Chipseng Thor – a man all about community partnerships

Chipseng with his wife Char by the Seuang River

Chipseng with his wife Char by the Seuang River

Last week I had the pleasure to spend three days with an amazing man and good friend who lives in Laos.  I was fortunate to meet Chipseng in early 2011 through a mutual friend of ours on a community project in Laos (one of the best service projects that I have experienced).  After observing Chipseng passionately lead the project and masterfully connect the visiting group and the local community he knows so well together I decided to invite him to Thailand later that year to experience an international school setting and to allow as many of our students and staff to learn from Chipseng as I had done.  It was great to be able to get the chance to take my family to Luang Prabang in northern Laos and to meet Chipseng and his family and to find out a lot more about what makes this man such an inspiring community leader and developer of educational partnerships.

The mountain along Seuang River where Chipseng was born

The mountain along Seuang River where Chipseng was born

Chipseng was born north east of Luang Prabang in the countryside along the Seuang River that flows into the Mekong.  He is Hmong, people that traditionally live in the highest mountain areas of Laos and other parts of South East Asia. He moved to Luang Prabang when he was only 7 years old to study because, as he told me, he had the ‘authority’ then to leave his family, even though he was the youngest son and was expected to stay in the village and look after the family.  At that time there were no roads and he had to trek and take a boat along the river for two days to get to Luang Prabang.

At that time Chipseng could only speak Hmong. He had to learn the Laos language when he got to school and spent 8 years studying and living at the government school in Luang Prabang. The school was started to give children from the rural areas an opportunity of an education.  He then attended high school for three years and met Chan, his wife. They married after high school and Chipseng’s parents came to live with them in Luang Prabang. He wanted to go to university but had to support the family and joined the Laos Army instead for 3 years. During his time in the army he felt there was a lack of opportunity to develop himself and to also support the community so he left the army and went to teacher training college and studied English for 3 years whilst working freelance as a tour guide. He joined Educational Travel Asia 4 years ago after meeting Graham Harper* on a project. Chipseng is now the project manager for ETA Laos.

*Soon to be be featured under speakers

Chipseng with the Headteachers of Pak Xeng School in a typical classroom

Chipseng with the Headteachers of Pak Xeng School in a typical classroom

Chipseng really loves his job and you can see it.  He knows everyone and he has their full trust and loyalty.  He is one of those unique people that can connect and bring people together to create mutually beneficial learning outcomes and sustainable partnerships.  He repeatedly tells me that he is happy that through his work he has a good opportunity to help and support the local people and his community. He believes it is important to develop international understanding amongst the Laos people but also tourists and international students that visit Laos.

Chipseng is passionate about the partnership of education and tourism and the symbiotic role they should have on one another. He uses a teacher who has not travelled as an example and  questions how that person can impart knowledge and understanding effectively without understanding other people and cultures.  He wants this for the Laos teachers and is working closely with Graham Harper and ETA to ensure that the communities and the schools along Seuang River benefit directly and in a sustainable manner from the increase in tourism and also from international educational partnerships.  A number of international schools and universities already work with Chipseng and visit Seuang River on an annual basis.

Pak Xeng School classroom

Pak Xeng School classroom

Chipseng took my family and I to Pak Xeng, a village about 3 hours from Luang Prabang.  We were honoured to have been hosted by a home-stay family (something every international student and educator should experience) and visited the primary and secondary school.  We met the students, the teachers and also the headteachers and shared a number of facts about our own schools and experiences.  One standout fact is that Pak Xeng Secondary School has 60 – 70 students per class.  You could tell the teachers work very hard and do their very best for the students and never complain. Chipseng and the headteachers showed me around some of the classrooms and explained that the next project is to improve the roof (which was falling down) and to replace the broken desks and benches (see photos).  I said to them that these classrooms were obviously not being used at present and they quickly replied that there were and that there was nowhere else to teach the students.

The roof above the classrooms

The roof above the classrooms

Chipseng and ETA are looking for educational partners to support the Pak Xeng School project.  The approximate cost to replace the roof and to improve the classrooms is $12,000.  If you think your university, your school, your social group, your family or yourself as an individual would like to support this project and/or visit Seuang River as part of a service learning community project then please do contact Chipseng or Graham below:

chipseng@buffalotours.com

graham@buffalotours.com

I highly recommend Seuang River as a place to visit and a community to connect with and there is no better person to do that through than with Chipseng Thor.

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

Baan Maelid – a magical place in the hills

Baan Maelid students in their traditional Karen dress

Baan Maelid students in their traditional Karen dress

Watch four years of Baan Maelid

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.

Kru Meena doing what she does best!

Kru Meena doing what she does best!

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.

Regent's students leading the daily exercise

Regent’s students leading the daily exercise

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!

Bew receives friendship bracelets from her new friends

Bew receives friendship bracelets from her new friends

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.

Watch Baan Maelid Project 2013

Khun Apichat the man behind the Baan Maelid partnership

Khun Apichat the man behind the Baan Maelid partnership

 

 

‘La-boon’ – the wave that eats people.

Why are languages and traditions important?

More than 250,000 people were killed by the Asian Tsunami on 26th December 2004 but not one Moken sea gypsy person was killed by the tsunami on Koh Surin in Thailand – why?

What can we learn from this with regards to the challenges that way face through globalisation and interconnections?

Watch this short video about the Moken sea gypsy community in Koh Surin in southern Thailand

*

Photo credit

Facts that should change the world

Can you match the start of the fact with the correct ending (the correct answers are below)?

The average Japanese woman can expect to live to be 84… Teen pregnancy rates in the developed world.

A third of the world’s obese people… That’s more than what 75% of Africans have to live on.

The US and Britain have the highest… Than the Christian cross.

Every cow in the European Union is subsidised by $2.50 a day… Live in the developing world.

One in five… Is at war.

Landmines kill or maim… Prisoners of conscience in the world.

More people can identify the golden arches of MacDonald’s… Die out every year.

A third of the world’s population… Have never heard a dial tone.

Ten languages… In nine countries, the penalty is death.

There are at least 300,000… At least one person every hour.

The average urban Briton is caught on camera up to… Of the world’s people lives on less than $1 a day.

More than 50% of the world’s population… The average Botswanan will reach just 39.

In more than 70 countries same-sex relationships are illegal… 300 times a day.

*50 Facts that should change the world, Jessica Williams

 

The correct answers:

 

The average Japanese woman can expect to live to be 84…
The average Botswanan will reach just 39.

A third of the world’s obese people…
Live in the developing world.

The US and Britain have the highest…
Teen pregnancy rates in the developed world.

Every cow in the European Union is subsidised by $2.50 a day…
That’s more than what 75% of Africans have to live on.

One in five…
Of the world’s people lives on less than $1 a day.

Landmines kill or maim…
At least one person every hour.

More people can identify the golden arches of MacDonald’s…
Than the Christian cross.

A third of the world’s population…
Is at war.

Ten languages…
Die out every year.

There are at least 300,000…
Prisoners of conscience in the world.

The average urban Briton is caught on camera up to…
300 times a day.

More than 50% of the world’s population…
Have never heard a dial tone.

In more than 70 countries same-sex relationships are illegal…
In nine countries, the penalty is death.

 

 

 

Why global citizenship scholarships are important

A young Manoj

A young Manoj

Manoj Chapagain is an amazing young man from Nepal.  He came to Regents School Pattaya in 2009 (thanks to Peter Dalglish and Dr. Virachai Techavijit) as a shy Round Square scholar and has just graduated this June from Year 13 with an IB Diploma score of 35 points, a fantastic achievement of personal challenge and academic achievement.  The best aspect of Manoj’s learning journey since leaving his home community and rural school in Nepal has been his enthusiasm and passion to have a go at everything at the same time consistently demonstrate high moral values and politeness to all those he meets and befriends.  To Manoj studying in an international school setting and with core values based upon the Round Square IDEALS has meant that everything has been an opportunity for him and a privilege to embrace and make the most of – which the rest of us often take for granted.  He is the perfect role model for fellow students and educators to have in a school – I only hope that my children have the opportunity to learn with and gain a friend for life like Manoj.  I know for a fact that Manoj’s fellow peers in his year group have gained as much if not more than Manoj himself by having him in their cohort for the last five years. #whoisteachingwho?

Manoj's old school in Nepal

Manoj’s old school in Nepal

Apart from the whole new country, culture, learning through English and having to live in a boarding house experience Manoj’s first major challenge was to speak at the Round Square International Conference hosted by Regents School Pattaya in October 2010 in front of 850 people and HM King Constantine, the President of Round Square. He did this superbly and was one of the most popular speakers of the conference.

We Walk Together

We Walk Together 2010

Having Manoj in the school allowed us to develop a community partnership with his old school in Nepal, something Manoj was very keen to establish. This was achieved through a social enterprise group created by Manoj and his friends called: Project Nepal. The group worked hard to fund raise to buy a number of computers for the school and were able to visit the school with Manoj at the end of June. Further below is a letter and some images from Manoj regarding the project.

To achieve the Global Ambassador Award a young person is required to complete their targets and personal reflections across all 16 Identities but must also commit to continuing to support and stay connected with their school or community beyond graduation as a global citizen.  Manoj has certainly done this and created a legacy that hopefully many younger students (and teachers) will follow and thrive from as they too challenge themselves to become global citizen learners and high achievers.

Who is teaching who?  Joyce and Ellen - part of the Project Nepal team

Who is teaching who? Joyce and Ellen – part of the Project Nepal team

Dear all,

I hope you all are well. I would like to share with you all a summary of a small project that I completed this summer with the help of teachers and students from Regent’s

I asked some of my friends and teachers to help me raise money to buy computers for my village school,where I studied as a little kid.  We came up with name ‘Project Nepal’. This started August of 2013. My friend Joyce and some other friends encouraged me and were willing to support me fully. Thus, We started doing fund raising events such as dodge ball tournament, computer game tournament and many other events at Regents. In addition my friend Joyce who helped me enormously to raise money by asking her friends back in Taiwan to donate money to this project. She has contributed the most to this project.All together we raised 3400 USD. Futhermore, Mr Alex(a friend of Peter’s in Bangkok and my friend too ) contributed 46250 npr to this project,totaling upto 364250 npr

New computers in the Nepalese school

New computers in the Nepalese school

The school already had a room that needed painting,carpeting ,a fan and many other things so when I got back to Nepal in ,I went to the village and started overseeing this.Now the room has 7 computer with UPS from project Nepal and other five computer which was donated to school by a cement factory. The installation for internet is still in the process.

2 weeks ago 5 students from Regents and two teachers visited the school, the computer lab,did an opening ceremony which was fun. . They stayed in my village ,in my home for two nights and it was amazing to see my friends in my village. Everyday we used to walk to the school where my friends used to play games,interact and teach English to the school kids.It was fantastic for me to see students from regents interacting with kids in my village. It felt great because I was part of the village school during my childhood and then I also became a part of Regents family. It almost felt like joining two family togethers. This is the first Project Nepal “PROJECT” and it was successful.

I would like to thank everyone for all their help! I would still like to continue with “Project Nepal” and help many other schools and poor kids in the future.

 Manoj

Mr. Bolland - a Project Nepal team member and also a Global Mentor

Mr. Bolland – a Project Nepal team member and also a Global Mentor

 

Heineken or Leo? Bursting the (expat) bubble.

20140717-215123-78683066.jpg

Koh Lipe in the deep south of Thailand, just off the Malaysian border

It has taken me 15 years to discover beer Leo, one of the three top selling beers in Thailand. I tried beer Singha and Chang on numerous occasions but always reverted back to the comfort zone of Heineken. I have always ranked Leo as number 3 if having to choose from the local Thai brews with no particular reason why other than it was the beer that the gappies drank! These are our gap students or as we prefer to call them the gap staff – on a learning and work placement between school and university (I will blog in more detail about the power of a gap staff programme in the near future).

Dan and Smiley - gappies who make a difference

Dan and Smiley – gappies who make a difference

My wife has always challenged me that I am reluctant or not good with change.
I resisted sushi for many years for example but now place it as one of my top five foods.

It is ironic that that after 15 years of living and working in Thailand that only on our final Thai adventures and through lack of choice in the deep south of Thailand that I discover Beer Leo to be both refreshing and non-hangover inducing as incorrectly perceived. Imagine how much money I could have saved – but that is not the point.

Who is teaching who?  Sabrina at the Fountain of Life Children's Centre in Pattaya

Who is teaching who? Sabrina at the Fountain of Life Children’s Centre in Pattaya

This is not a blog about beer the best beer though, both Heineken and Leo are a pleasure to drink when the time is right, this is about trying new things and having a go. It is vitally important in an international school setting to engage with the local community and to collaborate with the amazing local (Thai) teachers and support staff.  Bringing them into the curriculum at all opportunities and making external learning connections to create a culturally stimulating and relevant curriculum and bursting the stereotypical westernised bubble that many international schools I have visited find themselves in.  In my experience parents really appreciate this approach as well and can see the value in having the school that their children learn in as a gateway into a community and culture that, to be honest, most people are not sure how to approach and therefore revert to their comfort zones and what they know and are used to.  Community partnerships and service learning equip students with so many skills and values and also the confidence to use them appropriately, not just for academic success but more importantly for life success – helping our young (and older) people to become genuine citizens of the world.

Break away from the norm and don’t follow the crowd – be prepared to leave your comfort zone and try the local beer! #gooycz

Community Partnerships – Service Learning in Pattaya, Thailand

http://www.nordangliaeducation.com/our-schools/pattaya/article/2014/4/2/living-in-pattaya-how-to-connect-with-the-local-community

One of our aims at Regents International School Pattaya is to engage with our local community as much as possible and to learn through them and with them. Thailand is our host country and it is only right that we celebrate the unique culture and customs of the people who live and work with us. Below, Paul Crouch, Assistant Principal at Regents, mentions just some of the ways our students and staff connect with the community.

One of Kurt Hahn’s (the founder of Round Square, an education organisation of which the school is a leading member) Laws of Salem is:
‘Free the sons of the wealthy and powerful from enervating sense of privilege.’

With this in mind we believe it is vital as a Round Square school on the outskirts of Pattaya to burst the ‘bubble’ that many international schools can find themselves trapped in and seek not only cultural but also social diversity.  Our Community Partner Programme has been implemented across the school for over 10 years now and we are fortunate to have over 50 different partnerships with local schools, NGO’s and individuals that do amazing things in our area.

The following are some of my favourite ways that our children and staff connect with the Pattaya community on a regular basis and I would recommend you to do the same if you find yourself living, working or visiting the area:

The Father Ray Foundation

Located on Sukhumvit Road, the Father Ray Foundation is welcoming and friendly. There is plenty to see and do at the Foundation, including visiting the Day Care Centre, the Vocational School for the Disabled, the Redemptorist Centre (you can stay the night!), the North Star Library, the café and possibly the most elaborately decorated church in Pattaya – see if you can spot the plates!  If you have any electrical items that need fixing, like a TV or a fan, then the amazing students at the Vocational School have a workshop where you can take your appliances to be fixed by feet only!  The Father Ray Foundation is also a great place to spend the festival of Loy Krathong, joining the community around their small lake to float your krathongs with the residents.

The Fountain of Life Children’s Home

One of the longest established foundations for educating street children in Pattaya, the Fountain of Life is run by the Good Shepherd Sisters and financially supported by the charity Jester’s Care for Kids. Located just off Third Road and near to North Road, the centre is open every day of the week and welcomes visitors to come and learn and play with the children. They especially love to sing songs and engage in art and craft activities. Kru Wannee is the Head teacher and can tell you all you need to know about the centre and the children. Make sure you also find Sister Joan and have a good old Irish chat with her.

Our Home

Founded by Khun Tiew, an icon of community spirit and support work in the Pattaya and Rayong area, Our Home is a project that looks after women and gives them the skills to make a living for themselves through embroidery and cooking. The Home is located on the Green Valley road to Ban Chang and you can call in any time to order some amazing needlework, tasty baking or fresh fruit and vegetables. Look out for the Our Home ladies selling their cakes and pies outside Regents’ main gates every day after school.

Karanyawet Disabled Ladies Home

If you have a free hour any morning during the week grab your nail polish kit, spare hair ties and bands, your favourite CD of pop songs and head down to the Ladies Home just off Sukhumvit Road in Banglamung.  The ladies just love getting their nails painted and their hair made up and if you have time they would love to sing karaoke and have a dance with you.  I doubt you will see bigger smiles anywhere else in Pattaya!

Bang Phra Wildlife Conservation Centre

A good 45 minutes’ drive north of Pattaya towards Bangkok and opposite Khao Kheow Zoo you will find the Bang Phra Wildlife Conservation Centre.  Supported by one of the school’s long standing community partners, Love Wildlife Thailand, the centre takes in animals that have been illegally traded or mistreated across the country.  When I was last at the centre with students, five suitcases arrived from the airport that had over 400 turtles in them and had been abandoned on the luggage carousel.  Regents has also sponsored and helped construct an education facility at the centre and groups are always welcome to visit and volunteer there.

The Mechai Patana School

Founded by the inspiring Khun Mechai himself, the Mechai Patana School in Jomtien is part of the Bamboo School located in Buriram Province. This is no normal Thai school as it embraces experiential learning, entrepreneurship and sustainable development in everything that it does. Learn how to make over 350,000 Thai Baht on one rai of land by planting fruit and vegetables. The students also form the largest ukulele band in Thailand and are always happy to play a few songs for their visitors. The school is right next to the Cabbages and Condoms restaurant and both must be visited when in Pattaya.

The Good Child Foundation

Search for the Thai Tims on Youtube and you will be spoilt for choice for famous Celtic songs sung by the most enthusiastic Thai children. ‘You Just Can’t Get Enough’ is a favourite of ours at Regents and if you get the chance to visit the Good Child Foundation in Chantaburi you must ask the Thai Tims to sing this one for you. The Foundation is the only Thai school in Thailand to take in down-syndrome children and give them a normal education.  Paul and Khun Pun, the creators of the Thai Tims, have dedicated their lives to supporting these amazing young children and teaching English to all the other kids at the school.  This is the place to visit if you are a Celtic supporter – you will be blown away!

Tamar Centre

The Tamar Centre is on Third Road just before it meets Pattaya South Road.  It has a café on the ground floor and sells the best cinnamon swirls you will find in Thailand. The centre supports women who want to learn new skills and helps them find reputable work and employment. You can also buy some amazing craft products from the Tamar Centre including original handmade jewellery for those special occasions.

Kate’s Project Trust

Kate’s Project is a small but big-hearted community partner that makes a real difference to the poorest of people living in the slum areas of Pattaya that we often forget about as we go about our daily routines. Joining Khun Noi on one of her daily trips to visit the people that have literally nothing is an eye-opener for anyone. If you have any second-hand clothes, toys, blankets, toiletries, packaged food or free time – then spend the morning with Kate’s Project and learn what life is really about when living in the slums.

The Hand to Hand Foundation

This small but impactful foundation is located behind Big C in South Pattaya and is passionately coordinated by Margie and Khun Pai. TheHand to Hand is a day care centre for young Thai children and they have loads of fun learning and playing together every day in the busy and colourful classroom. The staff are always welcoming and the children love visitors, especially if you turn up with balloons, bubbles or snacks!

The Pattaya Orphanage and Soptana School for the Deaf

Located on Sukhumvit Road and passionately led by Khun Toy, who welcomes visitors at all times to the centre, the Orphanage is a must visit to play with the little babies in the playroom or to kick a football around outside with the bigger kids. Regents does a half-termly clothes, toys and food collection and drop through our boarding community and our students always look forward to a game of football when they visit. You must also pop into the Deaf School at the same location and learn how to sign language from the children who live and study there.  If you want to meet amazing teachers who are dedicated to their work and inspire young people on a daily basis then the staff at the Deaf School are about the best that I have had the privilege to meet and work with – go see for yourself!