On Wednesday morning, David and myself met with Salai from ME (Ministry of Education) to discuss potential sites we would be building the new classrooms for. Sadly, Kwe Ka Baung had still not worked out their land agreement with the local community around the new site we therefore had to look at the possibilities of helping another school for our first ‘Moving Schools‘ project. The weeks are passing quickly in Mae Sot and we wanted to make use of our 13 volunteers and start building a school. Salai and ME staff set out with a task to review the schools most in need in Mae Sot and to work out which schools had the right piece of land, number of students and most importantly the need for the new classroom buildings. In the meeting we reviewed the staff findings and narrowed down the options to two schools which were greatly in need of school buildings and importantly had the community agreement to allow us to start building straight away and had written into their contract that any buildings which were built could be taken with them when their land agreement ended. Salai kindly offered to provide us with a truck for a few days to allow us to visit the two schools and work out which school we could provide classrooms for immediately.
In order to extend our time in Thailand, we cycled to the Thai/Burma border, handed over our passport in return for a laminated ‘foreigner’ card and spent the afternoon exploring the small but bustling border town of Myawaddy. We ventured into town and found a beautiful Wat to explore. As we wandered around town we could help but notice the huge smiling faces of the Burmese people, everyone seemed to be very happy that we were there. Strolling around the town we noticed the red betel spit staining the pavements and the intoxicating smells of fresh herbs and spices. To finish off a very enjoyable day we indulged in a cold Myanmar beer as we watched people being ferried across the river.
On Thursday morning, we collected our Ford pick up truck from the ME office and first headed up to the Global Neighbors workshops to see how Saw Dee and Si Da Pa were getting on with the bamboo wall panels, we were happy to see that they had now completed 5 beautiful frames and would finish 7 by the end of the week. We then collected Layshi our very helpful translator from Imagine Thailand. He kindly directed us to Hope School which is a one hour drive from Mae Sot. It was nice to be driving and getting an idea of the countryside and surrounding villages of Mae Sot. We slowly climbed windy hills in our slightly old and noisy truck. At the top of a hill in the middle of the countryside Layshi said ‘Stop’ and asked us to pull over. We got out of the car and were surprised to hear children’s laughter amidst the quiet surroundings.
We had arrived at Hope School and slowly made our way down a muddy slope to reach their school grounds, walking over a bamboo bridge to reach the main school yard. We were to find out that there are 200 students at Hope, 91 of which are nursery age. However, the nursery have no class to teach in so it is often the case that the students are turned away and cannot attend school. On Thursday 56 children could not make it to school. We were introduced to the very helpful and smiley teachers who proudly took us around each of the class groups from Nursery to Grade 6. All of whom are taught under one small room, eating learning and sleeping in one area. The children were lovely and after slight apprehension at first they slowly began to chat with me as I asked each of the younger children their names. They proudly stood up, crossed arms and said their name, they laughed as I tried to pronounce their name back to them and often obviously did not pronounce their names correctly. Within a few minutes I was covered in children telling me their name and trying to see their friends faces on the screen of my camera.
I found it very hard to leave the class but we were to be taken by the Headmistress to see the Nursery Room. We walked through the mud to the back of the school where we could see lots of little children’s flip-flops and shoes lined up outside. Then we heard singing and the children sang their ‘Hello’ song which they address to the teachers in the morning. They all stood together 100 nursery children with their hands pressed together singing out loud.
It was obvious that there was a real pressing need for new classrooms buildings at Hope School, our only problem was the location of the site and the rainy season approaching/here. With our team of volunteers in place and ready to start building foundations we knew that the location of Hope would not work for the first Project. However, we saw the real need for help at this school and would like to plan to come back in the dry season to provide them with some much needed classrooms.
Our next visit was to Thu Kha Hang Sar School, a school we had been told about by many people as a school desperately in need of some new school classroom facilities. The school is located just outside of Mae Sot in a small village called Mae Pa. We met Chan Chan the school headmistress in the afternoon. She kindly explained to us her great want and need for her school children to be provided with new school classrooms.
She showed us the current school facilities which were very basic including one large room where all the students except from the nursery are taught. The 115 students are of Burmese, Karen, Hindu and Hmong decent. We were glad to hear that the Headmistress had a land agreement with the land owner for a further 3 years and had the agreement in place to construct buildings on site which could then be removed with the school at the end of the agreement. It was great to meet Chan Chan and see how much she wanted to help her students gain the best education possible. She knew that the current facilities were not good for the students as they had no where to concentrate and study as the one room echoed all the class students lessons. She also explained that the small nursery building was away from the main building to give the younger student peace to nap in the afternoon. It was Chan Chan’s hope to gain 6 new classrooms for her students and to use the existing main hall as a much needed dining area and to be used for meetings.
We were happy to know that we could help Chan Chan and her students and made an agreement to start working on the plans with her new school classrooms immediately. We went over an idea as to where she would like the classrooms placed and agreed that having 6 classrooms in total, in two lines of three running horizontal to the current main building would work best. This allowed the nursery students to remain in peace from the noise of the student classrooms and meant we could keep the lower section of the school land for play. Chan Chan also discussed with us their recent burglary and how security would be an important factor to consider in the design. The school recently had electricity cables and white boards stolen from the classrooms.
We have a site and a group of children and teachers in need of better learning environments. On Friday morning we met up with the volunteers and were keen to take them to the new site. The volunteers clambered aboard our truck to visit the new site. We arrived at 9am, to see the students sitting in silence taking their morning prayers. After agreeing with Chan Chan on the rough placement of the classrooms, we split the volunteers into two groups. One group was in charge of surveying the current site based on the lessons they had learnt when surveying the buildings at Kwe Ka Baung School. So Chung, Hin, Nicholas, David and Claire set to work measuring the main classroom, nursery, toilet block and overall site dimensions.
Meanwhile, Ben, Ashley, Charity, Stephanie, Airi and Jim set out on the task to plot out the new school classrooms on the new site. The plotting team were given measuring tape, red rope and pieces of wood to plot out the dimensions of the overall buildings, walkways and individual classroom modules.
As the morning progressed the surveying team had quickly worked out dimensions for all the buildings and had a good understanding of the overall site. The plotting team carefully worked out the dimensions of each classroom and plotted where each module should be positioned.
This gave us a clear understanding of where foundations should be placed in order to start digging the foundation points. After a few hours the site was really taking shape and both teams were able to gain a real understanding of the size and position of the new school building. Carefully positioning coloured plastic flags along the red rope to ensure the school children would see the layout of the new school.
In the next blog update details of our meeting with Chan Chan confirming site position and find out how the volunteers get on starting foundation work on the site.