“Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.”
(Variously attributed to Charlotte Whitton or Maori Proverbs)
Have you ever noticed that the people who achieve the most good for their community or for the community at large “Just do it!” They don’t fuss, or brag or grandstand; they just get on with the job at hand, behaving as if working for the good of others is a natural, normal thing to do.
What has this got to do with the quote I started with or with the Mexican Sunflower pictured, you might well ask?
Well, this last weekend I was privileged to accompany a number of hard-working under-recognised people (Thai and otherwise) on a whirlwind round of student-scholarship interviews and school-project visits in the northwest border province of Mae Hong Son. The projects and scholarships, which all aim to help seriously disadvantaged children in ‘The Hills’ continue their studies if they wish to, are funded by various institutions and individuals and managed through “THEP -Thailand Hilltribe Education Projects” and “ISGF – International Support Group Foundation”.
Communities in the remote Hilltribe areas tend to be quite small and marginalized. Although most now have some form of school in the vicinity, these schools are seriously under-resourced and usually do not include the higher grades. Historically, most children in these areas left school early, at least in part because they had no other choice, and either worked in the rice fields with their parents or moved to ‘the big city’ as unskilled labour. Projects like the ones I visited fund dormitories, canteens and other facilities at the larger schools so that children from outlying areas have the option of ‘boarding’ in their area instead of travelling great distances over virtually impassable roads, or dropping out completely.
Although education in Thailand is ostensibly free, this does not include the cost of books, extra-curricular activities, transport or accommodation, etc. While these costs may seem small, to subsistence families receiving very little in the way of government support, they are prohibitive, and many bright children are forced to leave school early. The individual scholarships help students from extremely disadvantaged families cope with these expenses and complete their basic education.
The main purpose of our trip was to check on the progress of scholarship recipients and the various projects, but it wasn’t all work! We joined the many people who travel north this time of year to visit the fields of wild Mexican Sunflowers which turn the hills around Khun Yuam a golden yellow. Walking up the mountain (Doi Mae U-Kho), I thought of the quote from that extraordinary educator Hellen Keller: “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow.”
Like the buds of these cheerful flowers, the children we’d been visiting were full of bright potential… How they will turn out, is anybody’s guess.
If you are anything like me, you get on with your daily life, doing “good” in small bits when it is relatively easy: donating here, direct deposits there, sponsoring children through big tax-deductible organisations, buying bits of bushland for animals, gift shopping from WWF and Oxfam, fund-raisers, charity walks and runs, and periods of unpaid work. Small stuff, really, considering how lucky most of us are! Hopefully, each small drop helps fill the bucket… but the need is still so great.
I personally am thrilled to have found an organisation whose work is congruent with my beliefs, and I plan to do more (watch this space!). In the meantime, if you want to help the easy way, I’m sure they’d be happy to take your money.
“We may have found a cure for most evils; but we have found no remedy for the worst of them all — the apathy of human beings.” – – Helen Keller