Some of the best learning experiences and partnerships happen by accident or being in the right place at the right time. That is how Baan Maelid School and community in Mae Hong Son, in northern Thailand, became a long-term community partner with the Regent’s School Pattaya. Khun Apichat the headmaster of Maelid School, a true opportunist, was invited to a school in the neighbouring valley by the headmaster of Baan Ompai, the school we were originally working with. During his visit Khun Apichat politely introduced himself and invited us as a school group to visit his school the following year and to help fund and build a new playground / sports court for the school. The headmaster of Baan Ompai School was supportive of this and so we agreed to visit and work with Baan Maelid the following year.
When working with the community and developing sustainable partnerships through education it is important to have two people that ‘own’ the partnership and truly value the learning outcomes on both sides. Khun Apichat, as you will know from an earlier post of mine, is a remarkable school and community leader and quickly understood the importance of the holistic relationship between the two schools. Kru Meena, pictured above, who works at Regents is a similar leader and inspiration when it comes to service learning and community engagement. She is a natural at building positive community relationships and creating opportunities throughout her own country for young people to participate in amazing experiential learning projects and activities. Without Kru Meena and Khun Apichat more than 500 students (not including the Baan Maelid students) of more than 25 different nationalities would have never experienced the magic of Baan Maelid.
Over the past six years the two schools have collaborated on a wide range of projects including: building a playground and sports court, building a workshop, creating a dam and irrigation system, building water tanks, planting trees, painting rooms, cultural workshops, English programmes and many fun games and activities. Every morning, as visitors, you are invited to line up on the lower playground for the Thai national anthem and Buddhist prayers. In the late afternoon after a hard days work the playground transforms into an exercise area for everyone to participate with loud dance music pumping down the valley (see above picture). Tradition also dictates that the students play the teachers at football before dinner every evening (mixed teams of course) on the hard court and this has resulted in many close and very competitive games, including the now infamous ‘Battle of Baan Maelid’ when the teachers came back from a 9-2 deficit to win 10-9!
Friendships develop throughout the week despite (potential) language barriers and the hardest thing is always leaving this wonderful place. The Baan Maelid students and community always let us into their homes, their school and into their hearts. We always forget about e-mails, Facebook and TV and wonder why our lives have so much ‘stuff’ in them. Our lungs are full of fresh air and our arms and wrists covered with friendship bands specially presented to us by our new friends – there are always many tears as we wave goodbye.
If you have not been to Baan Maelid yet – you really should… it is a magical place in the hills.