Educational Trek to Doi Tung Temple

At the Half Day School, we believe in the importance of a holistic education. It is especially important for our students to learn vocational skills, train in human rights, and develop community awareness alongside their academic subjects. One key factor of this is going out into the community to learn about its history and the issues that it faces. Recently, many our students participated in a trek to Wat Phra That Doi Tung where students spent the day learning about different communities as well as their own.

Wat Phra That Doi Tung is a wat (temple) that sits on top of Doi Tung, or Mount Tung, which is the tallest mountain in Chiang Rai Province. The temple sits at approximately 1,400 meters above sea level and the journey to the entrance is steep and rigorous. Wat Phra That Doi Tung was built in the 10th century and in the style of the Lanna kingdom with two golden stupas, one of which is said to contain the left collarbone of the Buddha. In combination with awe-inspiring architecture and stunning views of Thailand and Myanmar, this has made Wat Phra That Doi Tung a major draw for devout Buddhists and tourists alike.

Grade 5 students at the base of the temple.

Grade 5 students at the base of the temple.

The field trip began with an air of excitement as students piled into the school bus for what was certain to be an exciting change from the normal school day. Students laughed and chatted as the bus took sharp turns towards Doi Tung. There was a humming of anticipation throughout the short but winding bus ride to the point where everyone would begin the 2-kilometer trek.

After hopping off the bus, students and staff began the journey up the mountain road towards the temple. The misty weather was ideal for the trek as it kept everyone cool throughout the demanding hike. Students enjoyed the fresh air and the great exercise up the mountain! Once the students and teachers arrived to the temple, it was time for a lesson. Students broke off into groups based on grade and were assigned different types of communities to examine: family, their villages, Thailand, Asia, and the entire World Community. The focus of this project was the importance of human rights and environmental protection and how these themes are related to the health and well-being of all these communities.

Grade 1 students working on their project .

Grade 1 students working on their project .

Around noon, students were given a quick break from their studies to enjoy a delicious lunch with the special treat of rambutans, a red plum- sized fruit native to Southeast Asia. After lunch, all of the students played educational games together organized and led by Teacher Ming. The trip concluded with a lecture given by head teacher, Alinda Suya, and presentations of the students’ projects.

Finally, after a long day of hiking, learning, and games, it was time for the students to head back down the mountain. The bus ride to the students’ homes was significantly quieter, as happy but exhausted students were ready to relax. The next day would continue with presentations of the students’ projects and more discussion of human rights and community empowerment.

Half Day School Celebrates Wai Khru Day

Every year, at schools across Thailand, a Wai Khru ceremony is held for students to show respect and gratitude to their teachers. The Wai is a Thai greeting that consists of a slight bow, with the palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion and Khru means teacher. According to this Theravada Buddhist tradition, students prepare flower arrangements as a symbol of gratitude toward their teachers for instructing them well in the past and to create good fortune for their future studies.

While the date of Wai Khru Day varies from school to school, the Wai Khru ceremony is typically held at the beginning of each academic year on a Thursday in June. Thursday is the chosen day for such a ceremony, since this day is considered auspicious for special events involving education. At our Half Day School in Mae Sai District, this year’s Wai Khru ceremony was held on Thursday, June 12th.

Grade 5 girls pose with HDS head teacher P'Oi

Grade 5 girls pose with HDS head teacher Khru Oi

This year’s Wai Khru Day at the Half Day School was a joyous event. Wai Khru ceremony preparations began the day before, with students creating beautiful flower arrangements to present to their teachers. It is customary for students to present teachers with offerings of flowers, candles, and incense arranged on a phan (traditional Thai pedestalled trays). Students spent all day Wednesday practising the Wai Khru chant and crafting gorgeous arrangements into a variety of fun shapes including a turtle and a swan!

Students enjoying some tasty snacks with Khru Somboon

Students enjoying some tasty snacks with Khru Somboon

The day of the event began with the customary recitation of the Wai Khru chant, which expresses respect for and gratitude to the teachers, and asks for the teachers’ blessing of their studies, led by the school president. After the chant, representatives from each class presented teachers with the beautiful offerings that students had crafted the day before. Other students were then given the opportunity to offer small gifts of flowers and candles. After all the students had expressed their respect and gratitude to their teachers, the staff took time to recognize the hard work that the students put into their academic and vocational studies. Awards and Honours were given to students who have shown a strong work ethic and dedication to their studies.

The ceremony concluded with a speech given by Ms. Alinda Suya, Director of Projects, on the importance of respecting and honouring teachers. In her speech she advised students on the value of education and offered guidance. The festivities continued after the ceremony ended with a delicious and healthful lunch, followed by an afternoon filled with games!

 

Meet an International Volunteer: Adrien!

The International Department would like to introduce Adrien, who joined us in the beginning of May. Adrien is a social worker from France, with degrees in Psychology and International Relations. He comes to us with extensive working experience dealing with substance abuse, migration, asylum and child protection issues. He is interested in learning more about the Greater Mekong Sub-region and the issue of trafficking in the region. In his short time here, Adrien has already begun working on fundraising, networking, and research. He also hopes to contribute to English teaching duties.

“When I was working with asylum seekers in Europe, I had a very simple vision of the reasons and ways that people were trafficked. My perspective was based on the typical European perspective on migration procedures and realities. The reality of trafficking in Thailand is quite different from this view. Many individuals  from neighboring countries and from hill tribes are stateless. This can limit access to education and health care. These limitations apply to the vast majority of the children that are helped by DEPDC/GMS. I appreciate that the organization works with partners in the other countries in the Great Mekong Sub-region and considers human trafficking to be a global issue, not only a problem of Thai society.

Adrien_Photo for Self-Intro Blog Post_May 2014

“I loved my job in Europe, but I was drawn to the prospect of  living and working in Asia. I chose to pursue living in Thailand because I saw a volunteer listing on reliefweb.org. I was intrigued by the mission and vision of DEPDC/GMS. I enjoy working here because it gives me the opportunity to work very autonomously, on the topics and skills that fit my interests. I also have discovered new models of working styles, from both my colleagues in the International Department as well as Thai staff members. I have enjoyed the differences from the European style of work.

“I enjoy living in Mae Sai, which is a town with a checkpoint at the Myanmar (Burma) border. As I am very interested in migration and border issues, I can learn a lot here in my everyday life, and be in a very multicultural environment. Although studying Thai language and learning about the culture and politics is challenging, I am  really enjoying it.

“After being here for only a month, I am amazed by how much I have already learned. I believe that working at DEPDC/GMS will be a great professional, cultural, and personal experience that will impact my future.”

A New Wall for the English Classroom !

There were some delightful changes in the English classroom over the summer break at the Half Day School in Mae Sai. Eléa, an International Volunteer from France, took on a redesign of the English classroom wall as an extra project. 28 tins of paint, over 100 hours of work, 5 paintbrushes, a pair of headphones dropped in fresh paint, and 6 ruined t-shirts later… And the results are in!

wall final1

With the help of Aaron and Matthew, two other International Volunteers at DEPDC/GMS in Mae Sai,  Eléa sanded the wall and put on a few undercoats. But it wasn’t until the children went away for the summer break that she started painting, finally finishing the last details just in time for their return to school.

The wall integrates an interactive board that the students can use to build sentences with the help of Velcro bands. Banks of words are also included in the design to help students to remember important vocabulary and improve their comprehension of the English language.

Most of our Half Day School students come from difficult backgrounds. Their school environment is like a second home, so it is important that we provide an inviting and caring atmosphere in the classrooms where our children learn and grow. Eléa hopes that the new wall can contribute to this aim. She further comments:

“It is always good to expand our educational resources to provide our teachers with innovative tools and to help our students make progress. I am very happy with the result and I hope that everyone at the Half Day School has a productive and fun time with it!”

Details of the wall

Back to School !

Here in Mae Sai, the Half Day School has started the new school year. The students are back from their summer break and it’s great to once again have the Centre filled with the sounds of fun and learning, which we’ve all missed while the kids were away.

Academic classes and vocational training have resumed and the Centre – where the Half Day School is located – is again filled with the new and improving abilities of the children. The morning air carries the scent of food as children learn and help to cook for themselves and their classmates. The sound of tools attests the new projects and continuing improvements around the Centre. This gives the children the opportunity to learn and to help preserve the second home where their days are made brighter. Among the many other life skills and vocational training classes going on, the agriculture site (pictured below) stands a lush green. The field is located just outside the Centre building and has begun to soak up the seasonal rainfall.  Students and staff members diligently maintain the agriculture site throughout the school year.

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Last but not least, the games and spontaneous fun of happy, carefree children have returned. Badmintons fly between friends, whose games are driven more by enjoyment than rules. Soccer balls curve and score to shouts of success and broad, delighted smiles. Volleyballs rise and fall to a chorus of laughs; the score less important than having fun with friends, trying their best and surpassing their own abilities. And the sun sets each day, splashing baby blues, inviting oranges, deep purples, and delicate pinks across the sky, as it watches the children return home with warm hearts, light minds, and the promise of an approaching tomorrow.

To the children, and particularly the new additions who’ve come to join the school program, welcome! You’ve been sorely missed. To the staff, thank you for how hard you continue to work and good luck with the new school year. We’re sure it will be a year to match our past successes. And to all of the supporters of the Half Day School and DEPDC/GMS, thank you for your kind attention and generosity.

If you would like to donate to, or learn more about, the Half Day School program or DEPDC/GMS, please visit the Donate page on our blog. If you would like to help us spread the word about our programs and the wonderful work they continue to do, please help us by sharing our posts and letting people know about DEPDC/GMS. And if anyone would like to join the fun directly and become an International Volunteer, don’t hesitate to send an email to our International Volunteer Coordinator at info@depdc.org. Together, we look forward to another fun-filled and successful year!

 

The April 2014 Newsletter is Here !

Inside this issue you can read about:newsletter

  • Mekong Child Rights Protection Home (M-CRP) Center Activities;
  • Half Day School (HDS) Activities;
  • An interview with Alinda Suya, a DEPDC/GMS administrator and a Half Day School teacher;
  • Andreas Bruhn, our recent resident photographer and the work he’s done for us;
  • Our Social Media happenings
  • .…and more!

Download the Newsletter:  April 2014


To find previous issues of the DEPDC/GMS newsletter, please click on Newsletters in the menu bar at the top of this page.  We hope you will enjoy reading about our organization and the work we do to protect children in Northern Thailand!  Please spread the word about our mission and pass on this latest newsletter to your family, friends, and colleagues.

 

 

 

Happy Thai New Year from DEPDC/GMS!

Noted as the hottest month of the year, April in Thailand has lots of excitement to bring – but also relief against the reigning heat of the sun! Mid-April is the time of year when the Songkran Festival is celebrated across all of Thailand for the beginning of the Thai New Year. The word Songkran,’ which is derived from the Sanskrit language, literally means ‘to pass’ or ‘to move into.’

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Splashing water for good luck !

The most obvious celebration for Songkran is the throwing of water, which turns into a big water fight where no one is left dry. Throughout the festival, water is splashed in all directions to cleanse people of their bad luck and to wish each other good luck in the New Year. There are so many places to celebrate Songkran such as rivers, canals, and even on streets where there are supplies of water everywhere – including buckets of ice and hoses!

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Local river turned into a giant swimming pool during Songkran in Chiang Rai province.

Moreover, Songkran is traditionally a time to visit and pay respects to elders, including family members, monks, friends and neighbours. It is also a time to take the opportunity to worship and clean Buddha images, to visit temples and hope for good karma for the upcoming year. If you would like to know more about Songkran traditional history, you can read the official Songkran website page here.

This year, the festival started from the 13th of April. In theory, the festival lasts for three days, but festivities go on a few days before and after the official dates of Songkran.  All of  the DEPDC/GMS family has been enjoying the Thai New Year festivities. The staff and students were away with their families, friends and communities enjoying the holiday. We hope that you all had a great Songkran holiday and we wish you the best of luck for this year: Sawadee Pee Mai Muang 2014 – Happy New Year Thailand 2014!

 

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Festivities for Songkran at dusk, Mae Sai District.

Interview with a Director: Alinda Suya!

DEPDC/GMS would like to share what we learned from Alinda Suya, the organization’s Director of Projects and Half Day School teacher, who was recently interviewed by our International Volunteer Coordinator, Julie M.  Please read on to find out more about Ms. Suya’s life experiences and her perspective on the critical work that DEPDC/GMS does to protect the rights of vulnerable ethnic minority children and youth in Northern Thailand.  

Alinda Suya Photo_Teaching in HDS Classroom_for Newsletter and Blog Post

1.) Please tell us how you first became involved with DEPDC/GMS. 

In 1989, when I was in eleventh grade, I met Sompop Jantraka (Founder of DEPDC/GMS) through a recommendation of my school’s guidance counselor.  My family wasn’t the very poorest, but my mother had struggled to raise me and my six older siblings alone since my father passed away when I was seven.  At that time, Mr. Jantraka worked to provide vocational training and viable jobs for girls and young women who lacked opportunities for mainstream education.  He found me a job in a rice mill factory, where I worked to deliver and sell bags of raw rice.

The work was hard, but it was a valuable experience for me.  I didn’t know anything about the world and I was painfully shy.  I wouldn’t dare to speak and I didn’t like to have my picture taken or to take pictures of others. I had no idea about the commercial sex industry or any other industries that exploit children and adults in this region.  Where I came from, no one had ever said that treating children this way was wrong. They talked and acted as if these situations were normal, so that’s what I believed too.

2.) How did education and vocational trainings improve your life?

Mr. Jantraka helped us to get work experience and to open our minds to different perspectives. He told us that we have to study, we have to stay in school, and we have to find jobs that are safe and healthy. I learned from him that I had the right to choose the kind of work and life that I wanted to have, that I didn’t have to follow the belief that children can be lured and sold into exploitative labor conditions.

After I graduated from secondary school, I went on to study at the Rachaphat Institute in Chiang Rai.  I first attained an Associate’s degree in Business Administration and then I completed a Bachelor’s degree in Human Resources Management.  This formal education was important for me, but more critical was the life experience I gained from the “outside classroom.” I realized that it is quite challenging to work with and to manage people, and so I learned much more from my direct work experience than I did from abstract classroom study.

3.) What has it meant to you to be an administrator at DEPDC/GMS and a teacher at the Half Day School?

I’ve seen and learned a lot throughout the years of my work here. What I’ve enjoyed the most is direct contact with the children we help and to see the successful results of our work for the children’s lives.  The role of a DEPDC/GMS administrator is somewhat removed from the work of the teachers, staff, and children, and this aspect is something I haven’t always liked. I like most to teach and to conduct activities and workshops that I know are valuable to the children’s lives.

It is critical for the Half Day School (HDS) students and for all the children at DEPDC/GMS to develop the skills not only in Thai language, math, and other academic subjects, but the life skills necessary to recognize dangerous situations and to make the right choices about work, relationships, and self-care.  I feel the most satisfaction with my work to observe the maturity and personal development of our students over the years they are with us and to know that our programs and activities greatly increase their chances of success in the future.

I wish all people in Thai society and around the world would see children as their equal, no matter where they come from.  If everyone believed that children should have the opportunity to go to school and to get a decent job, the future of the world would be so much better.  If children don’t have adequate opportunities from the beginning, there are big problems later on, not only for those disadvantaged children but for society as a whole. I want that people can see what my eyes have been opened to, to see the whole picture, and to see all the ways that DEPDC/GMS has been working to improve the lives of children.

4.) What do you wish for Half Day School students to learn and to be able to do after they graduate?

Compared to students in mainstream schools, the Half Day School (HDS) children learn and know more about the issues which have an impact on their environment and their everyday lives. We teach them about the realities of human trafficking, child labor exploitation, and family problems, and about children’s rights and safe sex practices.  Through frequent and intensive workshops, the HDS children learn about themselves and their family, and they can analyze precarious situations insightfully.  They learn all of these skills, which are practical and essential in their daily lives, but each individual has to make the right choice for herself and himself. These children, like others who are socio-politically marginalized in this region, are faced with these difficult choices every day.

DEPDC/GMS is working very hard to register the Half Day School as an alternative school that can grant sixth grade graduate certificates on par with government registered non-formal education centers.  Many HDS graduates can already go on to further education, complete the 9th grade or higher, and go to work in decent, safe jobs. We hope that in the near future all HDS graduates will be able to attain this official certification, which will increase their opportunities for continued education and future job prospects.

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