Building Better Futures ~ Mae Hong Son (Part 2)

Solemn faced Karen boy aged four

Solemn-Faced Karen Boy

I had a lot of enthusiastic response to last week’s “Wander”; clearly the good works that are happening in Mae Hong Son province, in Northwestern Thailand, strike a chord with many people.

Road into Mae Hong Son hills with sunflowers

Driving into Hills and Valleys

Middle-Aged Karen Woman smiiling

Big Smiles

Over the years, a number of interested parties, sponsors and sponsors’ representatives have accompanied Susan Race, who established “THEP -Thailand Hilltribe Education Projects”, on her trips north to organise and supervise the various building projects in marginalized ‘Hills’ schools in Mae Hong Son. Not surprisingly, these visitors, like myself, have been impressed by the practical projects that have been undertaken to support the educational needs of local children, and have also come away from these visits with vivid memories of the beauty of the area and the warmth of the people.

Susan tells the story about one of her first projects: a cement floor. In the hills, most houses are on stilts, with woven bamboo flooring over a wooden frame. This is practical enough for small buildings, built on uneven ground and steep slopes, but doesn’t work very well for larger, public buildings. The Thai government has undertaken to build classrooms in all villages, but does not supply sufficient funding for auxilliary buildings like cafeterias, dormitories or libraries. If you are in a Hill village school compound, and you see a solid building, chances are pretty good that it will have a plaque on it naming the sponoring organization!

Steps up to a one story white building with a signboard

A Donated Building ~ Huay Pheung Mai School

Three young Hmong boys reading their school books outside

Pre-Class Reading

Concrete water tanks with satellite dishes

Seven years ago, there was no electricity at the school; now there is satellite!

Anyway, Susan, who at the time was part of a women’s organization who had money to donate to charity, heard the story of a remote school with a lunch/cafeteria shelter (I think it was) with a dirt floor. She organised the money for the cement and materials needed to put a proper floor in, but NOT for labour costs. She was able to visit the project while it was in the works, and observed first hand the school staff, including the director, breaking up the gravel, mixing and pouring; in short, laying the floor themselves after finishing a long, arduous day at their normal jobs.

For me, this story is such an apt metaphor for the projects themselves: good buildings, like a good education, require a solid foundation; if you want people to take ownership of a project (or their own learning) give them the tools they need rather than doing the job for them; and with the right tools and materials, and a bit of guidance, co-operation and goodwill, people can accomplish almost anything.

Blue electric fan, paint and cement buckets

Tools in the School Yard

Two men on scaffolding

Look Up!

Two men on scaffolding: one hammering, one sitting smiling

Men at Work

At one of the schools we visited, a new building was being constructed in true Thai style: workers in thongs or bare feet were smiling, up in the rafters without the benefits of harnesses, while on the ground materials were everywhere.  The building was not going up exactly to plan – but it was going up, and that, after all, was the main thing!  The children in the playground at this idyllic but remote school were oblivious to the work going on in their midst.

Cement school yard with mountains in the background

Mae Toh School Yard

Thai wooden shutters on school classroom windows

Typical Thai Classroom Windows

Thai boy and girl laughing


Young Thai children in school shirts looking up at the camera

Have Camera ~ Find Kids!

Brown canvas school shoes on a shoe rack

School Shoes outside the Classroom

Brown school shoes on concrete steps

Late for Class!

Two Thai schoolgirls in Traditional Dance costumes

Traditional Thai Dancers

River bank and Thai houses

Attractive and ‘Modern’ Mae Toh…

Wood Pile under stilted Karen house

…but, five minutes up the road, the electricity and ‘modern’ stops.

Two young Karen children

Two Young Karen Children Looking to the Future

Road at twilight, with mountains and clouds

Layered Dusk ~ Mae Hong Son

Nok Air nosecone

The trip is at an end ~ the last smile for the road

If you are interested in learning more about projects conducted through “THEP -Thailand Hilltribe Education Projects” and “ISGF – International Support Group Foundation”, they’ll be happy to talk to you.

‘Till next time, here’s looking to a better future for us all.

  • gabe - November 25, 2010 - 11:39 pm

    Good piece – thought provoking!ReplyCancel

  • Signe Westerberg - November 25, 2010 - 11:57 pm

    Great post as always, lovely to hear good news stories of people making changes themselves and not waiting for someone else to do it for them. thanks for the share!ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - November 26, 2010 - 1:27 am

      Thanks to my two most loyal followers for stopping by. 😀ReplyCancel

  • […] talked about this collection of projects before, after my first visit, in my posts of mid- and late-November last […]ReplyCancel

  • […] of these charitable organisations. I’ve been on these trips before (see: Budding Potentials, Building Futures, and Schools), and what always impresses me – other than the beauty of the countryside […]ReplyCancel

  • Henny de Groot - February 19, 2012 - 3:52 am

    Thank you for your nice informational articles…
    I love to read and see those nice pictures.
    If I have a car I would love to travel to all your
    Best regards,

    • Ursula - February 19, 2012 - 5:24 am

      Hi Henny,
      Thanks for joining me on my travels! Pattaya has some lovely spots as well – especially to the south. 🙂
      Cheers, UrsulaReplyCancel

  • […] deep in the hills of Mae Hong Son. I’ve talked about previous trips (Budding Potentials, Building Better Futures, Schools at the end of the Road, and True Colours) in several previous posts, but I never tire of […]ReplyCancel

  • […] mentioned THEP and the work it does several times before (Budding Potentials 1, Building Better Futures, Schools at the End of the Road, True Thai Colours, and For the […]ReplyCancel

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