education, Migration, Social change, thailand

Team Work Makes Dream Work

Team work makes dream work

This is what one of my 17-year old students wrote in response to an exam question asking them to describe what they had learnt in a month long social action project, effectively epitomizing the project outcomes for me. This small, time constrained project taught both me and the students a great deal. Providing them with a bit of structure and assistance, the students achieved a lot in a short period of time. Initially, they brainstormed some of the problems in their community, coming up with many interrelated issues concerning health, poverty, education and family. Many of these issues are not ones that an average teenager in the western world would have to deal with. In Ranong however, these issues are sadly fairly standard. I was astonished to learn that several of the students either don’t have parents or (for various reasons) are separated from one or both of their parents.

Glimpses of migrant life in Ranong: Burmese migrants crowd into small concrete homes such as these; chaotic transport and market life

In small groups, they were tasked with selecting one issue and to design a mini-project to help address it. Improving education and sharing knowledge ended up being the focus of all four projects, with the students being aware of how precious their education is. To add context to this, Ranong has one of the highest rates of child labour in Thailand. Recent statistics estimate that of the 10,000 migrant children in Ranong, only 20% start school and of these, the majority (90%) finish school at age 12. Bearing this in mind, the students I teach are incredibly lucky to have the gift of education and thus have a strong desire to share their knowledge with others.

What they managed to achieve in a month was inspirational. They fundraised to buy stationery (notebooks, pens, pencils) for other migrant children, they organised a mini-school one afternoon to teach neighbourhood children who don’t go to school and developed learning resources for HIV education. Through this hands on experience they learnt to work together, make shared decisions, resolve conflicts, plan their time, negotiate loans and engage with young children.

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Local children taking part in a mini-school organised by one group of students. They drew, sang songs and listened to stories.

For me, this project was a lesson in empowerment. It gave students an opportunity to make small, positive steps to transform their community. Given more time, money and freedom within the community, who knows what else they could achieve. It also strengthened my faith in humanity: that by working together, change is possible. We can all help make our communities happier, healthier and more sustainable places to live.

I also became acutely aware that all these students have big dreams, big hearts and are devoted to helping serve others in their community. These students have now graduated high school, equipped with skills and confidence to continue to develop and serve others. I am hopeful they will be able to realise their dreams and help to positively transform our world in unimaginable ways and I eagerly look forward to working with more students in a similar manner in the near future.

For more photos of the project and to keep updated with Marist Asia Foundation, check out the facebook page here.

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