The Fountain of Life Children’s Centre with Kru Wannee

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The Fountain of Life Children’s Centre was the very first community partner that I was fortunate to engage with and learn from when I arrived to live and work in Thailand back in 1999.  It is a learning day centre for young children that do not (or cannot) go to Thai school, especially for children of migrant workers who have no ‘identity’ in Thailand. The centre was founded and is coordinated by the Good Shepherd Foundation, a group of amazing Catholic sisters who are dedicated to improving the education opportunities and living standards of children (and women) across South East Asia.

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The centre is largely funded by the Jesters Care for Kids, a community based group that raises funds and supports development projects specifically for young people in the Pattaya and Chonburi area.  The highlight of their busy calendar being the Jester’s Fair that takes place once a year in early September.

Sabrina at the Fountain of Life Children's Centre

Sabrina at the Fountain of Life Children’s Centre.

I have taken many student and teacher groups to the centre to learn with the children and staff there.  For a number of years part of our school induction programme for new staff involved a visit to the Fountain of Life and meeting the children and staff.  We always challenged the new teachers to immediately engage with the children and to find out who they are, where they come from and what their dreams are – language should never be a barrier or obstacle when learning through service and creating sustainable community partnerships.  The Fountain of Life also visited our school regularly and were included in numerous activities, projects and whole school events.  As part of the community partner programme at the school the Fountain of Life became the permanent learning partner and integrated into the curriculum planning for Year 1.

The Fountain of Life Centre

The Fountain of Life Centre

I have also taken many visitors to the Fountain of Life through work as well as personal friends.  Kru Wannee, the head teacher at the centre, is always very welcoming and understands the importance of community engagement and support.  The children enjoy meeting new people and learning where you come from.  They are always keen to demonstrate their English and sing songs or draw pictures with you.  The centre also makes a wide range of impressive handicraft items, for example cards, which are for sale and the proceeds support the running costs of the centre.

Kru Wannee on the left

Kru Wannee on the left

Kru Wannee is an amazing teacher and lead learner and another inspiring community leader whom I always look up to and try to learn from.  She has an extremely calm and reassuring manner and loves the work she does at the Fountain of Life for the children and her team of teachers.  She is a dedicated and passionate Thai educator and an amazing role model.  I asked her a few questions about her role and what education in Thailand means to her, please see below:

Why did you become a teacher? I would like to help poor children.  I love the children and teaching is a great job.  I really do love this occupation.

What do you think makes a good education? You must teach the children to do it themselves. Allow the children to have a good quarity of life and help them see the value of having a social mind and helping other people. Making sure that all the children can access education who are without  documentation or are from a different country.

What is special about the Fountain of Life Children’s Centre? All of the children have the right to development at the Fountain of life. The Senior staff and children have equality.  We give the power and opportunity and expect respect from the staff, parents and children. We work within a network to protect every child.

How can people support the Fountain of Life? Be a volunteer. Donate money in the bankbook and the office in Pattaya. Promote the center and tell people you know. Do activities with the children and take them on outings. Donate money for education.

What advice would you give people about living and working in Thailand? If you have time you can help us to play games  and sport  with the children and contact Sr.Jimjit or Sr.Joan. You can teach English or handicrafts once a week. Invite the people to visit the center. Contact other people to help the children and raise the funds to support us. Love the city and country you stay in and always help that area.

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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

 

 

How are places and people interconnected and why is this important?

“interconnect” (verb) (of two or more things) to connect with or be related to each other: The problems of poverty and unemployment are all interconnected.

DID YOU KNOW?

“interdependent” (adjective) depending on each other:  All living things are interdependent.

GLOBALISATION

Task 1

Place the following nine ways that places and people are interconnected in a diamond (1, 2, 3, 2, 1) rank order based on which ones you think HAVE had the largest impact on people and changing places and environments up until today (substitute any of them for a better example that you think is missing):

Digital technology / mobile devices
Languages, culture and traditions
World Wide Web (internet)
Economy and trade
Transportation and exploration
TV, radio and media
Politics
Education (literacy)
Tourism

*Please prepare a few sentences or add a comment to this post to justify your rank order / placements.

Task 2

Place the same nine ways that places and people are interconnected in a diamond (1, 2, 3, 2, 1) rank order based on which ones you think WILL have the largest impact on people and changing places and environments in the next 20 years (substitute any of them for a better example that you think is missing).

*Please prepare a few sentences or add a comment to this post to justify your rank order / placements.

Task 3

Place the same nine ways that places and people are interconnected in a diamond (1, 2, 3, 2, 1) rank order based on which ones you think SHOULD have the largest impact on people and changing places and environments in the next 20 years (substitute any of them for a better example that you think is missing).

*Please prepare a few sentences or add a comment to this post to justify your rank order / placements.

Things to think about:

Why are interconnections and inter-dependencies important for the future of places and environments?

How do people participate in an interconnected world?

How should global citizens participate in an interconnected world?

 

Heineken or Leo? Bursting the (expat) bubble.

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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