Bronwyn has been visiting Hway Ka Loke boarding house and CDTC school this week. Here’s some of how she’s been spending her time!
10 hours in a bus direct from Pattaya to Mae Sot may not be everyone’s idea of a happy Sunday night, but actually the trip was quite comfortable. Arriving into the bus station at 6:30am, the headmaster of CDTC Learning Centre collected me and off we went to breakfast – a yummy typically Burmese breakfast of dal and roti, before heading to the school, where I’d be staying the next few days. The Full Moon Festival, a Burmese festival lasting over four days for the people of the Karen State, so many of the students were still away. I took the opportunity to hop into bed and have a catch up on my sleep. Thailand in the rainy season can be very wet, and it really rains very heavily in this part of Thailand. After my rest, with thongs and umbrella in hand, I set off to talk with small children playing marbles in the puddles, girls skipping under cover and children doing what children do the world over – play on their day off school. It is good to be back in Mae Sot and staying at the boarding house.
Up early to see the students getting ready for school and it’s still raining! Umbrellas and rain coats not enough! Little ones running bare foot in the rain with no cover… I immediately thought we need more umbrellas! The students had fried rice for breakfast, which was delicious, and then went back to their dorms to put on their school uniforms before school started. Still raining, the students lined up in their home classrooms to sing the National Anthem of Thailand, a custom seen in every school in Thailand each morning before the classes begin. I spent the morning walking around visiting different classrooms and was aghast to see 50 year two children in a very small room. This school year they have had an increase in enrolment, with more little ones coming to school. The young teacher was doing her best, and the children were enjoying class.
The students are divided up into groups of about 60 and each group takes turns in helping to prepare the food for the day, set the table, clear up, and walk around the school ground and pick up litter. Initially I thought 60 was a lot for a group, but then I saw them in action. The girls are up at 5:30am cutting up vegetables for lunch (for 360 meals) and helping to put on the large rice cookers. With the rainy season, all the cooking has to be done inside – in 3 rice cookers and one large wok!!! I was really impressed with the team work of the group.
The day passed quickly, with school finishing at 3:00pm. Students have some free time, but need to prepare for their homework and be back at the canteen for their evening meal at 5:00pm. In the tropics it is dark early so they try to make sure the evening meal is cleared away before it get’s dark. All the students then return to the canteen for registration. A daily roll call is needed as as with over 300 in the boarding house now there is a need for good systems and good routines.
The students sing and sometimes put on small performances in the evening before heading off to finish their homework and bed. I sat and ate my evening meal with some teachers in the dormitory where 57 small children sleep. One couple and a few older students care for these children. I watched In amazement as these little ones played with cards, each other, and as they grew tired, went off to get their blankets and pillows, wrapped themselves up and went off to sleep… a bit like sardines in a tin. It was a good day.
More rain and more rain and more rain.. most of my clothes are damp and now I have a cold – but life goes on at the school just the same. Last night the noise from the frogs was very loud and I wondered why I kept seeing flashes of light amongst the trees. I learnt this morning that the older students were out catching frogs… yummy breakfast treat!
The students continue to learn and play, they wash their clothes and put them under the eaves to dry, but everyone is muddy. The boys wash at a large outside water area and they had been told that even though it is raining they still had to have a proper wash with soap. It was a sight to see about ten boys all washing happily in the rain. After school some of the boys decided it was time for a hair cut. So with mirror and razor in hand they were giving each other trims..
Today is a busy day. We have visitors from New Zealand who have come to Mae Sot to visit Women With a Mission’s projects and I have moved into town to stay with them in a guest house. Last night on our way home from dinner we saw a sobering sight. What looked like a truck used to transport cattle was full of young women. They are factory workers being transported between the factories they work at, their dormitories and dinner. It was reinforcement for us to know how important it is to educate these young people so they can have a choice of how to live their lives. Being a teacher, a medical assistant, a mechanic is all within reach of the students of the school we support!
We had an early start this morning out to see the students have fried rice for breakfast and then be ready to start school. John is a sheep farmer with 5,000 sheep and lambs and he’d brought many photographs to show the senior English classes. Grade’s 7 and 8 spent their English lessons learning how a sheep farm is run in New Zealand. John uses sheep dogs for his work and demonstrated with his whistle how the dogs work the sheep. He had the students pretending to be the dogs, obeying the whistle to demonstrate how they work. Everyone had a lot of fun.
Mae Tao Clinic was also on the list of places to visit and there we learnt that factory workers are brought in for physical checks, education on their health and human rights. We queried whether we could offer to donate blood and were told that they donate blood for their fellow citizens who are at the clinic, so no need for us to donate as well. The day ended with a special meal of BBQ chicken for the children at HKL boarding house – 60 whole chickens cut into large pieces, along with rice, tomato and fish gravy and potato soup.
The concert that followed was great, lots of singing and a final demonstration of how sheep dogs work for the whole school.
Phew, into bed back at the guest house for an early start to drive to Umpium Refugee camp in the morning. And yes, it is still raining.