Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ban Nanok School and Volunteering in Thailand

The following is about my first day at Ban Nanok Primary school, followed by some thoughts on the school system. I have limited time here so I cannot bedazzle you all with everything I have learned and experienced in my 4 weeks of volunteering. Needless to say, it was absolutely wonderful and knowledgeable. I miss my teaching experience now that I have been 2 weeks away from it!!

My last day!

Wednesday, November 24th- I awoke at 6:50am to be at Ban Nanok Primary school at 9:10am. I took the red local bus (songthaew) for 20 baht (and the ride was ~ 35-40 minutes). A songthaew is a converted pick up truck with two benches and a roof for passengers. I have come to really like songthaews, they are just a continuation of the Thai culture of being outside all the time. I just always feel connected with the world here (but the occasional air con experience is nice too :) ). Once I got used to the routine of waking up early, getting dressed, maybe eating some breakfast, and heading to school, I bought my music with me to listen to tunes as my hair waved in the wind. I would also sing out loud when no one else was on the bus. You have no idea how much saves my life. It is a glorious thing.

So, I got to the school and watched the kids do their daily ceremony of singing the national anthem, Buddhist prayer, Muslim prayer, and then I was introduced by Director Somkit, and gave a speech: "Sawatdee ka. Hell. Cheu Dasha. My name is Dasha. Chan arsa samak. I am a volunteer. Yindee tee die roojak, ka. Nice to meet you. Korp kun ka. Thank you." Clap clap clap.

Grade 4

I knew my first class was at 9:30am so I thought I would sit around and journal. Then a bunch of cute kids came up to me asking something in Thai. (Did I mention when I'd gotten to the school Fin the 3rd grader (who'd learned my name the day before) ran across the whole school property yelling my name with such happy excitement?) Morng (the English teacher, my friend) said they wanted me to watch them learn! So I went to Bratom 3 (Primary Grade 3) thinking I would sit and do nothing. The deal is that the Grade 3 class teacher has been in Bangkok for who knows how long having spinal surgery > so they do not have a teacher, but no worries because in this particular government school students learn from a TV. A live feed of a class in Bangkok is shown for all the different subjects: Thai, English, music, shop/learning to fix things, math, etc. The system is such crap for may reasons, but we can start with: 3rd graders don't have a teacher? Like they are going to sit there quietly watching the TV? Ha Ha Ha (or 555, in Thai).
Me with Grade 3 on my last day. My favorite class =)
So, here I am watching them learn math as they copy answers off each other (in Thai is called collaboration, I have gotten used to it), and some of the boys running around the classroom muay thai fighting. Then they decide they no longer want to learn from the TV and all run over to me, gesticulating for me to teach. I do what I know best and do numbers or something with them. And I quickly learn that these kids do not know any English! The class was over very soon after that, and I spent the next period not teaching even though THAT was the Grade 6 class at 9:30am I was supposed to teach.
Grade 4 boys - The guys in Thailand love this pose!
The entire school was going to a district or provincial wide academic competition Thursday and Friday, so the 6th graders were, you know, not studying but making ribbons and sweets to sell. This country does not seem to value education for those who do not have money. There is so much corruption in every sector in Thailand, and it extends to the education system. Ban Nanok does not have a world map! Did not. I bought them one. To me, this is a sign of lack of materials and resources, as well as a lack of worldly knowledge. I got them the map, Director Somkit was very thankful, Morng rolled it back up, and put it in a corner with other rolled up posters. I hope they hang it up. A map of the world or a globe is an essential object to have in a classroom. I realize I come from a family in which travel is a part of our culture, but it is not a bias to say it is necessary to be aware of how large the world is and where your country sits in relation to everywhere else. It is just the tip of the world knowledge iceberg.
Grade 4 boys again! They were all actually standing and sitting here!
The next class period (10:30), I was also brought into a different classroom and just sat there as children touched me, hugged me, smiled at me, had no idea what I meant when I said, "How are you?" The intense excitement over the presence of a farang volunteer just blows my mind. I am not that special, but I sure do love these kids. (ps - How Wai marveled and caressed my long leg hairs! She was amazed. pps - I have since shaved, sorry Linds ;) )
Wai, Mata and me. Grade 4
During lunch I met the other teachers Pee May, Pee Chood, Pee Da, Pee Mampo, Pee Wara, Pee Lai, Pee Yai, as well as the cook Pee Lek. "Pee" means "elder". We ate at a table next to where all the kids ate, but the kids for the first time let me have peace, like "Take your rest now, you're in for a treat once lunch is over." Morng and I spoke about my family and braces (she just got her), and she would translate to the other teachers. I showed them photos of my little family and of course everyone thought Mama Bear was beautiful!! Earlie, during the 9:30 NOT class after thegirls showed me how to make ribbons, I was left alone and felt so lonely for a good 5 minutes. I was just overwhelmed and surprised by how the day was already going, and whenever I  am sad, I wish to be in my purple room in my Manhattan Beach house for a moment. I was happy to have those photos with me that day as they reminded me of the love I have at home =)
With all the teachers!
So, the day before, Morng said I would teach Wed-Fri this week since the temple was closed for Buddhist exams, but on Wed. she said I could stay home Thurs & Fri since the competition was going on. Plans do not exist here, it really has challenged my need to make plans...but not really...I can so easily go with the flow here because what do I have to gain by making any plans?
Wai, Narain, me, Mata
I was actually pretty relieved as I was spent and felt like I needed to recover from my first day. Or maybe I'm just lazy. Who knows!
Me and Morng. The only time she was taller than me!!
After lunch a bunch of girls ran up to me saying sweetly "Teach English" but I pretended to not understand so as to mentally prepare myself...because of course 5 minutes later I was in Pee Da's class and she said in broke English, "They want (points at me) teach English." So we did body parts as they all stood by the board ext to me. You see, someone taught them "Head, shoulders, knees, and toes" but failed to explain what these things they are singing are, for when I said, "You do it on your own." and crossed my arms as I said "Head -", they all crossed they arms!
Grade 3 Buffalos and girls!

We went over body parts but they got bored and asked if I could sing Jingle Bells. So I sang that a few times.
Then they asked if we could play a game that they described to me enthusiastically with role play and big hand gestures that was a version of duck, duck, goose only with a hanky placed in a lap. I have obviously played this game when I was little, but I am pretty sure in a class of 20 -30 kids I was rarely chosen. This was no longer the case, in a circle of 10 - 13 kids, I was chosen almost every time! So funny! I would try to create alliances or point for them to pick someone new, but no luck! And naturally little kids are swift and tiny while I am old and tall, and would have to crouch under the tvs everytime I did the circle. Oh and my old knees!
The day I "taught" a music class. Morng and I just took turns playing songs.
And then the strangest, most wonderful thing happened: the kids started pointing at my sweat moustache, and the beads of sweat on my forehead, as well as the dark wet patches under my arms and on my shirt on my stomach. As first I thought, "How nice?" But then they stopped the game, stood me up, walked me over to a chair, sat me down, started fanning me with books, and brought me water.
this goes on for ages...

Being a part of the Thai school system has really opened my eyes to the unfair treatement of people from poor communities. There are many kinds of schools in Thailand: private, public/government schools which are free and those which apparently accept money aka corrupted schools. Ban Nanok is a government school which lacks enough teachers and materials. When Morng taught for 12 years at a secondary (Mateom) school, she only taught English, at Ban Nanok she teaches music, fine arts, English, Shop, and whatever else. "Teaches" is a loose term because of the whole televised lesson situation. Mui (Open Mind Projects coordinator in the South) said the government is testing out what works better - a real teacher or a television. It's like children grow up into adults and forget everything they experienced as young'ns. A televised lesson is cheaper, yes, but why sacrifice education?? It's the same everywhere, it seems. We expect schools to sculpt kids into the intellectual and capable leaders of the future, but we pay teachers crap and cut school funding whenever we can. It's like adults forget they will eventually be old, retired, and die > they will not retain "power" forever, so how about spreading the educational wealth, ey?

So, some of the government schools have these tvs, Ban Nanok is one. It really depends on the teacher if the students learn. Morng doesn't want to hit the kids, so they talk and laugh for ost of the class. They don't pay almost attention  during the English lessons. Sometimes they would reuest to watch the television instead of me and Morng teaching, but I would walk around and force them to open their books and write in them. I would copy some key words and things onto the white board and have them repeat things aloud.
But the televised lessons are terrible! The lesson will start with a sign that says "Fruits" but the first 30 minutes will be greetings! When the kids finally understand what 'How are you?" means, the tv has gone through a billion greetings and moved on to fruits. It's so fast and made for the class that is on the televisions, not the class watching it and moving at a much slower pace. It's such a shame. The kids usually want to learn too but they need time.

And here I will abruptly end - I will be happy to talk to you about all of my experiences in the future =)

1 comment:

  1. What a cool adventure! I'd love to hear more about your volunteer experience. Email me at katie at if you'd be interested in answering some questions for Thanks,