Susan Rintoul - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Thailand
My Teaching Placement
At the beginning of 2012 I volunteered with Projects Abroad to go to Krabi in south-east Thailand for two months and taught English at Baan Leam Po Primary School. This changed my life in large and small ways.
The school is located in a village and the government can provide only the basics of education, lacking many school facilities that we take for granted in the rich west. Their soccer field is shared by the village, so water buffaloes and snakes live there – whilst I was in Thailand I never saw it being used for soccer. The children string together rubber bands to make a skipping rope and these more than often break.
The students are nearly all Muslim, a minority in Thailand, and are the happiest children you could meet despite being very poor. I took 25 kg of teaching materials there, including big sets of coloured pencils. My 6-year-olds had never seen so many pencils to use and at the end of the lesson were so reluctant to give them back I had to prise the pencils out of their little fingers, or they would still be holding them!
You might wonder then, why do these children need to learn English? The main industry in Thailand is tourism and many of these children will become boatmen and waiters and so on for Western visitors, so knowing some basic English will help them greatly in their future careers.
My usual day began with myself and room-mate, a Danish volunteer, rising before dawn and walking to the main road to catch the Projects Abroad bus. The bus wound through the all village schools, and myself and the kindergarten teachers would be the last dropped off, 45 minutes later. I taught classes of around 150 primary school children in total.
Lunch in the cafeteria was a selection of three or four dishes with rice or noodles. The Thai teachers also brought us snacks from the market - they seemed afraid we would waste away, but there was no chance of this with the delicious but often mysterious cuisine. In the afternoons we returned to our host families; prepared for school the next day, had meetings or went to cool down with a swim at Ao Nang beach.
My Host Family and other activities
Our host family took us to events where we were the only farangs (the Thai word for Westerners) present - we were the center of attention as we spoke basic Thai, gestured and smiled. My room-mate once bought crisps which we both enjoyed until she thought to ask what they were made from and discovered they were fish skin - still delicious though!
A highlight of my time in Thailand was a visit to Phuket with 60 other volunteers to join a sister organization, the Asia Center Foundation. My team created a garden from a derelict yard for street children, in a safe house where they can go to school. We did it all in one day; our sense of achievement and exhilaration was immense.
Back in Adelaide, Australia, I am raising funds to build a playground for the children at Baan Leam Pho School. For myself, I try to appreciate every day that I have and not take my life for granted as I used to.