27 January TCCC trip to Bang Nong Pai
On the morning of Saturday January 19th, a small but influential team of TCCC members visited Bang Nong Pai village. The purpose of the trip was to observe the progress of the village after its one-year partnership with the TCCC, established under the auspices of the Village Development Partnership (VDP) of the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), and to unveil a ceremonial plaque commemorating the partnership.
The group, including TCCC President Peter van Haren, Vice-President Derek van Pelt, Treasurer Michael Howard and board member Ali Fancy, left the PDA compound on Sukhumvit Soi l2 early in the morning for the 5-hour ride to Buriram, one of the poorest provinces in the Kingdom.
Upon arrival at the village, which is home to 398 people living in 92 homes, the TCCC contingent had lunch with the villagers and was treated to a dance Gangnam style by all the village children, and what a performance they put on. “Take them on the road” was one comment from one stunned spectator.
The plaque was then unveiled and key village officials went through a flip-chart presentation demonstrating how the micro-credit bank, which has been established using the TCCC donation was being managed.
Of great interest was the number of micro-credit loans that had gone to help establish successful small businesses in the village, including a group of elderly ladies manufacturing chilli paste, a woman with a somtam shop, a guy selling gai yang (grilled chicken) at the major intersection leading into the village and a motorcycle coffee/tea vendor, who always seemed to have a captive audience.
Saturday evening the group stayed at Cabbages and Condoms at the Nang Rong Resort. Sunday morning, we went out to check on the progress of the trees we planted last year. Unfortunately, the majority of the saplings had died as “culprits” unknown had burned the land where the trees were planted and the villagers felt horrible about this.
Despite the tree-planting disaster, there was a lot of goodwill engendered by our visit between the community and the TCCC. Peter van Haren gave speeches in Thai at the ceremonial unveiling and later at a discussion between TCCC reps and representatives of the various village committees (who happened to all be women – the men who composde the other half of the committees – a PDA requirement- were nowhere to be found for some reason). The villagers couldn’t believe how fluent Peter was in their native tongue. He was able to “talk straight” with them and empathize at the same time, a combination the women found very endearing. Ali Fancy and Derek van Pelt also demonstrated good Thai language skills, which again the villagers appreciated.
The Mechai Pattana School
Just before the group headed back to Bangkok, they visited The Mechai Pattana School a few kilometres up the road from Nong Pai. An alternative school, it’s four years old now and was designed to get village kids to think, not just repeat by rote learning.
Thai education has generally concentrated on literacy and numerical skills, with little emphasis on new ideas and creativity skills. The Mechai Pattana School intends to change this situation for poor, rural students. The school strives towards getting its pupils to perform at their full potential by focusing on developing the complete individual. The lessons at the school are focused on enabling students to analyze and create.
Mechai Pattana is designed to be a school where pupils are happy and can fulfil their potential in their local environment with the help of current technology. This school develops the complete individual – instilling individual morality, preserving community tradition, and promoting good citizenship. The M school endeavours to promote the following values: environmental protection, education, poverty eradication, philanthropy, integrity, democracy & gender equality.
Students are given the responsibility of participating in the teacher selection and evaluation process. Students are given the responsibility for selecting the incoming Grade 7 students, which promotes leadership at an early age. Students operate businesses that have a positive impact within their community, with some of the profits going towards primary student scholarships in government schools. Students participate in the purchasing committee, which enables them to learn budgeting, planning, transparency, and negotiation skills.
The school as 120 students now, thirty each in grades 7-10, and will add sixty more in the next two years when grades eleven and twelve are added to the program.
The school term closes during rice planting and harvesting seasons to enable students to participate in rice farming. The school week is from Thursday to Monday (closed on Tuesday and Wednesday) to enable outsiders to visit and teach at the school during the weekends.
There are no student fees in monetary terms at the school. Rather, the students and parents have to plant 365 trees and pay their fees with 365 hours of community service.
Year 10 students are sent to Pattaya for one entire year, where they are immersed in a different cultural, economic, and social atmosphere. The campus is located at PDA’s Birds and Bees Resort. Here the kids are taught basic sign language and they are taught empathy in other ways, e.g. every Sunday they go without dinner to see what it’s like to be hungry and they also spend a half-day a week in a wheelchair and get a better understanding of what it’s like to be handicapped.
The school has a lot of successful projects to help it raise money including raising pigs and chickens, mushrooms, limes, crickets, and bean sprouts. It even has its own small gas station. The objective of these projects, aside from imparting useful skills and a sense of responsibility in the students, is ultimately to permit the school be financially self-sufficient.
The school features environmentally-friendly bamboo architecture, which is specially treated to last up to 80 years. The school also boasts the largest bamboo geodesic dome in the world at 30 metres in diameter. The school was designed by the famous Singaporean architect, Mr. Tay Kheng Soon, of Akitek Tengarra.
By the way, if you are thinking of donating to the school, you get a 200% tax deduction for your efforts.