We visit a preschool in a village in Mae Ai district, northern Thailand. The villagers belong to the minority group Lahu. A minority of which several are without citizenship, even though they were born in Thailand. They speak a language that is not in writing. They have no or little knowledge of human rights and no real access to medical care. This is a preschool Rights Now supports – to provide access to education and thus a chance for children of Lahu to create their lives and assert their rights as Thai citizens.
A day at the preschool
We arrive at the end of the day. Children stand in line to get a fruit before they go home. After closing, kids are running around and playing. In and out of bambu huts that are built on stilts with a rickety ladder up to the entrance and with an open hearth cooking place. They run up and down the hills, and their skin becomes reddish from the lightly iron colored sand. Pigs, chickens and dogs walk freely around the village. It is visible poverty by many standards.
In the preschool 39 children aged three to nine years have access to a safe and creative environment where they can practice Thai and numbers. Their parents will be able to work in the fields without having to worry about their kids. Walls in the school are filled with drawings and various creations made by the children. It is a room full of knowledge, creativity and joy. In addition to math and writing exercises, children are served one nutritious meal a day. The children get along with their teachers and learn about hygiene, washing clothes, and knowledge of nutrition. Together, they have planted a vegetable garden to enhance school lunches. If the harvest is good, the children take the vegetables home.
Dreaming of development
The teacher says that she dreams about evolving the school even more, to use new teaching methods and provide the children with more opportunities. For them to take advantage of their dreams and develop their talents. She tries to work with educators at other schools. The village also has a “non-formal school” whose teachers do not always have the chance to come to the village because of other engagements. That is a non formal school; No guarantee that a teacher is present. That is how it works when you do not know your rights when you are not a formal citizen, when you partially live outside the formal society and lack knowledge in the formal and written language. When the teacher from the non formal school is not able to come to the village – the preschool teacher even teaches the schoolchildren. She sees needs and takes advantage of every opportunity.
Language, health and confidence – how children grow
After the preschool opened, the children have not only gained an entrance into the Thai language, several children have better health status and self-confidence. Parents have greater opportunities to take the jobs offered to support the family. The preschool has made a clear difference to the whole village, where 78 families live. All of the children can not participate, some need to follow their parents into the fields. Teachers and teacher assistants try to have a dialogue with the parents about the importance of children being in preschool and school.
During the conversation with the teacher and teaching assistant a man steps into the school building. He walks around the room, trying to listen in on our conversation. After a while the teacher explains that he is the “head of village”. He has heard that someone from the Rights Now Foundation is in the village. And, he would like to thank Rights Now of behalf of the entire village. The preschool means so much. Even small means changes the lives of children, parents and families. Provided a greater chance of a life beyond the village, if you will, a life with a greater chance of being free of diseases and to have enough to eat. A chance for more opportunities for people of Lahu.
As told by Karolin Kral, Boardmember of the Rights Now Foundation, visiting the preschool in northern Thailand.
Report: May to September, 2016.
This report is about the after-school program at the Baan Huaypoo School, located in Thaton Mea-I district, about 179 kilometers from Chiang Mai in Thailand. We have previously published a story, but this is a report from the managers of the after-school program.
Kids Ark Foundation launched the House of Hope after-school program for children attending the Baan Huaypoo School. The Rights Now Foundation supports the program. Children have access to activity-based learning in order to help them grow emotionally and physically. They also learn Thai, health and hygiene, together with other subjects.
The pupils are Thai nationality and ethnic minorities such as Lahu and Shan. They come from poor families and their parents work in the fields. Normally, when the children return home from school, no one can help them with their homework. So, they play with their friends while waiting for their parents to return home. Now, House of Hope increases their learning, their capacities and qualities as young humans. There are 45 children, 21 boys and 24 girls, aged from six to fifteen years. This is the main group that attends the after-school program.
The staff helps the pupils with activities, like reading and spelling in Thai and English. As a result, all children have improved the reading and writing skills. Their self-confidence grows. Pupils also learn other skills, such as handicrafts and cooking, something they can use in the daily life.
The children are divided into two groups. They work together but they have different tasks to do. In the first group they need to read and then write a summary of what they have read. In the second group of pupils, they only practice reading and writing. Working together means they learn from each other.
The pupils need to improve their English language skills constant. Staff teach them vocabulary, how to translate from English into Thai, and how to use the dictionary. The children think English is a very difficult assignment. And when teachers assesses the capacity to learn, the conclusion is that pupils don’t remember enough. It may also be added that teachers do not always have sufficient knowledge of English.
Some areas of development
Individuals have gained in self-confidence. By learning to accept themselves and other people, and to believe more in themselves and their abilities. They learn to evolve and they are motivated to improve themselves so that their self-esteem develops too.
Every child is served a nutritious dinner with meat, eggs and vegetables. The staff serves different meals each week with fresh vegetables, meat and fruit. Children now drink more water and milk instead of soft drinks.
The children learn about dental hygiene. They brush their teeth every day after lunch at school. The girls do not have lice as before because they washes their hair and the teacher uses special shampoo twice a month to prevent lice. The children have to wash their hand before eating.
The pupils participate in drawing and arts classes, cooking, environmental awareness and physical exercise.
Reported by Anders Bjers