go out of our comfort zone…

I hope you enjoy these few photos of reflections collected along the way since we left Pattaya 10 days ago.

You may want to follow Jonah and his reflections on his learning blog.

Zoe learning the ukulele with Pom at the Bamboo School

Zoe learning the ukulele with Pom at the Bamboo School

On Doi Suthep - but also sometimes with us in the car!!

On Doi Suthep – but also sometimes with us in the car!!

At the Elephant Hospital just south of Chiang Mai

At the Elephant Hospital just south of Chiang Mai

Possibly the biggest milepost marker in Thailand?

Possibly the biggest milestone marker in Thailand?

A really big gong on Doi Suthep

A really big gong on Doi Suthep

We love Khow Soi, but think we'll stick to the mushrooms!

We love Khow Soi, but think we’ll stick to the mushrooms!

Brittany’s Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS

Getting ready...

Getting ready…

The Ice Bucket Challenge

Thank you Mr. Crouch for nominating me for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Prior to actually partaking in the challenge I had seen many videos documenting the experiences of other nominees and I loved watching each one.

Here it comes...

Here it comes…

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a wonderful way of raising awareness and funds for the ALS foundation. I can only hope that one day a cure will exist for all those with the neurodegenerative disease.

Brrrrrrrrr!

Brrrrrrrrr!

I received news of Mr. Crouch’s nomination the day before I was scheduled to move into the University of Michigan. My day was filled with last minute errands with my family.

Very brrrrrrrrrr!

Very brrrrrrrrrr!

It wasn’t until 9:30pm that evening, that I remembered I needed to partake in the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Ready for the first week of university now!

Ready for the first week of university now!

My mom was more than willing to fill a bucket with ice and water and, together, we recorded the event. I also donated $20 to the ALS Foundation!

Good luck starting university Brittany – let us know how you get on and how many amazing people you meet and inspire.

Sukothai – brings out the artist in you

One of many impressive Buddhas in Sukothai

One of many impressive Buddhas in Sukothai

We have just spent two wonderful days in Sukothai, the ancient capital city of what is now Thailand over 700 years ago.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site is situated towards the north of Thailand, about 3 hours south of Chiang Mai and is a beautifully well kept historical park.  It has taken me 15 years to finally get to Sukothai but it was well worth the wait, the long drive and the bucket of ice cold water.  A late convert to and now sponge of history (once arguing that geography was far more important than history) I found myself in my element walking among the temple ruins and imagining what life was like in this royal capital many centuries ago and what has happened over time for it to be in the varied states we now find it.  My oldest son asked me why the capital city was built here and not originally in Bangkok – a good question and a perfect way to bring geography and history together, as they should be.  We walked around together looking at the physical landscape and setting that we were in and discussed what made this particular place an effective site and situation for such an important city many years ago.

Reflections...

Reflections…

Photos are a great way of capturing what you see when visiting places like Sukothai.  Everyone has a different perspective and interprets the ancient designs and structures in different ways and a digital camera is perfect for capturing your own favourite observations and intricacies.  I also like watching other people and seeing what they are photographing and working out how they are interpreting the complex patterns and capturing their experience the best way they can on camera.  It is even better when a random monk appears and everyone tries to capture that perfect monk shot walking through the temple grounds as if nobody else is anywhere to be seen!  I bet you have all tried it…

Expressing the artist in you

Expressing the artist in you

Then there are those of us that are more traditional (or young and bold) and want to capture their experience and perspectives on paper.  I remember when I used to like to draw and use colour to bring out pictures that I had created.  When I made the time to sit still in one place and really take in the landscape and environment that I was observing.  It is so much easier to snap away with the digital device though and do it the saturation way – one of them will surely be good!  But am I cheating myself out of what is really important?  Should I be challenging myself to embrace this unique cultural and historical context and dig deeper into my hidden and forgotten abilities and develop an even more personal relationship with the moment and make a connection?  It is only now writing this blog and looking back at the photos, especially of Jonah sketching, that I wish that I had sat down and taken more time – a couple of sketches or even a poem – I know I have it in me (I could have posted them – target to oneself: I will next time!).

I want my children to embrace the artist in them as often as possible as they experience life, to draw on their feelings and emotions to produce work that has passion and is important and meaningful to them and will help them to remember and capture the importance of that particular moment.

Or you can always drive a tuk tuk!!

The only way to get around the temples

The only way to get around the temples

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

After being nominated by Aina and Kru Meena to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge I found myself in Sukothai, the ancient capital of Thailand, being drenched in ice cold water by my three kids.  This is obviously a very worthy cause and as a family we were more than happy to donate to the ALS cause online (it is very easy) at their website: The ALS Association

To see the challenge and personal adventure endured for this nomination and cause please see the photos below (we have not mastered video on social media as a family yet!).

I also have the privilege to nominate the following three people for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge:

Brittany Tang, Sarah Travis- Mulford and Jonah/Zoe/Sam Crouch

Good luck!

Getting ready

Getting ready

Brace...

Brace…

They can reach!!

They can reach!!

Very cold!!

Very cold!!

Very, very cold!!

Very, very cold!!

You'll be next!

You’ll be next!

 

 

 

The Transition into University

Brittany on graduation day

Brittany on graduation day

Contributed by Brittany Tang

After taking the IB exams and graduating from high school, I was left with a lot of valuable time on my hands. This past summer has really given me the opportunity to reflect on the past few years, on my accomplishments and my failures and has also given me the insight needed to create a trajectory for my future.

What a great idea for university - a quilt made of all your old t-shirts!

What a great idea for university – a quilt made of all your old t-shirts!

I will be attending the University of Michigan this fall and will be studying at the college of Literature, Arts and Sciences. To keep with my childhood dream of becoming a doctor, I applied to be part of the Health Science Scholars (HSSP) living and learning community. To me, attending the University of Michigan is a huge change from attending other smaller international schools in the past. I am prepared to be outgoing, confident and diligent in my studies. I will be participating in psychology research as part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). In addition to this, my classes consist of organic chemistry, calculus, 2nd year French and a health science seminar. I think that it is really important to get involved in extracurricular activities as well as seek out leadership positions during your first year of university. For me, keeping my mind busy with school work, service and intramural sports is integral in making a smooth transition into university.

I am very excited to start class, to be a part of open discussion sessions and to take detailed notes during lectures. Although the rigor of the school work is intimidating, I do believe that persistence and commitment can help one achieve ambitious goals!

Thanks for your post Brittany and good luck at university, we look forward to hearing all about it.  To see more posts by Brittany please click here.

Pom and Kong – future leaders of Thailand

Pom

Pom

Kong

Kong

How long have you studied at the Mechai Patana School for?

– Kong has been at the MPS for fives years and remembers Goldfish PLC, a Regent’s School business and social enterprise group that visited the school a few years back.

– Pom has been at the school for two years.  They are both in Grade 11.

The natural environment

The natural environment

Why did you come to MPS?

Pom – My mother told me about the school and when I came to visit I liked the natural feel to the school and how the students were learning.

Kong – I liked the school environment and the fact that the school focused on project based learning and gave the students many different experiences to learn from.

Mechai Patana students who have studied at Regents over the last three years

Mechai Patana students who have studied at Regents over the last three years

What is your favourite thing about MPS?

Kong – opportunities, e.g. the one term exchange with Regents School in Pattaya.

Pom – Learning to play the ukulele and having a ukulele band at the school, I like to learn about music and love playing it.

What do you want to study at university and what career would you like to follow in the future?

Pom – I would like to study languages and work as a guide, possibly have my own business for travellers.

Kong – I would like to be a linguist and have my own translation business.

Another one of those messages

Another one of those messages

How does the MPS help the students become global citizens?

Pom – The school focuses a lot on business and social enterprise and we learn how to give back to our communities.  We are also expected to be tour guides to visitors who come to the school and to think outside the box.

Kong – The school has taught me to be sharing and caring.

A future MPS student and global citizen?

A future MPS student and global citizen?

If you were a teacher what would you say is the most important thing about teaching young people?

Pom – It is important to teach young people how to help themselves and how to help others.  Most teachers in Thailand only teach about the subject.  At MPS we learn how to help ourselves and especially how to help others.

Kong – To teach the young people how to be a good person and how to share with each other and to care for each other.

Khop khun krup Pom and Kong.

 

A Centre for Lifelong Learning and Community Partnership

We are here!

We are here!

The first thing that strikes you when arriving at the Mechai Bamboo School is the setting; a lush campus full of greenery, bridges over waterways, bamboo buildings and lines of mango trees.  On entering the front of the school you are immediately welcomed by the Friendship Bridge – a large bamboo and concrete walkway that transcends a large pool and takes you into the heart of the school.  My youngest, who loves bridges and is therefore in his element, bounced across the bridge and shouted “rabbits!” being the first to spot the little island of rabbits from the middle of the bridge.  There are so many things to find and discover around this school (Khun Mechai likes his thought provoking messages for example) that it is an important reminder of being mindful and taking in your environment at all times.  The Bamboo School is truly a centre for lifelong learning and a hub for community development and education; you can see and feel it everywhere you walk – what an environment to learn in everyday.

"Rabbits!" seen from the Friendship Bridge

“Rabbits!” seen from the Friendship Bridge

It was a pleasure to see the Mechai Patana students again, especially those that I have had the pleasure to meet and work with over the last three years.  The students are always polite and pleased to see you and they quickly welcomed us to their school and home.  New and Pom showed us to our rooms for the next 3 days and it was great to catch up with them both and find out how their studies are going.  New is hoping to go to Khon Koen University at the end of next year and study to be a linguist.  Her English is definitely a lot better than my Thai!  It was also great to see Kong again and to be introduced by him at dinner time to all the students at the school.

Pom and New show us around

Pom and New show us around

Something that struck us was the fact that the teachers were not really present, I don’t mean that they had done a runner as I am sure they are very busy, but it was suddenly very apparent that the senior students were being very attentive to us and making sure everything happened smoothly.  They organised dinner and evening prayers and then New addressed all 130 students regarding a discipline matter, apparently about listening to music only in their dorms.  Although I did not really understand what she was saying it was obvious that she had the full attention of every student and that she was to be taken very seriously.  When she had finished speaking there was a spontaneous round of applause from the rest of the students.

One of those little messages you will find

One of those little messages you will find

I said to my own kids as we walked back to our room after the evening assembly if they had noticed who was looking after us and leading all the activities… I was glad that they responded, “the students.”  I also pointed out that we had not seen one student on an iPhone or mobile device since we had been at the school, which was also impressive and a powerful message.  I like the fact that every student was connected in the moment and not disconnected due to an appliance which you see all the time today – at restaurants, on public transport, in meetings, in the cinema, at school, etc.  I am even more determined that we make the most of our time visiting this unique learning environment and connect as much as possible with our hosts, the community and the opportunities that present themselves to us.

Just Can’t Get Enough of the Thai Tims?

The Thai Tims

The Thai Tims

The Thai Tims are a group of enthusiastic and inspirational young Thai students that attend a very special school in Chantaburi, in the east of Thailand.  This is the only Thai school that takes in children who have down-syndrome and allows them to have an inclusive and normal education, just like every other child.   The Thai Tims are made up of children who attend the school and they learn English through fun games, activities, sports and mostly through learning Celtic themed songs taught by Pun and Paul Lennon, the founders of the Thai Tims and the Good Child Foundation.  The idea being that the support the Thai Tims receive locally and internationally (and there is a lot of it!) allows the school to provide the necessary resources to take in Thai children with down-syndrome.

Pun Lennon with the Thai Tims at their school

Pun Lennon with the Thai Tims at their school

Watch this video if you Just can’t get enough of the Thai Tims!

The Thai Tims have quickly established a cult following, especially on social media and among football fans that traditionally follow Celtic Football Club and anything linked to their history and tradition.  Celtic Football Club and their fans have been a huge supporter of the Thai Tims and continue to have a strong community partnership.

Pun teaching the Thai Tims one of their Celtic themed songs

Pun teaching the Thai Tims one of their Celtic themed songs

Pun and Paul have a remarkable story to tell about the Thai Tims and a book will soon be available, written by Paul, that recounts their own personal story and the success and achievements of the Thai Tims.  You can find out more by visiting the Good Child Foundation website or the Thai Tims Facebook, both are below:

Good Child Foundation

Follow the Thai Tims on Facebook.

Gappies with some of the children supported by the Thai Tims

Gappies with some of the children supported by the Thai Tims

The Thai Tims are full of energy – just check out their YouTube clips there are plenty of them.  They also do a lot of travelling not just in Thailand but also overseas.  They have recently visited Scotland to meet the Celtic football team and to also sing before a Scottish Premiership game.  They also love swimming and always enjoy visiting the Regents International School Pattaya and staying overnight which includes a long session of night-swimming!  It has always added an extra cultural and inspiring dimension when events such as International Day, Clean-up the World and Picnic in the Park have involved the Thai Tims as special guests.  I would like to thank Karen Partyka for making the initial connection and believing that the two school groups could work and learn together.

Below is a short article written by Conor Hannigan about his visit to the Thai Tims in 2013, a previous gappie and passionate Celtic FC fan:

Visiting the Thai Tims

On Monday, June 24th, a group of Gap Staff accompanied Mr. Crouch, Khun Da, and Mr. Jones on a visit to the Triamsuksa School in Chantaburi province; home of The Good Child Foundation and the Thai Tims. Khun Da and Mr. Jones were on a mission to set up a possible Outdoor Education activity with the kids from the school, while Mr. Crouch wanted to touch base and strengthen bonds with an already closely knit community partner. For us Gap Staff, it was an opportunity to visit a community partner in rural Thailand and hear the incredibly inspiring story behind the Thai Tims.

Triamsuksa School is one of the only in Thailand which allows children with down syndrome to integrate into a mainstream education system. Normally they are sent to an institution or essentially exiled from Thai education, and from parts of society.

When Mr. Lennon’s first son, Berni, was born with down syndrome, he and his wife Pun worried for Berni’s education. They offered to teach English for free at Triamsuksa School if Berni was offered a place, under the condition that they were allowed to teach the kids football songs.

As a result of these songs, the Thai Tims have a deep connection with Glasgow Celtic Football Club. Mr. Lennon is a Celtic fan, and he has written dozens, perhaps hundreds of songs about the club and its players that the kids sing together to help raise funds for The Good Child Foundation. They are a very famous group of kids, not just among Celtic fans in Scotland and Thailand, but around the world.

Conor with Pun at the Thai Tims

Conor with Pun at the Thai Tims

Throughout the day we were able to look inside the newly constructed Reamonn Gormley Memorial Hall; the strikingly bold centerpiece of the school’s buildings. We also met Nuey and Nook, two of the younger children in the school with down syndrome and Mr. Crouch enjoyed a lovely tea party with them. We were told about the recent trip to Scotland where 47 kids from the school were taken to meet the Celtic players, and sing at one of the games. Mr. Lennon explained that the criterion for selection for this trip was based upon an act of bravery which seemed fitting, as bravery appeared to be a quality which resonated through every aspect of the school.

It was incredible to see the passion emanating from Mr. Lennon as he talked about children with down syndrome and the Thai Tims, and it was clear that Pun’s same passion, as well as her reassurance and support of her husband was just as strong.

After visiting a few classrooms and hearing the kids sing some of their Celtic songs, Mr. Crouch, Khun Da, and Mr. Jones did some final planning with regards to activities for next year between Regent’s and the Thai Tims. We left for Regent’s in the afternoon, feeling inspired, impressed and lucky to have gotten a glimpse of all the things the Lennon family has done for Triamsuksa School, and for down syndrome children in Thailand.