For the Children ~ Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Young girl in traditional Karen dress.

Karen Girl in Pigtails

Late into our last visit to Thailand, I made another trip “up-country” to visit schools 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 accompanying the indomitable Susan Race on her visits north to interview study-scholarship recipients and to inspect building projects.

I’m a little slow on posting about this particular trip for a number of reasons: early into day two my brand new camera decided to stop working (this sort of thing happens to me a lot!), so I was limited in the pictures I took; I’ve been on the road constantly since then, and so am distracted by other things; and most importantly, about two years ago, I promised Susan a website, which I still haven’t finished.

Fortunately, Susan is a very patient woman, which explains how, brick-by-brick and student-by-student, she has succeeded, over the last 20+ years, in improving school retention rates for children living in remote Hilltribe villages in several districts within the Mae Hong Son area of Chiang Mai. You can read more about that when I get the website finished! In my defence, I didn’t know the first thing about web-design or web-construction when I made that rash promise, and it has been a long, slow learning process.

There is a small teaser to the site on the sidebar at the right. At the moment, the link effectively goes to a “bookmark” and no further; the rest will happen in the next month or so… Watch this space!

When I have some free time, I do plan to write more about that particular trip and the various projects we visited and the students we met, but in the meantime I will share a few pictures from the first school we visited: Ban Huay Sa Paet School in Chom Thong district, Chiang Mai Province.

When we arrived at the school, the children were all sitting outdoors, on the wide bench around the bodhi tree, practicing their reading.

Karen Thai students grouped around a book.

Under the bodhi tree in the school yard, Karen children practice their reading together.

Young Karen girls in traditional dress reading under a tree.

On Fridays, children come to school in traditional dress.


Thai is a second language for these children, as they all speak Karen at home.

Portrait: two young Karen girls smiling.

Two Karen girls in their beautifully embroidered hand-woven dresses smile for the visitor.

Portrait: Karen school boys in traditional dress.

The boys have that impish sparkle in their eyes that says: “Here’s trouble!”

Two Karen girls working in school books at desks.

Two girls work on their maths problems in the classroom.

Portrait: Young female Thai teacher.

A young teacher at the school.

Karen woman at a loom with purple cotton thread.

Behind the school, there is a weaving area – one of the Queen’s projects – where Karen women weave cloth for export to the city.

Feet on bamboo pedals to work a loom.

Weaving requires co-ordinating foot pedals with the shuttle on the weft thread.

Portrait: Elderly Karen woman

The weaver is pleased to pause for a picture.

Portrait: Karen girl in a weaving room.

The children are happy to take time away from their reading to show the visitors around.

Portrait: Two Karen boys, smiling.

Boys join us in the weaving room.

Group photo: Karen school children with Thai and Western adults

Before we can leave, Susan Race (centre) has to have her photo taken with other Expat visitors from Bangkok, men from the District Education office, and the students.

While gathering sponsorship money to build auxiliary buildings and support children’s educations, Susan has also been building relationships. Everybody in the area knows her – and knows her energy and staying-power. Neither she, nor the teachers she works with, like Kru Apichart, whose new school this is and who is pictured in Schools at the end of the Road, are ‘fly by nights’. All have demonstrated a longterm commitment to improving educational access for Hilltribe children in the remotest of Thai communities.

Portrait: Thai male in sunglasses with a camera.

The perfect man for the job of official photographer: Khru Sunthorn, another of the dedicated teachers who has been part of helping make Susan’s THEP projects work for more than twenty years.

To the Future (text)These faces certainly make me feel better on a gloomy day in London!

As does the knowledge that these children, at least, are getting the educational opportunities they deserve.


Pictures: 25May2012

  • Lisa Brockman - July 12, 2012 - 9:33 pm

    Lovely post and beautiful images. I love the first one (pigtails)! Well done . . .LisaReplyCancel

  • Signe Westerbeg - July 13, 2012 - 12:47 am

    those innocent and not so innnocent faces, the skill of the weavers… the colour of the cloth are all so lovely. Thanks as always for sharing your trips…enjoy good old England and say hi to Natalie for me.ReplyCancel

  • Anna :o] - July 13, 2012 - 11:45 am

    Lovely informative post Ursula – the images tell a wonderful story.

    Anna :o]ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - July 14, 2012 - 2:00 am

      Thanks, all! It is always a pleasure to visit these schools. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth Fieldus - July 17, 2012 - 8:12 am

    Congratulations Ursula on the good work you’ve done on the website. Your pictures are gorgeous. It’s great to see the wonderful work of Susan Race highlighted in words and pictures.ReplyCancel

  • Margaret Millard - July 23, 2012 - 1:57 pm

    Hi Ursula…
    Susan has sent this on to me and I wanted to say lovely pics and great that you could visit the area again with Susan. The two girls you met when we both visited the hilltribes lst year and whom my husband and I sponsor, K. Suriporn and K. Porntip, are now training to be nurses in Bkk…so that is a true success story. Keep well. Margaret.ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - July 23, 2012 - 3:38 pm

      Hello Margaret,
      It is so good to see students’ lives changed, one by one, isn’t it? 🙂
      Happy travels!ReplyCancel

  • Deborah Curtis - June 28, 2014 - 8:05 am

    Hello Ursula, Just revisiting your photos and remembering our trip back in 2012. What an adventure we had meeting and learning about the students and seeing first hand how our small contributions help. Hope you are well and enjoying life wherever you may be!ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - June 28, 2014 - 9:18 am

      Hi Deborah,
      Thanks so much for “dropping in” to my PhotoBlog! I have such admiration for the work Susan does. I still hope to get back up there one day soon – my first University scholarship student graduates this year!! Time sure flies…ReplyCancel

  • […] It has been ages since I’ve forayed into the remote and rugged hills of Mae Hong Son on the wild border with Myanmar. My last trip was with Susan Race, several years ago. She was on one of her many excursions north to interview students who were recipients (or wanted to be) of modest scholarships, and to oversee one of the many projects she helps manage through THEP, the Thailand Hilltribe Education Projects. I’ve 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 Children). […]ReplyCancel

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