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.
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!
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.
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.
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.