Two very different sides of one coin

I recently went on a school camp like no other I have been on.

We took two classes of privileged students from an international school to another school in the middle of the jungle that couldn’t be any more different.

Yaowawit School was established to offer support, education and ultimately, a home, to children whose chances had been wiped out by the 2004 tsunami.  A charitable boarding school, Yaowawit is dependant on public donations and funding to keep its doors open, now offering over 110 places to children affected by all manner of things.

Having moved on from the post-tsunami support, most of the children living at Yaowawit have families who are unable to care for them properly be it due to financial difficulties, rural isolation, alcohol and drugs or crime.  Every child has his or her own story and each one tugs at a different heart string.  But these children don’t want your pity.  In fact, they don’t want for much at all.  It was interesting to see the children we had taken on camp make observations about the differences between themselves and the Yaowawit children; many of them didn’t understand why things were different but the difference itself was hard to ignore.

When our children were complaining about having to do morning exercise, or having to help out on the organic farm that serves as another source of income for the school, the Yaowawit children always had a smile on their face and never a bad word to say.

We were there for the end of term party of which the main event, and source of much excitement, was the grand raffle.  Typical prizes such as teddy bears and small toys were overshadowed by more modest prizes such as a new, soft towel and a toiletry set.  Those were what the children were most eager to have their name picked out for.  One of our children had the nerve (or I suppose, the naivity) to ask why the names of students from our school weren’t in the raffle draw – I just asked him to look around and think about it for a while.

Most of the students that we took on the camp live very privileged lives.  They have all the gadgets and gizmos they want, they live in beautiful homes and are lucky enough to come from a family that can afford to pay 250,000+ THB a year to go to school.  To put that in perspective, one year’s tuition at the international school I work at would pay for twelve and a half years at Yaowawit school, including boarding and food – that’s an entire school life for a child.  Insanity.

After the camp was over and the students had Sunday to reflect on things, we had a really positive discussion on Monday morning about the differences between the lives of the Yaowawit children and themselves.  Hopefully the children can begin to see that there are people living outside of their bubble who don’t have the same opportunities in life, and that they should appreciate how truly lucky they are.

I didn’t get any pictures of my own at Yaowawit as I wasn’t sure of the confidentiality around the boarding children, but feel free to head to their website where you can find out more information including how to sponsor a child or volunteer yourself.

Oh, and here is one of their adorable children, Su.

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Where did all the free time go?!

The blog updates have unintentionally become weekly for the time being while I figure out a new routine.  I used to be able to write during my free time at work but alas, the free time is no more now that I have what I have quickly started referring to as a proper job.  Not that my time teaching English wasn’t a real job – it most definitely was hard work at times – but now I have actual responsibilities and tasks to complete beyond having a book thrust in my direction and being told to plan something from nothing and to get it done by yesterday.

Ouch, I’m still pretty bitter about my old job.

I used to work a 40 hour week but only 18 of those hours were in fact face to face teaching hours.  The rest of the time was for planning, marking work and grading – which at certain times of the year are pretty mammoth tasks – but other than that, those free hours were spent watching series on my laptop, browsing the internet for funny cat videos and writing the wonderful musings that make their way onto this blog.

Now I am still working a 40 hour week but almost all of those hours are spent in the classroom with the class that I work with.  Granted, I’m not the main class teacher so I’m not spending all of that time stood at the front of the class teaching, but I’ve got a fair amount of stuff to be getting on with as well as supporting the children in class, watching over more troublesome students and helping the teacher to get across whatever the point of any given lesson is, be it the cultural differences between an off the map village in Mexico and Phuket, finding the correct equation to identify the nth term or writing a play script – to name some of the things we looked at only last week.

Sometimes the class will go off for the odd hour to do PE or Chinese, but those odd hours are spent marking the children’s books – English, maths, homework, handwriting, spelling, tests… it all mounts up – and getting all the things done that I can’t do when I’m assisting a lesson – going to the library, photocopying, sorting… and, my favourite – going to the resource cupboard!  I can remember being sent to the resource cupboard when I was at primary school – it was a most coveted job given only to the most trusted of students.  I used to love digging around all the plastic counters and Crayola crayons and the resource cupboard at my new school smells exactly the same!

I’m still getting my head around the entirety of my daily tasks but I’m getting there.  By the third day myself and the class teacher (who is also brand new to the job) had carved out a bit of a routine and the days were going a lot smoother.  I had learnt all of the children’s names (something I have always been rubbish at) and they knew mine, although they are still calling me Mrs. not Miss – it still slightly freaks me out to be an actual Miss rather than Teachaaaa Kylie!

My second week at school ended with a school camp for 3 days, 2 nights – expect an update soon – it was certainly an experience and nothing like the government school camps I have been on before…

First day (almost) fail.

My first day at school didn’t get off to the greatest start.

I woke up nice and early, showered and got dressed.  I can now wear trousers to work (my previous school, like many in Thailand, insisted that all women wear skirts because it is basically still the 1950s here at times) but this just meant that I felt a bit weird in my new school outfit.  

I hate being late so as usual, I was ready far too early and arrived at the school before anyone.  But there was something really strange – there was no one there.  Absolute ghost town on campus.  

I am a worrier, and being early to things only gives me more time to worry about things.  After waiting for 20 minutes it was 8am – the time that I was supposed to be meeting someone for my induction – and still no one had appeared.  I decided to have a wonder around and found the school office… which was unoccupied, pitch black and locked.  Great.  It didn’t take much nosing around to see a memo on the staff notice board reminding people that Monday 10th March would be a day off for everyone.  Fantastic!  My new school had completely forgotten about me and hadn’t told me that my first day would actually be on the Tuesday.  Being the worrier that I am, this started conjuring up all sorts of feelings and set my mind off on a worrisome tangent that didn’t instill any confidence in my new employer in me.

By 8.30am it was clear that the only people coming to school were the dozens of Burmese builders who kept passing me and looking at me confused as I  stood basically in a business suit squinting through a locked office door nosing at the staff notice board.  Defeated, I called T to ask him to pick me up.

It was of course sod’s law that as soon as he arrived to collect me, I would get a confused phone call from someone from my school asking where I was.

Turns out that although my original meeting was supposed to be at the office I was waiting at, it should have been moved to the actual campus that I will be working at.  So I was standing outside a locked office at the wrong bloody school!  Luckily it was only a short walk away and I was at the international school campus ready to start my induction, albeit an hour late.

Did I mention that I hate being late?

So by now I was stressed out about being late, still dealing with latent worries about my school forgetting about me, and was hot and sticky after being outside for an hour waiting at the wrong door.  Like I said, not the greatest start to my first day at school!

Luckily, my non-start to my first day wasn’t a precursor for things to come – after that it was all plain sailing and smiles.  I’ve got a lot to get my head around as it is so completely different to the job I’ve been doing for the past 18 months, but so far I am really enjoying going with the flow and figuring it all out.  The teacher I am supposed to be working with has gone on maternity leave and her replacement is also as new as I am so we are both forging our way through it together.  In a way it would have been good to have the actual teacher there but it is also good that we are both brand new as we can make our own routine and do things how we like, even if that means winging it every now and then!