Immense satisfaction from helping students whose life journey so far has been, in many cases, difficult to a level unimaginable for those brought up in developed countries This is “top of the cliff” stuff. It’s not about famine relief or natural disasters. Its’ about nurturing the most important crop of all. The next generation of human beings. It doesn’t stop when you go away. The relationships formed with students and fellow volunteers can go on for the rest of your life The students totally “get” the value of education. They have seen for themselves the way that lives are transformed by education. It’s not hearsay from their parents. They know people – older siblings or acquaintances – who have progressed from refugee status via education. So they are motivated to learn in a way that is rare in developed countries. Disruptive students are likely to be sorted out by their fellow students rather than by teachers. This adds hugely to the satisfaction of teaching them.
THE SETTING: The countryside is very beautiful. Obviously, it’s in the eye of the beholder, but the border country around Phop Phra is rich, well-watered, rolling, fertile country growing a wide variety of crops such as maize/corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelons, pineapples and other fruit and vegetables. It’s normally a prosperous community. In the background are the hills of Karen State in Burma often shrouded in cloud and looking very dramatic. The border is about 5kms form the school. Farmyard animals such as chickens, ducks etc are everywhere but cows, sheep and other grazing animals are quite rare. The land is devoted to crops rather than grass.
NOT SO GOOD
CRITTERS: Mosquitos and other biting nasties.
MONEY: Almost everything the school does is constrained by money issues. This can be frustrating if you’re used to an environment where at a personal or an enterprise level you are used to being able to buy minor items without too much thought. Compared with a school in a developing country there are many workarounds designed to reduce the level of printing, photocopying, purchasing of text books etc. In many cases text book examples are beyond the life experience of the students and can’t be used. For example almost no students have ever been to an airport or railway station.
CLIMATE: The climate takes a bit of getting used to. Top temperatures can exceed 40 degrees C. From Jan to May this is a fairly dry heat but from then on as the rainy season approaches it gets more and more humid and “sticky”. Rain, in the rainy season, is usually torrential but with little wind. It tends to be in the afternoon as thermal activity builds up. There are few days where it rains non-stop. Mud can be an issue in the school grounds in the rainy season as few areas are surfaced, Nov/Dec can be quite cold and require extra bedding.
TRAVEL: If your plan is to explore Thailand while you’re volunteering, the location is not ideal. Arguably it is a better base to explore southern Burma. Mae Sot is 50kms away or about 1/1/2 hours by public transport. From Mae Sot it is a whole day’s travelling by road to either Chiang Mai or Bangkok. Flying time to either is about 40 minutes. Mae Sot is on one of the main routes into Burma but a Burmese tourist visa is currently required and lasts for only 28 days, so if you’re touring in breaks from school, you are likely to need a new visa for every trip.
VISA ISSUES: The attitude of the Thai authorities to visas is changing rapidly as they attempt to “raise the bar” on a system that has been widely abused for a long time. Any detail given here would be out of date within days. If you are planning to stay longer than the normal 90 day tourist visa, it will require some degree of planning. Contact the school to discuss up to date options but the responsibility and effort to get an appropriate visa will rest with you rather than the school. It does not have the administrative resources to take on this task.
Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
The volunteer role goes far beyond teaching. With most students living on the school campus, pastoral care is everyone’s responsibility. If you plan to go home and forget about the place once teaching time is over, this is probably not the volunteer role for you. This is a Christian School aligned with the Baptist church. This does not, in any way, mean people of other denominations or faiths are not welcome. The current volunteers have a wide variety of faiths. Most of the students are avowed Christians. One of their 1st questions to you will be about your religious beliefs. There is none of the reluctance, seen in the West, to discuss religion openly. Being unsure about what you believe in seems strange to them.
LANGUAGES: Students at the school start learning English formally from age 5 but many of the pre-schoolers are also being taught English phrases. So English is the universal language and you can totally get by without knowing anything else. Karen is the normal 1st language of the students and knowing at least a few fundamental phrases is a distinct advantage. Materials to get to this level are available for volunteers. Thai is not widely used at the school but there is an active effort to ensure that students have enough knowledge of Thai to at least get by in Thailand and this skill is also helpful to teachers. Burmese is the common language between the ethnic minority groups in Burma but is used by only a small minority of students.
LIVING CONDITIONS: Expect a high level of communal living with little personal space except for sleeping (which may be more than one person to a room). Think student accommodation. Cooking & eating is a communal activity and you will be expected to do your share of cooking, clean up & other chores. Clothes washing is mostly by hand but normally items dry quickly. Personal washing is by water from a tank (nonpotable) which is poured over yourself from a saucepan. There is no hot water available but water is rarely very cold and many people choose to “bathe” in this way several times a day to keep cool. Health. Almost everyone loses weight in their 1st few months at the school. That, of course, can be very welcome and it tends to stabilize after a while. Diet is Karen rather than Thai and mainly white rice with something added to give flavour by way of a sauce to be mixed in with the rice. Vegetarians are easily accommodated as many common dishes do not include meat or fish. Fish paste is widespread. Meats are mainly pork and chicken but there are also occasional “exotics”. Most volunteers and many students tend to supplement this with “snacks” Wheat products are not widely eaten and are invariably sweetened. Thais have a very sweet tooth and the addition of condensed milk and/or sugar is everywhere. Eating out is a very viable option in Phop Phra and beyond with a Thai meal being easy to get and cheap. Western food is hard to come by without going to Mae Sot where there are several restaurants run by Westerners and catering for those needing a fix of Western food.
BUDGETING: A pro forma budget is being developed to give an indication of “normal” expenses for a volunteer teacher. This is necessarily a wide generalisation and actual levels will depend on many variables. It is prepared on a minimum basis so items such as travel away from the school, whether weekend trips to Mae Sot or more extensive travel outside term time are excluded. Also excluded are the cost of visas and any associated travel because this will vary widely depending on personal circumstances. The school is on 2 sites approximately 40 minutes’ walk apart. For most long stay volunteers purchase of a small (100 to 150 cc) motorbike is the best solution. Cost is from around 15,000 baht for an older bike by private sale (which may take a while to be available) to 20,000 baht for a newer one through a dealer and available immediately. Resale will probably involve some loss of value as local roads are rough on bikes and characteristically they are not well looked after. A pedal bike is available at around 2,000 baht which would probably be a viable option but is not commonly adopted.
CODE OF CONDUCT: A Code of Conduct for teachers has been developed by volunteer teachers and will be posted shortly to the web site. This gives, in some detail, the expectations the school has for teachers operating there. Link to follow.
Thoo Mweh Khee is dependent on volunteers to teach its Higher education classes. This dependency is critical to its ability to provide the level of education which the students aspire to. Many things about potential volunteers are critical variables. For example:
- How long they are prepared to stay.
- What their expectations are in terms of
accommodation & lifestyle
- Whether they have any teaching experience.
- What their level of educational attainment is.
- What their own lifestyle expectation and life experience is.
WHAT TO EXPECT @ TMK